The first Japanese-born major leaguer pitched so well in a late-season callup in 1964 that the San Francisco Giants fought bitterly to retain his services. The Nankei Hawks, his Japanese club, allowed him to stay with the Giants for one more season, during which he struck out 85 batters in 74 1/3 innings before deciding to return home. Nearly three decades passed before another Japanese pitcher came to the States.
2 of 45Brad Mangin/SI
Nomo-Mania had humble beginnings -- the Dodgers brought him over on a minor league contract. Nomo, 26 at the time, had posted a 78-46 record with a 3.15 earned run average in five years with the Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japanese League. He was an instant hit in America, winning 43 games during his first three seasons with Los Angeles and claiming NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1995.
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He was fifth in the AL in both wild pitches (11) and walks (95) in 2000 with the Royals, which helps explains why he was out of the majors by 2002. He went 16-31 over 117 games with Seattle, K.C., Colorado and Milwaukee.
4 of 45John Iacono/SI
He was purchased by the Padres in January 1997 and traded in May of that year to the Yankees, who paid him $8.3 million over three years. He went 29-20 with New York, won just two of 14 starts over two seasons with Montreal, and left the majors after going 3-8 with Texas in 2002. He was found dead at his California home in 2011 at age 42.
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The 5-11, 165-pound reliever appeared in 35 games for the 1997 Mets, striking out 19 and walking 18 while finishing with a 4.31 ERA. He returned to Japan shortly thereafter.
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Coming on the heels of Nomo-mania, Hasegawa was the first player traded from Japan to the majors. Before the 1997 season, the Angels paid about $1 million to the Orix Blue Wave and $350,000 to Hasegawa, who was a starter in Japan but proved more useful as a reliever in the States, posting a 3.70 ERA in nine major league seasons.
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A free agent signed by the Mets in 1998 (two years, $3.1 million) who also played for the Rockies and Expos, Yoshii went 32-47 with a 4.62 ERA over a five-year career. He struck out 117 and 105 in his first two seasons, respectively.
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The Tigers signed Kida for two years, $3 million in December 1998 but eventually sold him back to Japan. Kida made it back to the majors but didn't pitch more than 14 innings for either the Dodgers or Mariners.
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The Red Sox purchased the 22-year old Ohka from the Yokohama BayStars in November 1998. He pitched for five teams in his 10 major league seasons, going 51-68.
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Armed with a nasty split-fingered fastball that announcers dubbed "The Thang," Sasaki was AL Rookie of the Year in 2000, when his 37 saves were the most ever at the time for a first-year reliever. He had doubled his rookie salary to $8 million by 2003, his last season with the Mariners.
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The first Japanese-born position player to play regularly in the majors, the 10-time Gold Glove winner and 10-time All-Star is one of the best hitters and defensive outfielders in the game. The Mariners paid roughly $13 million in posting fees to negotiate with Ichiro in 2000, and signed him to a three-year, $14 million contract. He promptly became the 2001 AL Rookie of the Year and MVP. He set a single-season record with 262 hits in 2004, his second season as AL batting champ and set a major league record with 10 consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits.
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One of the most popular players in Japan because of his dyed hair and wristbands, Shinjo had an abbreviated stay in the majors. The Mets purchased him in December 2000 for $500,000. In three big league seasons he played in 303 games, finishing with 20 homers and a .245 average.
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After 10 seasons in Japan, the 33-year-old Nomura signed with the Brewers for one year, $600,000. He pitched only 13 2/3 innings for the Brewers in his lone season in the majors.
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He got $900,000 in his first season (2002) with the Dodgers but pulled down $5.6 million combined over the next two. He averaged 13 wins and eight losses with L.A., but went 3-9 in 2005 with a struggling Mets team while raking in $3.6 million in his final season in the bigs.
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The versatile Taguchi has spent four seasons in the Cardinals organization but didn't become a semi-regular in the majors until injuries slowed Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders. He helped St. Louis reach the 2006 World Series with a go-ahead homer in Game 2 of the NLCS. He finished his eight seasons in MLB with a .279 average.
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Labeled the Japanese Greg Maddux, Komiyama played only one season in the States. At age 36, he didn't fare well, posting an 0-3 record with a 5.61 ERA.
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"Godzilla," as he was known in Japan, has been an unqualified success since signing a three-year, $21 million deal with the Yankees before the 2003 season. Matsui drove in at least 100 runs each of his first three seasons and was the World Series MVP in 2009, his last year with the Yankees before moving on to the Angels for 2010 and the A's for 2011.
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Nakamura was born in Japan but raised in Australia. He played college baseball at the University of South Alabama, pitched two years in the majors and in 2006 set the single-season saves record for the Japanese Pacific League.
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After hitting a home run in his frst at-bat, it was all downhill for Matsui. He was switched from shortstop to second base after his rookie season of 2004 because of ineffectiveness and was traded in 2006, the final year of his three-year, $20.1 million contract. He last played in the majors with Houston in 2010.
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A setup man for the Padres in 2004 and 2005, when he averaged only $750,000 per season, Otsuka became the Rangers' closer in 2006 and finished with 32 saves and a 2.11 ERA. He played one more season in the majors.
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The 30-year-old Iguchi solidified the Chicago White Sox's infield and the No. 2 spot in their lineup and helped lead them to a World Series title in his rookie year of 2005. He batted .278 with 15 home runs 15 stolen bases and finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year balloting.
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The Dodgers found a golden oldie in Saito, who as a 36-year-old rookie led the team in saves with 24 in 2006. In his first six MLB seasons, playing for four teams, he posted a 2.18 ERA and made the NL All-Star team in 2007.
