Kazuhiro Sasaki (佐々木 主浩 Sasaki Kazuhiro, born February 22, 1968) is a Japanese former professional baseball relief pitcher. He played his entire Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) career with the Yokohama Taiyō Whales / Yokohama BayStars (1990–1999; 2004–2005), and played his entire Major League Baseball (MLB) career with the Seattle Mariners (2000–2003). His nickname "Daimajin"

Kazuhiro Sasaki
Sasaki with the Seattle Mariners in 2002
Pitcher
Born: (1968-02-22) February 22, 1968 (age 56)
Sendai City, Japan
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
Professional debut
NPB: April 7, 1990, for the Yokohama Taiyō Whales
MLB: April 5, 2000, for the Seattle Mariners
Last appearance
MLB: September 28, 2003, for the Seattle Mariners
NPB: August 9, 2005, for the Yokohama BayStars
NPB statistics
Win–loss record43–38
Earned run average2.41
Strikeouts851
Saves252
MLB statistics
Win–loss record7–16
Earned run average3.14
Strikeouts242
Saves129
Teams
Career highlights and awards
NPB

MLB

Member of the Japanese
Baseball Hall of Fame
Induction2014

Professional career edit

After playing college baseball for Tohoku Fukushi University, Sasaki was drafted in the first round of the 1989 draft by the Yokohama Taiyō Whales (now named Yokohama DeNA BayStars) in Japan's Central League. He played for them from 1990 to 1999, before joining the Seattle Mariners in 2000. He joined a bullpen that had been one of the worst in the major leagues, and during his rookie year won the closer job from a floundering José Mesa. Sasaki's out pitch, a devastating split-fingered fastball that drops when arriving at home plate, was nicknamed "The Thang" by Mariners radio announcers.[1] He complemented it with a four-seam fastball that topped out at mid-90s. Sasaki maintained a rigorous throwing program, sometimes at odds with club management, that saw him throw up to 100 pitches following games in which he did not appear.

Sasaki's transition to American baseball began with his being named American League Rookie of the Year. For three years, along with Jeff Nelson and Arthur Rhodes, Sasaki was an integral member of the back of Seattle's bullpen. He decided to leave the Mariners before the last year of his contract in 2004, giving up $8.5 million, citing his desire to be with his family in Japan. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, however, Sasaki's real reason for returning to Japan was pressure from ownership, due to his "indiscreet philandering".[2]

Sasaki resumed his career with the BayStars upon returning to Japan, where he pitched for another year. But in his second year back, nagging knee and elbow injuries resulted in his release from Yokohama and subsequent retirement. His last official appearance came as a cameo against the Yomiuri Giants on August 9, 2005, as he struck out his longtime friend and rival Kazuhiro Kiyohara in a game played at Fullcast Stadium Miyagi in his hometown.

In addition to his Rookie of the Year award, Sasaki set several Japanese professional baseball records, including saves (45) and save opportunities (46) for a single season in 1998; he was twice selected to play in the All-Star game, and was selected to eight All-Star teams in Japan. Sasaki's 37 saves in his rookie season with the Seattle Mariners remained a Major League Baseball record for saves by a rookie, until Neftalí Feliz broke it in 2010 with 40.

Personal life edit

In 1991, Sasaki married former idol singer Kaori Shimizu. Together they had two children.

After returning to Japan in 2005, Sasaki continued his affair with actress Kanako Enomoto, who was 13 years his junior. When Enomoto became pregnant, Shimizu divorced Sasaki on March 18, 2005. Enomoto gave birth prematurely on April 29, 2005.[3]

Sasaki's interest in sports extends outside baseball. In 2002 and 2003, he lent his name to a team in Formula Nippon, an auto racing series in Japan. His Team 22 won two races in that time. He is currently the general representative of D'Station Racing in the Super GT series.[4]

Sasaki is also a successful race horse owner, with many of his horses being a dam of Halwa Sweet [ja]. Notable horses Sasaki has owned include Verxina, named by Enomoto,[5] who won the Victoria Mile twice,[6]Vivlos, winner of the 2017 Dubai Turf race on Dubai World Cup Night, and Cheval Grand, winner of the 2017 Japan Cup.[7]

Sasaki has appeared as a judge on the Iron Chef television program. He had a side recording career, with an album of his vocals over techno beats.

Sasaki chose 22 for his uniform number because he was born at 2:22 on February 22 (2/22). The BayStars have permanently honored his number.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Stone, Larry (February 2001). "Closing in Seattle: Kazuhiro Sasaki's exotic pitch finishes off foes". Baseball Digest. Archived from the original on June 21, 2006. Retrieved June 13, 2007.
  2. ^ Thiel, Art (July 6, 2006). "M's learning when to lose patience". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  3. ^ http://mdn.mainichi-msn.co.jp/waiwai/face/archive/news/2005/20050603p2g00m0dm002000c.html[dead link][dead link]
  4. ^ "大魔神・佐々木氏がスーパーGT参戦チーム総監督に - モーター : 日刊スポーツ". nikkansports.com (in Japanese). Retrieved January 5, 2023.
  5. ^ "ヴィルシーナV、佐々木氏「野球より緊張」/クイーンC | 競馬ニュース". netkeiba.com (in Japanese). Retrieved January 5, 2023.
  6. ^ "ヴィルシーナ引退 "大魔神"佐々木氏所有、ヴィクトリアM連覇 - スポニチ Sponichi Annex ギャンブル". スポニチ Sponichi Annex (in Japanese). Retrieved January 5, 2023.
  7. ^ Kieckhefer, Bob (December 22, 2017). "Kitasan Black Swan Song in Arima Kinen". The Blood-Horse. Retrieved December 23, 2017.

External links edit