Disney’s Million Dollar Arm tells the story of sports agent J.B. Bernstein, who concocts an American Idol-like competition to find the best baseball pitcher in the cricket-loving nation of India, home to 1.2 billion inhabitants. He discovers not cricket stars but javelin throwers in Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, both of whom can touch the high 80’s on raw talent alone. The Pittsburgh Pirates eventually signed both Singh and Patel; as of 2014, Singh remains in the game but recently underwent Tommy John surgery.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to terms with Japanese ace Hideo Nomo in 1995, Major League Baseball would never be the same. “The Tornado” won the Rookie of the Year award thirty years after Masanori Murakami, the first ever Japanese-born Major Leaguer, returned to Japan following a two-year stint with the San Francisco Giants.
Nomo, who later spent a year with the Red Sox and fired the first no-hitter in a Boston uniform in over 35 years, blazed the trail for Asian-born players, some good, some not-so-good, in America. Over two decades, he has been joined by teammate Chan Ho Park (who actually debuted before Nomo but didn’t become a regular until ’96), All-Star compatriots like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, and a host of others.
With Million Dollar Arm on my mind, I decided to look back on the Boston Red Sox history of scouting Asia. I found a number of Japanese and Korean-born players who’d cracked the big league roster in Boston, some acquired by trade (Byung-Hyun Kim), others signed as Major League free agents (Nomo and Koji Uehara) and others imported straight from the continent to the Majors (Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima).
Yet over that time, only one Asian-born player, Japanese relief ace Junichi Tazawa, was signed from his home country, developed in the Red Sox system, and thrived at the Major League level for the Red Sox (Taiwanese outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin only briefly saw time in Boston during the Bobby Valentine era).
Click ahead for a tale of Red Sox feast and folly scouting Asia over the past two decades.