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After signing a three-year, $16.5 million deal with the Mariners, Johjima batted .291 with 18 home runs in 2006, his first season in the majors. That proved to be by far the best season of his four years in the bigs. He returned to Japan after the 2009 campaign.
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The Boston Red Sox shocked the baseball world by bidding $51.1 million for his services via the Japanese posting system and then signing the former Seibu Lions ace to a six-year, $52 million contract. He won 15 games as a rookie and 18 in his second season but has won just 16 in the three years since while battling injuries and ineffectiveness.
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New York paid a $26 million posting fee to the Hanshin Tigers for the right to negotiate what would end up being a four-year, $20 million deal with Igawa. He went 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA in 14 games in his first year and after allowing six runs in two games in 2008 he was banished to the minors and has yet to return to the majors.
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The six-time Gold Glover in Japan signed with the Devil Rays for three years and $7.7 million. Tampa Bay also had to pay a posting fee of $4.55 million to his former team, the Yakult Swallows. He helped the Rays win the AL pennant in 2008 but lasted just two more years in the majors, leaving with a lifetime average of .267.
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Often forgotten in the wake of the Daisuke Matsuzaka hysteria, Okajima also was acquired by the Red Sox before the 2007 season. He had pitched 10 seasons in Japan as an effective reliever and has posted a 3.11 ERA in his five years in the majors.
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After 21 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, the pitcher signed a free-agent contract with the Pirates in 2007. He made his debut in June of that year and posted a 9.43 ERA in 21 innings.
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The Cubs right fielder earned the ultimate sign of respect in his 2008 big league debut: a curtain call, following a game-tying home run in the ninth inning. The Japanese hitting star received a four-year, $48 million contract from Chicago after playing nine years professionally in Japan. Fukodome rode a hot start to the All-Star game, but he faded down the stretch and has had an up-and-down career since. In 2011 he was traded to the Indians and has a career average of .260 and 42 home runs.
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The Dodgers signed the right-handed pitcher as a free agent before the 2008 season, and were rewarded with four solid seasons in which Kuroda made more than 30 starts three times and had a 3.46 ERA.
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The pitcher became the third Japanese player to reach the major leagues without playing professionally in Japan when he made his debut in 2009. The right-hander made four starts for Boston in 2009, but he needed Tommy John surgery in April 2010 and missed the entire season. He made just three appearances in 2011 and has pitched only nine times in his big league career.
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The Indians signed the Japanese pitcher before the 2008 season, and he spent parts of the next two years as a reliever for Cleveland. Kobayashi went 4-5 with a 5.10 ERA in two seasons in the major leagues. He signed with the Yomiuri Giants and returned to Japan for the 2010 season.
33 of 45Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images
The Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher made a two-year detour to Kansas City, who signed him to a two-year, $6 million deal in 2008. Yabuta went 3-4 with a 7.19 ERA in his two seasons with the Royals. In 2010, he re-signed with the Marines, his team from 1996 to 2007.
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The pitcher had a chance to come to the United States in 1998, but he passed on a reported $3 million offer from the Angels to sign with the Yomiuri Giants. But in 2009, he signed with the Orioles and reached the major leagues. He has recorded 13 saves and was in contention for Baltimore's closer role, but injuries slowed his spring. In 2011 he was traded to the Rangers at midseason and helped them win the AL West.
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The Braves signed the former Chunichi Dragons starter to a three-year, $23 million contract before the 2009 season, but Kawakami's success hasn't followed him from Japan. After posting a 112-72 record in nine years there, he is just 8-22 in the majors and pitched exclusively in the minors in 2011 after returning from injury.
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After 14 years with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, the then 40-year-old signed a minor league contract with the Mets. He made 26 appearances for the big league club and posted a 2.96 ERA.
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The former Yomiuri Giants pitcher made his major league debut in April 2010 with the Mets, who had signed him to minor league contract. Takahashi went 10-6, making 12 starts and 41 relief appearances in 2010. He signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Angels in the offseason.
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The Mets signed the reliever to a two-year, $3 million contract before the 2010 season, but the right-hander struggled. He posted a 7.12 ERA in 34 appearances. He was designated for assignment in January 2011 to clear roster space.
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The Twins paid $5 million for the rights to negotiate with Nishioka, who then signed for $21 million over three years. Casual baseball fans were introduced to the 26-year-old Minnesota second baseman on April 7, 2011, when he broke his left fibula after being slid into by the Yankees' Nick Swisher.
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Tateyama came to the majors in 2011 at age 35 and settled into a middle relief role with the Texas Rangers. In 39 games he posted a 4.50 ERA but pitched just once in the postseason, a scoreless inning in Game 3 of the ALCS.
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Takatsu came to the majors at age 35 with the White Sox. For a short time, in his rookie year of 2004, he was their closer, saving 19 games. He had eight more saves for the White Sox in '05 before being released, missing their run to the world title. He pitched nine games for the Mets the rest of that season and then left the majors for good.
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Tadano pitched just 15 games in the majors, all for the Cleveland Indians and 14 of them in 2004, when he went 1-1 with a 4.65 ERA.
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A one-time Rookie of the Year in Japan, Yabu pitched in 40 games for the A's in 2005 and 60 games for the Rockies in 2008, finishing his career with a 4.00 ERA.
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A slugging third baseman in Japan, Nakamura originally signed a two-year contract with the Mets in 2002 but backed out of the deal. He eventually came to the majors with the Dodgers in 2005, but after batting just .128 with no home runs in 17 games he was sent to the minors, where he finished out the season before returning to his homeland.
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Fukumori surrendered 11 hits and nine runs, all earned, in just four games for the Rangers in 2008, for a 20.25 ERA, earning a quick demotion to the minors. He returned to Japan after that season.
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