Rolando Arnedo, the manager of the Diamondbacks’ Arizona Complex League team, will skipper Argentina in the qualifiers. In fact, Argentina has revealed a lot more about its qualifier team in an article released on Aug. 18. Among other information: Astros Arizona Complex League manager Marcelo Alfonsin will be the pitching coach, Gabriel Sanso will be the bench/hitting coach, Eduardo Capdevilla will be outfield/third base coach, Nicolas Solari will be infield/first base coach, and Federico Bisbal will be on quality control and analytics. Player-wise, Argentina is hoping for participation from players of Argentine descent like Miami’s Daniel Castano, the Baltimore organization’s Yennier Cano, and CPBL player An Ko Lin. It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to get Castano given scheduling and the concussion and Cano’s participation would likely depend on whether he’s on the big league club by that time as well, though.
In the week since our last update, more World Baseball Classic News has come out. Here’s some of it (I may get some stragglers tomorrow):
Team USA gets a manager
It’s been announced that Mark DeRosa will be the skipper for Team USA in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. It’s a bit of a surprise pick, as I and others assumed it’d be a retired manager like Mike Scioscia. However, instead USA Baseball is going young. While DeRosa has never managed professionally, he’s been thrown about in the past as a potential future candidate and is well-liked around the game. Plus, his day job as an analyst and host at MLB Network means he’s well-acquainted with most of the MLB players in the tournament. DeRosa played for Team USA in the 2009 WBC and had a long career in the majors as a super-utility man.
Ohtani can play
Shohei Ohtani didn’t play in the last WBC due to injury, but if he wants to he can in this one. The Angels have granted him permission to take part. Technically, he could have played anyway as WBC rules only allow teams to deny permission under certain circumstances like if they were on the injured list, but players- especially pitchers- generally will take team requests to heart and so if the Angels didn’t want him to play it’s likely he wouldn’t.
This needless to say is a huge get for both Samurai Japan and the tournament in general. The Japanese uniforms for Ohtani will sell extremely well, and the tournament instantly gets another marketable star to slap on some billboards and commercials.
Pakistani-American Gibran Hamdan will be suiting up for Pakistan int the qualifiers. If that name rings a bell to you, it’s probably because Hamdan is a former NFL quarterback. Baseball was his first love and he hit well at Indiana University decades ago, and so he’s suiting up one more time in qualifiers.
Team Pakistan continues to introduce their team for the qualifiers on Twitter, including Sandhu Shaan Tahir, who plays college baseball in Japan. Also introduced: high school infielder Zan Von Schlegell.
If you’ve played high-level baseball and have any connections to Argentina, their team wants to hear from you!
Miguel Cabrera, who has previously said he wants to play for his native Venezuela next year, has hedged it a bit. In essence, while he wants to play a role, he also doesn’t want to take the spot of a more worthy younger player.
Finally, a programming note: Over the next ten days, I’ll have new versions of roster projections for Team USA and the Dominican. I might also have the long-gestating Venezuela projections.
The ultimate rivalry of the World Baseball Classic is likely that of Japan and Korea. Fueled by historic grievance, geography, a similar style of play, and the way that international tournaments often end up being scheduled, any match-up of the two is must-see TV.
So it’s not surprising, then, that people involved with baseball in the two countries are already talking. At least, that’s what the Google translated articles I’ve found say.
In a talk with Korea’s Yonhap News Agency (translated to English by Google here), the KBO President agreed that the match-up with Japan is extremely important and that they will have to “prepare thoroughly” for it. The KBO has seen bumps in domestic popularity after previous success by Korea in the WBC, but the team has had a rough patch lately. That’s especially true when it comes to the Japan rivalry: Korea hasn’t beaten Japan in a major tournament since the 2015 Premier 12. The Koreans will be forming a committee shortly to begin the process of building the WBC team. The article says that while Hyun-Jin Ryu won’t take part due to his Tommy John surgery, it is possible that the Korean team may include players like Tommy Edman and Dane Dunning, who both have mothers from Korea.
Meanwhile, Japanese manager Hideki Kuriyama has been quoted as saying that the Japan-Korea games have always been fierce battles. That’s caught the attention of various Korean outlets, like this one.
