Kenji Johjima Signed Rookie Card (2006 Topps Chrome)
Playing catcher for the Fukuoka Daiei / Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of NPB’s Pacific League from 1995 to 2005, Kenji Johjima was simply one of the best catchers in the world. Just check out his NPB resume:
10× NPB All-Star (1997–2005, 2010)
2× Japan Series champion (1999, 2003)
Pacific League MVP (2003)
7× Golden Glove (1999–2005)
6× Best Nine Award (1999–2001, 2003–2005)
His accomplishments were enough to convince the Seattle Mariners that Johjima was worthy of being the first Japanese catcher in MLB history. He signed before the 2006 season and got off to a hot start, hitting home runs in his first two games, and never slowed down in year one.
Among his accomplishments that first season were a rookie record for his by a catcher, with 147, and tying the franchise record for home runs by a catcher, with 18. He wound up with a .291 average and 76 RBI and finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting (behind Justin Verlander) despite playing for a last-place team.
He caught for the Mariners for three more years before returning to Japan to finish his career with the Hanshin Tigers, with whom he was a Central League All-Star in 2010.