Archive for the ‘KBO’ category

NPB Signs Another Cuban Ball Player

February 14, 2018

The SoftBank Hawks just signed Cuban Yurisbel Gracial to a one year 55 million yen ($510,000) contract.  He is a 32 year old who plays shortstop and third base.  He has only played professionally in Cuba’s Serie Nacional and for a Canadian team in the Indy-A CanAm League.

Gracial is probably a major league talent who is too old for MLB.  He makes perfect sense for an NPB team, however.

Since I think the Cuban embargo has outlived any usefulness or effectiveness it may once have had, I want to see players like Gracial playing in the best league they can.  It’s a subtle stroke for capitalism that the best Cuban players who aren’t willing to defect are nevertheless going to play in Japan for the next best dollar, or yen, as the case may be, rather than staying at home and making peanuts playing in Cuba.

Cuba needs hard currency because it’s communist/socialist economy doesn’t work.  So long as Gracial gets to keep at least half of what he makes in Japan, I can live with the Cuban government getting up to the other half.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what the actual tax is — it’s entirely possible the Cuban state is getting 80% or 90% of the contract amount.

My guess is that the Hawks will play Gracial at shortstop, since they already have a fine third-sacker in Nobuhiro Matsuda.  However, with Matsuda now 35, Gracial will be in insurance policy at 3B.  The Hawks have plenty of money to spend to make sure they make NPB’s post-season every year like clockwork.

I also like the way that more and more, NPB and South Korea’s KBO are becoming like the old U.S. minor leagues before they were fully captured by the major league organizations.  They develop their own local players and import the best available players who for one reason or another haven’t been able to establish themselves as MLB major leaguers.  The Asian leagues are slowly but steadily getting better — they’d need to get rid of foreign player roster limits to move up to the next level of competition — and are slowly but steadily sending more and more of their top talent back to MLB.

Meanwhile, NPB and KBO teams hold on to their best players long enough to have great seasons and increase local interest in professional baseball by putting a quality product on the field.  Like in the independent minor leagues of old, NPB and KBO teams don’t have to give up their best players the moment the MLB majors come calling for them.

Ultimately, the better the level of play in NPB and KBO, the more players those leagues will send on or back to MLB.

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KBO Goes Younger and Cheaper with its Foreign Imports in 2018

February 13, 2018

With the Samsung Lion’s announced signing of 28 year old pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla to a reported $700,000 deal, South Korea’s KBO has now filled all 30 roster spots for foreign players heading into the 2018 season.  KBO teams went younger and cheaper this off-season, which is probably a very sensible thing to do.

Last off-season, KBO teams spent big, hoping that the Korean National Team would do well in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and the KBO would see a big boost in attendance as a result.  The Korean team under-performed again in the WBC, and KBO attendance, while steady, did not experience the attendance surge KBO teams had been betting on.

KBO teams spent big on some older foreign pitchers with significant MLB experience like Jeff Manship, Carlos Villanueva and Alexi Ogando.  However, these oldsters had a hard time staying healthy, and their performances while solid, weren’t the league-leading performances their respective teams were paying for.

Also, this off-season KBO teams elected to jettison some of their big foreign stars who still pitched effectively in 2017 but were getting long in the tooth, namely Dustin Nippert, Andy Van Hekken and Eric Hacker.  Nippert was able to sign a $1 million with the KT Wiz, but that was less than half of the record-setting $2.2 million the Doosan Bears paid him in 2017.

Well, there’s a lot to be said for going younger and cheaper.  Players going into their age 26-29 seasons are a lot less likely to get hurt than players over the age of 30.

Also, except for teams with a realistic chance of going deep into the post-season, KBO teams should be looking for foreign pitchers they can develop and keep around for a few years.  You might get one great year from an MLB veteran over 30, but you might get three or more good years out of a pitcher who is signed entering his age 27 or 28 season.

The initial contract that a foreign player in the KBO signs tends to have a big impact on future contracts.  KBO teams own the rights of each foreign player in the KBO, meaning that the team which signs a foreigner to his first contract is the only game in town unless the player plays well enough to generate interest from a NPB team.

