- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2014


There’s not much mystery in today’s world. We can watch outer space on our computers and ask a woman named Siri on our phones what is the meaning of life.

There are scouting reports on elementary school athletes. Football game films are there to break down on your tablet in your living room, just like the coaches.

You can argue that the biggest mystery today is that there is no mystery anymore.

And then the New York Yankees pay $155 million to a pitcher that most of America has never seen before, a hurler from a faraway land.

This is how legends begin – the tale of the 10-foot tall, 120 miles per hour pitcher from Japan who is unhittable.

Masahiro Tanaka is neither 10-feet tall, nor does he throw 120 miles per hour. But he did go 24-0 last year with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last year, and much of the baseball world here never saw one pitch.

So when he takes the mound at Yankee Stadium this season, he will be a wonderful mystery to American baseball fans, who will have already talked about his split-fingered fastball that one report claims may be “the best in the world.”

How will the great Tanaka fare when facing the great Miguel Cabrera? Or the darling of the jihadist sabermetricians, Mike Trout? How will the stats king do against the Japanese mystery?

We have seen glimpses of Tanaka in the World Baseball Classic, and if you really followed Japanese baseball, you could be very well versed in the career of Tanaka. But for most of the three million plus fans who will come to Yankee Stadium this season, and the millions more watching, he will be a great, well paid unknown.

Will he be Hideo Nomo, who lit the baseball world on fire with his tornado delivery for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, leading the National League in strikeouts and going on to pitch two no-hitters in his 12-year major league career?

Or will he be Daisuke Matsuzaka – “Dice-K” – the hurler with the “gyroball” pitch who the Boston Red Sox paid a record $51 million to his Japanese club, the Seibu Lions, just for the rights to negotiate with Dice-K, followed by a six-year $52 million contract and, overall, a major league career defined by disappointment and injury?

The Yankees – the most high-profile major league baseball franchise – have had a defining presence in Japan ever since the great Babe Ruth played there in a 1934 barnstorming tour, and several reports have indicated that Tanaka wanted to be a Yankee.

“They gave me the highest evaluation and are a world-famous team,” Tanaka told reporters Thursday at a press conference in Japan.

The contigent of Japanese reporters who cover the Yankees is larger than most press corps that cover many of the teams in American baseball.

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