Quite simply, a great Yankee…
One thing is assured. Yankees fans will not be enjoying any of the hoopla that fans of the San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs et al have been experiencing this off-season. The Winter of Our Discontent (hat tip to John Steinbeck) continues with the loss of starter Hiroki Kuroda, who has signed a one year deal with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese Leagues.
Derek Jeter, David Robertson, Francisco Cervelli, Martin Prado, David Phelps, and now Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankees have lost some great personalities from the 2014 team and it ensures that 2015 will be “different”. It remains to be seen if it will be different-good or different-bad, but will definitely be different.
I remember when Hiroki Kuroda arrived in the U.S. in his early 30’s with the Los Angeles Dodgers. I think in my mind I viewed him as nothing more than a #3 starter but I remember watching a Dodgers game a few years (with the legendary Vin Scully announcing…what a treat!). He was masterful that game. I don’t remember the outcome but I do believe it was a Kuroda win and he only gave up a few hits. I was impressed by his performance, but I don’t think I truly appreciated how great he was until he came to New York. I was so wrong. He was more than a #3 starter. He may not have been an ace, but he was the type of #2 starter every team needs. He was a stopper, and he kept his team in games consistently from game to game. After watching A.J. Burnett flame out with essentially the same spot in the rotation with his roller coaster performances, Kuroda gave us stability and an arm that could be counted on. It’s too bad the team was unable to reward him with a World Series championship. Everyone knows the high class and character of Derek Jeter, but Kuroda is every bit the man of honor.
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I am glad that Kuroda was able to be a part of Masahiro Tanaka’s first year and to help with his transition. In a way, there is a bit of an unknown in what it will be like for Tanaka without fellow countrymen Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki on the team. This is why it would make tremendous sense to add Hideki Matsui to the coaching staff. I haven’t heard Matsui’s name mentioned as a hitting coach but what about first base? He had one of the greatest clutch bats in recent Yankees history and is well liked by his former teammates and coaches.
But back to Kuroda. I read The New York Post headline that blared “Kuroda spurns Yankees, to return to Japan”. I don’t really view this as Kuroda spurning the Yankees. It has been known his desire was to finish his playing career in Japan. The man Kuroda has proven to be is one who would want to put the best possible product on the field in front of his home country. He wouldn’t want his last year to be a pitcher who stayed a year too long. I do not view this as a spurning so much as it was a man trying to do the right thing for his fans and country. As a fan, I know the tremendous respect that he holds for both the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations. Not many people can play for both and only the Yankees and Dodgers.
Masahiro Tanaka wore #18 prior to his arrival in New York. I wonder if he’ll now change his number from 19 to 18 out of respect for his mentor. Tanaka is one of the few guys worthy of wearing Kuroda’s jersey.
Here’s hoping that we see Kuroda at future Yankees Old Timer’s Day games. He will be missed and we look forward to his eventual return to stand among the Legends.