On Friday, three retired NPB players were admitted to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, including former Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. It marks the first time that three players have been inducted in the same year since 2008, when center fielder Koji Yamamoto and pitchers Tsuneo Horiuchi and Seiichi Shima received nods. In fact, just 16 players have entered the Hall of Fame in the last decade.
Sasaki began his professional baseball career on the fields of the Yokohama Stadium, sporting the colors of the then-named Yokohama Whales. After ten full years of service, he tried his hand at the MLB level, carrying a pristine 1.93 ERA and 19 saves from his last season of play. This was hardly a record for the 31-year-old -- in 1998, he sent batters scurrying with 45 saves and a stunning 0.64 average.
As with most NPB transplants, Sasaki's MLB numbers nearly doubled his numbers in Japan. Still, with a 3.16 average and a league-leading, record-setting 37 saves, he laid claim to the 2000 Rookie of the Year Award and multiple All-Star and MVP nominations in subsequent seasons. Though Sasaki kept on with Seattle long enough to make a cameo in their special-edition comic book series, he retired from MLB at the end of the 2003 season with a career 3.14 average and 3.7 wins above replacement.
Sasaki returned to Japan, where he took on sporadic assignments from his first club, now re-named the Yokohama BayStars. In 2005, he topped off his 12-season career with six innings, five strikeouts, and four saves. In Japan, he places third overall with 252 saves; in MLB, he sits in 96th place with 129.
According to the Japan Times, 45-year-old Sasaki is the third-youngest Hall of Fame inductee.
What fond memories do you have of Kazuhiro Sasaki? Share them in the comments below.
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