Sticking with Japan for a second, some there are already speculating on what MLB players may play for Samurai Japan in 2023. A reporter for the Sanspo newspaper, for example, feels like Shohei Ohtani may be in an iffy position due to his two-way nature and the fact that 2023 will be the last year of his contract. However, he does believe that Seiya Suzuki of the Cubs would likely be able to participate if he wants to, and that Yu Darvish will likely have a big role in the rotation.
Yesterday in my World Baseball Classic update, I mentioned that there had been some WBC news over the past few weeks that I had neglected to share. Consider this a catch-up post on those things.
It has been announced that Ian Kinsler will manage Team Israel at the 2023 WBC. Kinsler, of course, was one of the best second-basemen of the late 2000s and the 2010s, making four All-Star Games and winning two Gold Gloves. He played for Team Israel at the Tokyo Olympics.
Speaking of Tokyo, it was announced there back in June that the new Samurai Japan manager will be Hideki Kuriyama. Kuriyama managed the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from 2012-2021, including a Japan Series title in 2016.
There have been somearticles written about a possible Team Canada over the last few months. Among those who definitely sound interested in playing: AbrahamToro, Josh Naylor, and Cal Quantrill. Joey Votto is still unsure and hasn’t thought that far in advance, while pitchers like Nick Pivetta and Jameson Taillon admit that that while they aren’t ruling it out they aren’t sure yet either given how far it is in the future. Sadly for Canada, two players definitely won’t be playing for them: Jordan Romano is planning on playing for Italy, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will suit up for the place he grew up (the Dominican), not the place he was born.
I’ll have more WBC news as it becomes available and as I find it.
Today was going to be about former team names, but I’m (to use a football term) calling an audible.
Just days after Roki Sasakithrew perhaps the greatest perfect game in the history of professional baseball, he almost did it again. Striking out 14, the 20-year-old only stopped because he was pulled from the tied game after eight perfect innings. The Chiba Lotte Marines would end up losing in 10, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sasaki may well be in the best hot streak in the history of professional baseball pitching. You can see some highlights below:
With his performance today, Sasaki has now had 17 straight perfect innings and has retired 52 hitters in a row. Just to give an example of how remarkable that is, the MLB record for consecutive hitters faced without a walk, hit, or error is 46 by Yusmeiro Petit.
In other words, Roki Sasaki is amazing, and is doing things nobody else has ever done. It’s entirely possible even more history will be made when he makes his next start.
Way back during the 2016 Blogathon (which I’ve never been able to do again due to “life”), I did a post on how the grandfather of John Cena, Tony Lupien, played in the big leagues during the 1940s. We’ve also covered “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s minor league career. Today we’re going back to the world of professional wrestling, albeit in Japan.
The player-turned-wrestler in question is Shohei Baba, better known as Giant Baba. While he had some stints in the USA, in Japan he is one of the most famous wrestlers ever and is remembered as the co-founder of the All-Japan Pro Wrestling organization.
Standing anywhere between 6’6″ and 6’10” depending on the source, Baba is believed to have been one of the tallest people to ever play baseball professionally in Japan. According to Wikipedia (which sources Japanese articles), Baba was known for his height from the beginning: in high school he was known as “Sanjo High School’s giant pitcher.” He had the talent to get signed by the Yomiuri Giants, and proceeded to do very well in the minor leagues in Japan, at one point even being named best pitcher in the minor league he was in. However, health injuries (including a brain tumor!) and injuries meant he never made it to the top level very often. He only pitched in three games for the top club, although he did do well in that limited action, holding a 1.29 ERA:
About the Country: Japan is an ancient nation, traditionally said to have been founded in 660 BC. For most of that time, it existed with relatively little change and contact with the outside world, save for the occasional war with Korea or internal feudalistic battles. That all changed in 1853, when a small force of the United States Navy, led by Admiral Matthew Perry, arrived in Japan to demand that it be opened to traffic. The arrival of Western influence shocked the Japanese, leading to reforms and programs that led the nation to grow from hermit kingdom to one of the world’s leading empires within a century, a period that ended only with Japan’s defeat in WWII. Scarred by the war and with a new constitution that prevented it from actually having a military, Japan became an economic power, a hub of global trade and technological innovation, and remains the world’s third-largest economy despite slow growth since the late 1980s. Fun fact: It would have been entirely possible for a Japanese person to have been born under the rule of feudal leaders and died in an atomic bombing. This would be roughly the equivalent of somebody in the West being born in the middle ages and dying in the 20th century.
