The Golden League had planned its inaugural season to include a
sprinkling of Japanese players on the rosters of its eight teams.
When the league’s Tijuana franchise collapsed four months before the
season’s first pitch, however, the league came up with an idea inspired
by necessity: the first all-Japanese team to play in an American minor
And the Japan Samurai Bears were born.
Warren Cromartie, who reached the major leagues with Montreal but
found success in Japan, where he became one of the biggest American
stars, was hired to manage the team.
The Bears were scheduled to play their entire 90-game season on the
road. Beginning in late May, they started on a seven-city tour of three
Arizona teams–Mesa, Surprise and Yuma–and four California teams–San
Diego, Fullerton, Long Beach and Chico.
Whenever the Bears came to town, sushi and tempura were to be served
at the concession stands, taiko drums were to be played in the seats
and fundamental baseball was to be featured on the field.
“This is a team of experienced and dedicated players who are excited
to compete against their American counterparts,” Cromartie said when
the team assembled for spring training.
In the season’s first month, that excitement was tempered and
Cromartie’s patience tested. The Bears struggled with both the culture
and the curveball. They lost 21 of their first 30 games, giving them
the worst record in the Golden League as they began their second tour
around the league.
“My challenge is teaching Baseball Knowledge 101,” Cromartie said. “We’re kind of lacking on instincts.”
Cromartie jumped at the chance to manage when the league approached
him. “I didn’t hesitate,” he said. “It’s a great thing. It’s a
challenge. The stats I like are firsts–first hit, first home run,
first run, first time that a team has come and played in an organized
Here’s one first Cromartie could have done without: On June 19,
Chico’s Seth Johnson pitched the Golden League’s first no-hitter
against the Bears.
Japan’s biggest struggles have been on offense. The Bears averaged
fewer than three runs over the first 24 games, hitting just six home
runs. Third baseman Shinichiro Uchino’s .278 average led a team hitting
a collective .193.
The Bears’ search for offense is one reason they had already
released seven players. Six replacements have been signed. Visas had to
be expedited before the new players could make the 5,000-mile flight
The team also replaced one of its Japanese assistant coaches with an
American in an effort to focus more attention on the game the way it is
played in the U.S.
“Many players on this team came to America because they liked the
American style of baseball,” said Bears outfielder Hiroshi Yamauchi
through a translator. “But when I came and joined this team, because
everyone is Japanese, it was a little disappointing because it still
felt like a Japanese team that just happened to be playing in America.”
As challenging as it has been for the players to acclimate
themselves to the style of play here, the style of living has been even
The players, many of whom smoke, have been scolded for lighting up
in their hotel rooms. Perhaps they overlooked the no-smoking signs. One
player certainly misunderstood a restroom sign in a restaurant,
emerging red-faced from the women’s bathroom.
Then there’s been the attempt to maintain a diet of rice and noodles in a country dominated by hamburgers and pizza.
“American food has been one of the hardest things to get used to
about life in America,” outfielder Toshitaka Shimada said through a
translator. “We got sick of fast food very quickly, and especially
before the games, it’s not enough. Some of us cook curry or rice for
lunch, because that fills our stomachs for the evening games.”
The cooking is often done in their hotel rooms. So is the cleanup. It comes at a cost.
In Yuma, the Bears were billed for two bathtubs after players scraped up the tubs washing pots, pans and silverware in them.
“I think the second time around the guys will know the teams,
they’ll know the ballparks and they should settle down and be more
comfortable,” Cromartie said.
And if they can outfit the team bus with a dishwasher, so much the better.
The San Diego Union-Tribune
• One of baseball’s most noted all-star snubs, Oil Can Boyd
finally made an all-star appearance–in the Can-Am League. The
45-year-old Brockton Rox righthander was picked for the game after
going 1-1, 2.90 in six starts. “I’™m surprised,” Boyd said. “My win and
loss record might not show it, but I feel like my effort must have
shown in some kind of way. I really appreciate this.”
Boyd never made the major league All-Star Game, in spite of having
11 wins for the Red Sox at the all-star break in both 1985 and 1986. He
stormed out of Fenway Park after finding out he didn’t make the team in
1986. “I should have been on it and I should have been on it last
year,” he said at the time. “I want my reward and I want it now . . .
It was a heartbreaking situation. I just had to get home and get the
hell away from the park . . . I’m an angry young man.”
• A couple of Northern League franchises got their first major league alumnus in July when lefthander Tim Byrdak
made it to Baltimore. Byrdak was a fifth-round pick of the Royals in
1994 and saw big league time in Kansas City from 1998-2000. But he had
Tommy John surgery in 2001 and has been fighting his way back ever
since. He played in the Indians organization before hooking up with the
Joliet Jackhammers in 2003. He was traded to the Gary SouthShore
RailCats at midseason, then was signed by the Padres after the season.
The Padres traded him to the Orioles in June 2004, and he was called up
to Baltimore on July 2, striking out two in one inning against the