Starting a rookie foreign player in the $600,000 to $800,000 range means that it’s going to take more than one fine KBO season for that player to begin to approach the top of the salary scale for foreign players, which is currently between about $1.5 million to $2 million.  Needless to say, if you pick the right 26 to 29 year old at $600,000 to $800,000, that could be a player a KBO team could build a team around for the next three or four seasons without breaking the budget.

KBO Increasingly Using Options for Foreign Players

January 27, 2018

As the 2018 season approaches, South Korea’s KBO has already filled 29 of the 30 roster spots available to foreign players.  Today, mykbo.net published a schedule of the foreign players signed so far with the known details of their contracts.

What I found interesting about the contract details is that both the SK Wyverns and the NC Dinos each signed all three of their foreign players to contracts that contain options for a second season.  As background, the KBO allows its teams to sign foreign players to only single year contracts.  This keeps KBO teams from getting stuck with albatross contracts, but it’s also very hard to build a successful ball club when several of your best players may well leave after only one season.

If a foreign player has a big season in the KBO, he may elect to move to Japan or return to the MLB system the next season.  Also, the player may feel he deserves a raise bigger than what the KBO team wants to pay, resulting in the player and team unable to reach an agreement, forcing the team to find a new, unproven foreign player to fill that roster spot.

Also, new foreign players controlled by MLB teams require the KBO team to pay the MLB team a buyout, usually in the $500,000 range if the MLB team still deems that player to have some value.  [Note that the Angels allowed the Hanwha Eagles to sign the soon to be 29 year old Jared Hoying for a token transfer payment of only $1 because of a specific arrangement Hoying and his agent made with the Angels at the time the Angels signed him.]

Finally, there’s no guarantee that each time a KBO team brings in a foreign player, that player will succeed in the KBO.  Even though the odds of success are better than for rookie foreigners in NPB, a lot of highly paid foreigners who looked like great bets don’t perform in South Korea as hoped.

At least two KBO have now decided that an option for a second year is a way to avoid the pitfalls of single season contracts while still obeying the KBO’s one-year contract limit.

The first such foreign player I am aware of who agreed to give his KBO team a second year option is Eric Thames.  After his big first season in the KBO, the NC Dinos signed him to what was in many reports referred to as a two-year contract.  It was almost certainly a one-year deal with an option for a second season.

The deal ended up working well for both player and team.  The NC Dinos were able to hold onto Thames for three full seasons, in each of which he performed at an MVP caliber level, instead of having him run off to NPB for a better deal after two big KBO seasons.  Meanwhile, the deal ended up working out for Thames, who performed so well that he was able to get an MLB deal for more money guaranteed than he could have gotten from either a KBO or NPB team.

The option payments SK and NC handed out to their foreign players this off-season are fairly generous relative to the players’ salary amounts.  My guess is that in all six contracts, the amount to be paid in the second season is roughly the same amount of money as the first year of the contract plus the option amount.

For example, after a big year in 2017, Xavier Scruggs received a contract from the Dinos that could pay him as much as $1.3 million in 2018 in the form of a $400K signing bonus, a $700K salary (probably not guaranteed) and a $200K option for 2018.  My educated guess is that the 2019 contract will give Scruggs a $400K signing bonus and a $900,000 salary.

Scruggs is older than Thames was at the same point in their respective KBO careers, so it’s unlikely that Scruggs will get a future MLB contract anything like the one Thames signed last winter.  However, another big season in the KBO in 2018, and the likelihood that Scruggs would jump over to the NPB’s greener pastures is relatively high.  Now, the Dinos have Scruggs locked into a third season, if they want it, and Scruggs is guaranteed an additional $200,000 in 2018 if his option is not picked up.

The Wyverns handed out bigger option guarantee amounts than the Dinos did, but the thinking appears to be the same.  The Wyverns locked in Merrill Kelly, who was a threat to jump to NPB this off-season, for two seasons, at prices near the top of the KBO foreign player salary scale, which an NPB team might have been willing to beat for Kelly’s 2019 season, if Kelly pitches as well in 2018 as he did in 2017.

These options obviously give SK and NC more time and opportunity to build or field a winning team since they’ve now locked in some of their best players for two years.  The option deals also prevent any player-team arguments over the amount of the second season, since the contract amount was agreed to already.  I’m certain we’ll see more of these options contracts going forward, unless the KBO changes its rules and allows teams to sign foreign players to multi-year contracts.

