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Kenji Johjima or Can't He?
2005-11-21 22:05
by Mike Carminati

Today the Mariners signed 29-year-old Kenji Johjima from the former Japanese leagues to be their starting catcher in 2006. And he has nothing to do with that crappy Robin Williams movie from a few years back.

I won't venture a guess as to how well he'll do in the majors. He could be Hideki Matsui or Hideki Irabu, Big Matsui or Little Matsui. As far as I can tell, the Japanese players that have segued into the majors have been as big a crapshoot as Schrodinger's cat. And I do hope the M's hire a translator for discussions at the mound. That is, unless Ichiro doesn't mind jogging in from center every so often.

I do have to say that the reports that he will be the first Japanese-born catcher in the majors are completely inaccurate. Keith McDonald played six games behind the plate for the Cardinals in 2000 and 2001. Though McDonald sounds about as Japanese as Carminati, the man was born in Yokosuka, Japan. I don't know McDonald's history—whether his father was in the service or was starting up a Ray Kroc franchise in Japan at the time—and without the luxury of a complete genealogical inquiry of every player in the game, he qualifies.

By the way, I was wondering about the language issue and looked up the premier catcher for each foreign country. So here goes:

Birth CountryNameyearID
AustraliaDave Nilsson1992
CANBill Phillips1879
CubaMike Gonzalez1912
CzechoslovakiaAmos Cross1885
D.R.Ozzie Virgil1960
EnglandDick Higham1871
FranceBruce Bochy1978
GermanyJoe Straub1880
IrelandFergy Malone1871
JapanKeith McDonald2000
MexicoFrank Estrada1971
NetherlandsJohn Otten1895
NorwayArt Jorgens1929
P.R.Valmy Thomas1957
PanamaManny Sanguillen1967
ScotlandMike Hopkins1902
SpainAl Pardo1985
V.I.Elmo Plaskett1962
VenezuelaCesar Tovar1968
W.GermanyMike Blowers1993
WalesJimmy Austin1923

I wonder if pitcher had difficulty understanding Fergy Malone's Irish brogue back in the day.

Anyway, with Ichiro Suzuki and Johjima, the M's will potentially become the first major league team with two starting position players born in Japan. That made me wonder when each foreign country first had two starting players on the same team:

TeamYrBirth CountryPlayer1Player2
Chicago White Sox1952CubaMinnie MinosoHector Rodriguez
Milwaukee Braves1964D.R.Felipe AlouRico Carty
California Angels1988JamaicaChili DavisDevon White
San Francisco Giants1961P.R.Orlando CepedaJose Pagan
Pittsburgh Pirates1973PanamaManny SanguillenRennie Stennett
Philadelphia Phillies1982VenezuelaBo DiazManny Trillo
2005-11-21 22:54:21
1.   Bob Timmermann
Yokosuka, Japan has a U.S. Naval base. It's quite likely that Keith McDonald was born in a naval hospital.
2005-11-22 03:29:32
2.   joejoejoe
What about Mexico? Wikipedia has lists of all players by national origin but I can't tell if any are teamates at a glance.

2005-11-22 05:53:31
3.   Mike Carminati

I should have mentioned that I used a 400-plate appearance cutoff for starting position players. No two Mexican teammates have had that many though there have been at least 187 such (through 2004) pairings. The first two Mexican teammates in the majors were Bobby Avila and Jesse Flores on the 1950 Indians.

2005-11-23 09:31:33
4.   joejoejoe
Thanks Mike. This is great stuff.

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