Eri Yoshida Update: Is the End Near for Japan’s Knuckle Princess?
Every year I like to write one or two posts informing the world of the status of Eri Yoshida‘s professional baseball career. As the most successful female pro pitcher of the last half century, she’s a great story and with her youth and specialty pitch, there was at least a chance that she could develop into something more than a novelty act.
I had a hard time finding any recent reports of Yoshida’s professional goings-on. The main reason, I think, is that her pro career isn’t going well.
She’s still pitching for the Ishakawa Million Stars, a team in Japan’s Baseball Challenge League, essentially a Japanese Independent-A League, which she joined last fall after pitching for the Maui Na Koa Ikaika, an Hawaiian independent-A team she had pitched for, on and off, since 2011, but which apparently won’t be playing in 2014.
For the Million Stars in 2014, she currently has a 13.03 ERA, having allowed 14 earned runs in 9.2 innings pitched over six appearances. Last year for the Million Stars, she had a 10.43 ERA, allowing 17 earned runs in 14.2 IP over four appearances.
Eri’s photograph is prominently displayed on the Million Stars’ website, so she is obviously still a major gate attraction. However, she has pitched very sparingly for the obvious reason that, even at the independent-A level, winning is what brings in the most fans.
I don’t have a clear idea how good the Baseball Challenge League is. On the one hand, with only one minor league club per NPB major league team (NPB teams have 70 players on their roster, all but about 25 of whom are assigned to the minor league club), there must certainly be a lot of good Japanese professional baseball players not playing in the NPB system.
On the other hand, Japan also has very highly developed industrial leagues, of the type that existed in the U.S. about 100 years ago. All the NPB teams are owned by corporations which use their baseball teams for publicity, and many, many Japanese corporations not involved in NPB have semi-professional teams of their own playing in long-established leagues.
However, industrial league players are treated as “amateurs” because they are employees of their teams’ corporate owner, and not strictly paid players. Needless to say, I doubt that any players on the better industrial league teams perform any significant amount of work during the playing season other than playing and training to play baseball. Here’s an NPB Tracker post on the Industrial Leagues.
I do not know whether players can return to the industrial leagues after washing out of the NPB system because they are no longer “amateurs.” If they cannot return, there would be a lot of good players around to fill up the rosters of an independent professional league. If they can return to the industrial leagues, I would think it would be hard to find talent to fill Baseball Challenge League rosters.
At any rate, the Baseball Challenge League supplements its Japanese talent base with a healthy sprinkling of foreign talent, apparently as many as four per roster. These players include many former U.S. independent-A league, MLB minor league and Mexican League players and also former NPB superstar Alex Ramirez, who is hanging on at age 39 and hoping to earn a shot at resuming his NPB career.
Whatever the talent level of the Baseball Challenge League it appears to be too challenging for Eri Yoshida, who looks to be holding her roster spot solely for publicity purposes.