The Ten Best Players from the U.S. Virgin Islands in MLB History

December 31, 2017

Lately, the tiny island nation of Curacao (current population 150,000) has garnered a lot of attention for all the great baseball players produced there.  Before Curacao, the tiny Caribbean island nation (sort of) that produced a surprisingly large number of major league players was the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The first Virgin Islander to play in the major leagues was Valmy Thomas on April 16, 1957.  Thomas was born in Puerto Rico, where he later experienced the greatest share of his professional baseball success, because his mother didn’t trust the hospitals in the U.S. Virgin Islands and thought she’d get better care in Puerto Rico.  However, mother and baby returned to the Virgin Islands shortly after the delivery.  Joe Christopher was the first major league player actually born in the Virgin Islands when he broke in in 1959.

Including Thomas and Julio Navarro, who was also born in Puerto Rico but grew up on St. Croix, at least 16 Virgin Islanders have played in the majors.  Here is my list of the best ten:

1. Horace “Hoss” Clarke (1965-1974).  The starting 2Bman in the period immediately following the end of the New York Yankees’ multi-decade dynasty, Clarke was in his prime a terrific defensive 2Bman, leading the Junior for six consecutive seasons in assists (1967-1972), four consecutive seasons in putouts (1968-1971) and twice in double plays (1969, 1972).  He was also seen as a good lead-off man in his day, but he was definitely an old-school lead-off man who ran well and stole bases but didn’t really get on base enough for the role.

Clarke’s reputation in his own day was affected by the fact that the Yankees were no longer consistent winners, as one of the team’s best players in this era, he took a lot of undeserved heat for it.  He also had a reputation for not being tough on hard slides into second base to break up the double play, but as noted above, he did lead the AL twice in turning double plays and never finished lower than 5th (in a 10- or 12-team circuit) in this category in any of the seven seasons between 1967 and 1973.  He was also a polite but quiet man who preferred playing musical instruments to talking, something that probably didn’t endear him to sportswriters looking for good quotes and copy.

Like most Virgin Islands players of his era, he played many winters in Puerto Rico where V.I. players were more or less treated like locals, and like several other V.I. players Clarke took a Puerto Rican wife.  After his career, Clarke returned to St. Croix, where he taught children to play baseball and also worked for a time as a scout for the Royals.

2. Al McBean (1961-1970).  Al McBean is not at all well remembered today, because his nine year Pittsburgh Pirates career was played entirely between the 1960 and 1971 teams that were World Champions.  He won 15 games as a starter in 1962 and then was gradually converted to a reliever over the 1963.  The Pirates’ top reliever Elroy Face took McBean under his wing and taught McBean how to pitch in relief situations while having McBean over to his house to BBQ.

McBean went 13-3 with 11 saves in 1963, posted a 1.91 ERA with 21 saves (tied for 2nd best in NL behind Hal Woodshick‘s 23 saves) in 1964, and posted a 2.29 ERA with 19 saves (tied for 4th best) in 1965.  McBean wasn’t as good after that but remained an effective reliever and starter for the Bucs though 1968.

McBean had a hard sinker that was hard to elevate, and he threw from different arm angles to give hitters diverse looks.  He was known for his sense of humor and tried to put on a show for the fans, which sometimes got him called a hot dog.  He was also a flashy but stylish for the time (mod) dresser who became famous in Pittsburgh for a white suit, white tie and white shoes ensemble.  He sometimes drew comparisons to Muhammad Ali.

McBean also married a Puerto Rican woman named Olga Santos, whom he told the first time he met her that one day he’d marry her.  They married about nine months later in Pittsburgh.

Surprisingly, McBean never made an All-Star team, but he played in the one and only Latin American Players’ Game, the last game played at Manhattan’s old Polo Grounds on October 12, 1963, attended by 14,235 fans.  It was played for charity with NL and AL squads featuring Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Luis Aparicio, Minnie Minoso and Tony Oliva among others.  The National League team won 5-2, and McBean was involved in the game’s most exciting play: a triple by McBean that drove in Tony Gonzalez but on which McBean was thrown out at home plate on a Minoso to Aparicio to Jose Azcue relay.  For what it’s worth, the players on the two teams were disproportionately Cubans, reflecting all the great players coming out of that country before the Revolution.