Baseball History: Japan was introduced to baseball by a teacher named Horace Wilson, who introduced it to some of his students there. And in the decades after that, its popularity skyrocketed as Japan became more industrialized, although it remained strictly amateur until the 1930s. The beginnings of Japan’s professional baseball came about because of Major League Baseball in general and Babe Ruth in particular, as a barnstorming tour by the Great Bambino caused baseball to become even more popular than before. In 1936, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper conglomerate founded the first professional team in Japan, the Yomiuri Giants, primarily out of players who had distinguished themselves against the Americans. After WWII, the Japanese again turned to baseball, founding Nippon Pro Baseball in 1950. Baseball remains the most popular sport in Japan, and the National High School Baseball Championship is a cultural phenomenon in the country perhaps even greater than America’s “March Madness” for college basketball. In international play, the Japanese won the first two World Baseball Classics before coming in third in 2013 and 2017.
Olympic History: Japan, not surprisingly, has a long history with baseball at the Olympics, although it would take awhile before they actually took part. Japan was to have played an American team at the 1936 Olympics when baseball was a demonstration sport, but withdrew. Baseball was to have again been a demonstration at the 1940 Olympics Tokyo, which was cancelled due to the war. It wouldn’t be until the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics, 1964, that Japan would make its Olympic baseball debut in a demonstration sport game against a team of American college all-stars who beat a team of Japanese amateur all-stars 6-2. Japan would later take part in demonstration baseball tournaments in 1984 (winning gold) and 1988 (taking silver) before taking part in every official Olympic baseball tournament from 1992 to 2008, with their best showing being silver in 1996.
Outside of baseball, Japan ranks 11th in all-time Summer Olympic medals and 13th in gold. Their most success have come in judo, gymnastics, wrestling, and swimming. The most successful summer athletes historically for Japan have generally been gymnasts, such as Sawao Katō and Takashi Ono. The Japanese have also had success in the Winter Games, which they have hosted twice (Sapporo ’72 and Nagano ’98), primarily in speed skating.
Road to Tokyo: Japan being the host country is the major reason why baseball is in these Olympics at all. Tokyo beat out Istanbul and Madrid for the 2020 games in a vote in 2013.
Notable Names: Undoubtedly the player on the Japanese roster most familiar to MLB fans is Masahiro Tanaka. The former Yankees star has returned to Japan, where as of this writing he is 3-5 with a 3.00 ERA, a 1.028 WHIP, and 62 strikeouts in 72 innings pitched.
Ones to Watch: Not surprisingly, the cream of the NPB crop makes up Samurai Japan’s roster.
Yūdai Ōno, last year’s Sawamura Award-winner (equivalent to the Cy Young), is on the team, as is Tomoyuki Sugano, a pitcher who has won the Sawamura twice as well as two Central League MVP trophies. In the bullpen, expect to see pitchers like Ryoji Kuribayashi and Kaima Taira, among the leaders in NPB in saves.
At the plate, Japan will be led by players like Yuki Yanagita. The 32-year-old outfielder has been named an All-Star six times and the Pacific League MVP twice, including last season. He currently is tied for the HR lead in the Pacific League with 18. The Central League’s HR leader, Munetaka Murakami(with 24), is a 21-year-old wunderkind corner infielder who MLB teams no doubt are hoping will cross the Pacific Ocean in the future. Outfielder Seiya Suzuki was the MVP of the 2019 Premier12 tournament and also played for Japan in the 2017 WBC. 2020 Japan Series MVP Ryoya Kurihara is also on the team as an outfielder but may also be asked to catch in case of emergency.
Outlook: It is hard to really determine the favorite in such a tournament as this Olympics, but Japan must be regarded as one of them. Outside of a lack of MLB stars like Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, Japan has basically their best roster possible and one can easily imagine them having roughly this roster (with the addition of some MLB players) next WBC. In addition, they’ll have the home crowd behind them (although it will be smaller than they no doubt hoped, given COVID protocols). At the very least, Japan should medal, and they need to be considered one of the favorites to win gold.
Check back at the Baseball Continuum as we near the 2020/21 Olympics for more previews of the teams that will be competing in Tokyo.