A schoolboy legend, a rookie phenom, a superstar ace, a national hero, and an import All-Star: Masahiro “Mā-kun” Tanaka has played many roles on the mound and has garnered as many accolades as any pitcher in the world.
He could have retired after his high school career with a solidified place in Japanese baseball history due to his otherworldly performance at the annual Koshien championship in 2006, but he didn’t stop there. He immediately earned NPB Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 as an 18-year-old rookie for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and proceeded to dominate for six more seasons, tallying six All-Star games and two Sawamura Awards for best pitcher in the league. His 2013 season was the most dominant and captivating in NPB history, going 24-0 and leading the Eagles to their first Japan Series championship; more importantly, he was the face of the Tohoku region’s recovery from the devastating 2011 earthquake and corresponding tsunami and nuclear fallout.
Tanaka rode that championship wave to New York, signing a seven-year contract with the Yankees in 2014. He was four times their Opening Day starter (the most by a Japanese pitcher in MLB), twice an American League All-Star, and earned his pinstripes with numerous excellent starts in the playoffs.
After playing out his Yankees contract, Tanaka elected to return to Sendai, receiving a hero’s welcome from the Eagles faithful. Now the seasoned veteran, he still is effective, being named an NPB All-Star for the seventh time in 2021.