McBean finished his major league career with a 67-50 record, 63 saves and a 3.13 ERA.  He returned St. Thomas after his career, working in housing and recreation for the Virgin Islands government.  Needless to say, he thinks most of today’s highly paid stars are soft.

3.  Elrod Hendricks (1968-1979). Part of Earl Weaver‘s catcher’s platoons for many years, Hendricks played for much of the Orioles’ greatest period of success between 1966 and 1979.  Hendricks didn’t hit for much of an average (.220 lifetime), but he’d take a walk and hit not too infrequent home runs, two things that Earl Weaver loved.  In fact, Weaver discovered Hendricks while managing in Puerto Rico after several unsuccessful attempts by Hendricks to establish himself playing in the U.S.

Hendricks was also a fine defensive catcher who throw out 38% of attempted base stealers during his career.  He played in five post-seasons, four with the O’s.  He played 16 seasons of winter ball in Puerto Rico and was the Orioles’ bullpen coach for a remarkable 28 years.

He was also a great handler of the Orioles’ great pitching staff.  He caught Jim Palmer‘s no-hitter on August 13, 1969, and Palmer had great things to say about Hendricks, despite their sometimes contentious disagreements about pitch-calling while Palmer was on the mound.

The most famous play in Hendricks’ career happened in the 1970 World Series.  In Game 1 with the score tied 1-1, Reds pinch hitter Ty Cline hit a high chopper off home plate, which Hendricks grabbed with his bare hand.  Berno Carbo came charging in from third trying to score.  Hendricks lunged towards Carbo trying to apply the tag as umpire Ken Burkhart moved forward to call the batted ball fair.  Burkhart and Hendricks collided, spinning Burkhart to the ground as Hendricks tagged Carbo with his empty mitt.  Burkhart called Carbo out, and Carbo and Reds manager Sparky Anderson argued vociferously.  This was before instant replay replay reversal, but the instant replays on TV showed clearly, both that Hendricks had tagged Carbo with the wrong hand and that Carbo had completely missed home plate.  Carbo did not touch home until he did so unaware as he argued with Burkhart.  Here is the replay from youtube.

4. Jose “Shady” Morales (1973-1984).  Morales and Manny Mota were generally recognized as baseball’s best pinch hitters during the 1970’s.  Morales’ 25 pinch hits in 1976 broke Dave Philley‘s 1961 record (tied by Vic Davalillo in 1970) and lasted until John Vander Wal stoked 28 in 1995.

Jose Morales’ had started his professional career as a catcher because of his strong arm, but developed a reputation as a defensive liability there.  Becoming a top pinch hitter kept on major league rosters, and he later had success as part of a DH platoon for the Minnesota Twins.

Morales played professionally for more than twenty seasons, including two decades of Winter ball in Puerto Rico.  When he retired his 123 career major league pinch hits was third best all-time, and he still ranks 8th best all-time.  He then worked as a hitting coach and instructor and now lives in the Orlando area.

5.  Jerry Browne (1986-1995).  Known as the “Guv’nor,” Browne had his best season as the starting 2Bman for the 1989 Indians, when he slashed .299/.370/.390.  Despite being a fast base runner who got on base, Browne was inconsistent and wasn’t good at turning the double play.  Ultimately, he developed into a utility man who played 2B, 3B and all three outfield positions.  He’s done some couching for major league organizations and now lives in Texas.

6.  Joe Christopher (1959-1966).  Joe Christopher had one great major league season when he was one of the few bright spots on a dreadful 1964 Mets team.  He slashed .300/.360/.466 and recorded 10 assists as the team’s primary right-fielder.  As a pinch-runner for the Pirates, “Hurryin’ Joe” scored two runs in the 1960 World Series.

He was the fifth player drafted by the expansion 1962 Mets.  His most vivid memory of the 1962 season was teaching center fielder Richie Ashburn how to say “Yo la Tengo” (“I got it!”) so that he wouldn’t collide with Venezuelan shortstop Elio Chacon, only to have Ashburn get run over by the much larger left fielder Frank Thomas.

Christopher credited his hitting success in 1964 in part to a pamphlet written by Paul Waner, which Christopher sent away for for 50 cents based on an add in the Sporting News, and a meeting he had with Waner in 1961.  Christopher also played in Puerto Rico for many winters and married a Puerto Rican woman, although the marriage lasted only about six years.  After baseball, he went into advertising.

7.  Midre Cummings (1993-2005).  Cummings moved to Florida for his final year of high school and became a first round draft pick for the Twins (29th overall in 1990).  He developed a reputation in baseball, perhaps unjustly, as a player with a lot of talent but who had a bad head in that he was too lackadaisical in his training and work habits.  He was never able to establish himself as an everyday player at the major league level, but he eventually established himself as an effective pinch hitter, leading his league several times in pinch hits.

The highlight of Cummings’ major league career, perhaps, was the 2001 post-season, where like Joe Christopher before him, he was used primarily as a pinch runner and scored three runs, two of them in the World Series, including the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7.  Cummings now lives in Tampa and coaches children.

8.  Jharel Cotton (2016-2017).  Cotton came to the U.S. at the age of 16.  He went 9-10 with a 5.58 ERA as a rookie starting pitcher for the A’s in 2017.  He’s got a live arm, but he will be 26 in 2018, so we’ll see where his career goes.  On August 9, 2016, Cotton fell one batter short of pitching a perfect game in the AAA Pacific Coast League, allowing a triple to the 27th batter with two outs in the ninth.

9.  Calvin Pickering (1998-2005).  Pickering also moved to Florida for his final year of high school.  Although a 35th round draft pick, he showed both a tremendous ability to hit and to hit for power as soon as he started his professional career.  Alas, weight issues (he reported to Spring Training at least one year weighing 300 lbs and never played at much less than 260) and the injuries that came with them prevented him from becoming a major league star.

Pickering hit 35 home runs at AAA Omaha in only 379 plate appearances during his age 27 season and played for half a season in South Korea’s KBO two years later.

10.  Valmy Thomas (1957-1961).  My next post will be devoted to Valmy Thomas, who had a very interesting professional career.

Hyun-soo Kim Returns to South Korea’s KBO

December 19, 2017

Hyun-soo Kim signed a four year deal with the KBO’s LG Twins for 11.5 billion won ($10.6 million), becoming the latest South Korean MLB player to return to the KBO.  He likely won’t the last.

While Seung-hwan Oh will probably get a deal from an MLB club, it’s looking increasingly likely that Jung-ho Kang‘s MLB career is over due to his inability to get a U.S. visa due to his third drunk driving conviction in South Korea.  Kang’s year off in 2017 also appears to have devastated his game.  He played in the Dominican Winter League this winter (he was able to get a visa to the Dominican Republic) until he was released because he was the league’s worst hitter.

It remains to be seen whether the return of several big stars to the KBO will improve the level of play there.  You have to assume that these players learned something playing in MLB which they can take back with them to the KBO.  However, these players are all over 30 now, so it remains to be seen whether they will resume their former status among the KBO’s most elite players.

Obviously, it should generate excitement in South Korea to have former MLBers sprinkled throughout the league’s teams, which hopefully will be felt it the 2018 KBO box office.  The KBO is still a developing league, and anything that generates additional buzz for the league domestically is a good thing.

NPB Signings

December 14, 2017

The biggest signing of a new foreign player by an NPB team was formally announced today.  The Hanshin Tigers signed Wilin Rosario, formerly of the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles.

Rosario will be receiving a reported $3 million salary in 2018.  He may have also received an additional $500,000 signing bonus.  There are rumors that there is a second year of the deal that will pay Rosario $4 million in 2019.  However, that may be a team option, or what is for all intents and purposes a team option if only the first year of the contract is guaranteed.

NPB teams don’t report contract amounts, so it’s always something of a mystery exactly what each player is getting paid.  I also believe that not every contract is guaranteed.

Rosario is what NPB teams are all looking for: a power hitter with a significant MLB track record who is still reasonably young.  Rosario will be 29 next season.

Rosario has also proven his ability to produce in Asia, as he’s coming off two great seasons in the KBO, in which he slashed a combined .330/.393/.625 and launched 70 home runs.  However, that is no guarantee, as Yamaico Navarro had two huge seasons in the KBO in 2014-2015 and then fell flat on his face in NPB in 2016.

Still, there are reasons to think Rosario can make the transition that Navarro couldn’t.  Rosario is a better pure hitter and had a much more impressive MLB record.

With the Tigers having committed to Rosario, the seemingly obvious candidate to sign the Central League’s 2017 home run champ Alex Guerrero, who it has been announced will not be returning to the Chunichi Dragons, is the Yomiuri Giants, mainly because the Giants are the only team with the money and the need to sign Guerrero.

With Miles Mikolas having returned to MLB, the Giants have the roster space to add another foreign every-day player.  Also, with no 2017 Giant hitter hitting more than 18 HRs, Guerrero would seem to fill an obvious hole in Yomiuri’s line-up.

To date, the next biggest contract to a new foreign player in NPB this off-season, is the two-years and $2.1 million (plus another $500,000 in performance incentives) the Nippon Ham Fighters gave to former Minnesota Twin Michael Tonkin to become their closer.  NPB foreign veterans Scott Mathieson, Wladimir Balentien, Rafael Dolis, Marcos Mateo, David Buchanan, Casey McGehee, Arquimedes Caminero, Zelous Wheeler, Carlos Peguero, Spencer Patton and Joe Wieland have also reportedly signed new deals that will pay them more than $1 million in 2108, led by Mathieson’s two-year deal that pays him $3.2 million in 2018.  Higher paid foreign veterans Alfredo Despaigne, Ernesto Mejia and Dennis Sarfate are in the middle of three-year deals that will pay each of them at least $4.4 million (500 million yen) in 2018.

As a final note, there are rumors that big-time MLBer Pedro Alvarez might be playing in NPB in 2018.  He could potentially hit a lot of home runs in NPB, but he’d be expensive and he was looking like an old, old 30 in a 2017 season spent mostly in the AAA International League.  I still think we could see Chris Carter playing in NPB in 2018, although I haven’t heard any rumors to that effect.

Marshall Bridges and Joe Stanka

December 7, 2017

Marshall Bridges crossed my consciousness for the first time yesterday.  He came up while I was reviewing Joe Stanka‘s years with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League — see below.  I hit a link for Bridges’ major league numbers and found out that he was the 1962 World Champion New York Yankees’ top fireman.

Bridges went 8-4 with 18 saves, while Luis Arroyo, who had a break-through year for closers generally in 1961, was next on the Bombers with seven.  Arroyo’s 1961 season was so great, in fact, that it appears to have a cast a dark shadow over Bridges’ merely impressive 1962, even though the ultimate outcome, a World Championship, was the same.  Bridges had a big fastball and was hard to hit but wild, and his 1963 campaign was similar to Arroyo’s 1962.

The thing that really did in Bridges’ Yankees’ career, perhaps, was that he got into an altercation with a female patron in a Ft. Lauderdale bar during Spring Training 1963, and Bridges ended up getting shot in the leg.   According to baseball reference, “21-year-old Carrie Lee Raysor claimed Bridges had repeatedly offered to drive her home and, after repeatedly not taking ‘no’ for an answer, ‘took out [her] gun and shot him'” below the knee.

I hope she was good-lucking.  Bridges eventually made a full recovery, but since he was already 31 in 1962, he again recaptured his 1962 magic.

Bridges was an African American lefty (Ms. Raysor was a married black woman, according to my sources) from Jackson, Mississippi who started his professional career with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues.  Bridges started his MLB-system career as a two-way player, but pitched better than he hit in the low minors and became a full-time pitcher.  He didn’t reach the majors until his age 28 season, and still pitched in seven major league seasons.  He passed away at the age of 59 in 1990.

Bridges also pitched for the NL Champion Cincinnati Reds in 1961, but had been sent down to the minors for good long before the Reds reached the post-season.  Bridges pitched in two games of the 1962 Series, but allowed three runs, two earned in 3.2 innings pitched and did not receive a decision.

More famously, he allowed Chuck Hiller’s 7th inning game-winning Grand Slam in Game 4, with Jim Coates‘ runner on first the run what cost Coates the decision.  This website says that Marshall Bridges was the last Negro Leaguer pitcher to pitch in the World Series.

I was surprised the Bridges’ name rang no bells and his photo on baseball reference was not familiar, after I saw his record.  I knew about Chuck Hiller’s Grand Slam, but obviously not the pitcher that served it up.  I fancy myself pretty knowledgeable about pitchers, including relievers, who had at least one great season in the 1960’s, and I was sad to be disabused of that notion.

I think that a big part of the reason I had never heard of Bridges is because he appears to have appeared on only one Topps baseball card in his seven seasons of major league play.  Topps apparantly elected not to put out a card for Bridges in either 1962, the year he had the great season, or in 1963, the year after.  The shooting incident in before the 1963 season was almost certainly why there was no baseball card for 1963, since he was on the Yankee’s major league roster for all or most of the 1963 season.

I never had Bridges’ 1960 Topps card, and I couldn’t have seen his card for any other year since there weren’t any.  Anyway, that’s my excuse for my shameful ignorance.

Joe Stanka was a pitcher who appeared in only two major league games, but was one of the first two great American pitchers in NPB history.  Stanka was also probably the first “modern” player in Japan’s NPB, in the sense that he was exactly the type of 4-A player just past age 27 which ultimately became the bread-and-butter of NPB recruiting of foreign players.

Stanka pitched reasonably effectively in his 5.1 major league innings during the September of his age 27 season, but when he got an offer to play in the Japan that off-season, he jumped at it.  Stanka pitched four full seasons for the Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Solons before his 1959 major league cameo, when the PCL was still the best of the three AAA leagues.  In those four seasons, he was one of the Solons’ top two starters in three of those seasons and was the third best out of six in the fourth year, his rookie year in the league.  Marshall Bridges was the best starter on the 1958 Solons.

Stanka won 100 games against 72 losses in seven NPB seasons.  He was generally a No. 2 starter in Japan, except for 1964, when he was one of the Central League’s top three starters, going 26-7.  More importantly, he had one of the all-time great Japan Series, pitching shut-outs in Games 1, 6 and 7 (ya think?), beating fellow American Gene Bacque, the 1960’s other 100 NPB game winning foreigner, in Game 6.  Bacque had had an even better regular season than Stanka in 1964.

I got to thinking about Stanka while I was researching foreign players in NPB in the 1960’s.  1962 was roughly the year that NPB teams routinely began to bring in foreign players throughout each NPB league’s six teams.

Most of the foreign MLB-system players in 1960’s NPB were players over the age of 30, who were finishing out their relatively/marginally successful MLB-system careers and wanted to keep playing for top dollar once their future MLB major league hopes were dim indeed.  The next largest group was younger players who played in the MLB low minors and somehow made their way to NPB to continue their careers.

There were few 4-A players of Stanka’s type in the 1960’s, but Stanka’s success wasn’t really acted upon by NPB teams until the 1970’s.  Today, NPB teams (and now KBO teams) like best foreign players going into their age 27 season, with ages 26 and 28 a close second.  Teams will still sign older players with substantial major league records, but it’s not nearly as common as it once was.

Casey McGehee is an example of a current generation older player.  McGehee has had the talent level, good luck and good sense to use two separate stints in NPB to have what must be his most successful professional career possible.  He’s returning to the Yomiuri Giants in 2018 for a reported $2.4 million, which beats by far what most 35 year olds make.

In reviewing the NPB 1960’s, one thing that struck me is that by the 1960’s, NPB was already a pretty good league.  The older major league veterans mostly had a couple of good years and then were too old to succeed in NPB.  Relatively few foreign players during this period were either No. 1 starters or No. 1 hitters (per each of each league’s six teams) in any of their many, collective seasons.

Foreign hitters provided power, which NPB teams highly valued.  By the late 1960’s, it was mostly foreign sluggers that NPB teams were signing.

As a final note, in 1962 saves was still not an official statistic, although it was the third season that the Sporting News had been reporting save totals based on a formula created by Jerome Holtzman.  Bridges’ 18 saves were second best behind The Monster, Dick Radatz.  As far as I know, there is no (close) family relationship between Jerome and Ken Holtzman, another fine pitcher who fell victim to early success and 1970’s pitch counts.