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Prior to arriving in the United States, Fukudome played nine seasons for the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League. He was also a member of the Japanese national baseball team, winning a silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics, a bronze medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics, and placing first in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and 2009 World Baseball Classic. He won the Central League MVP in 2006.
Fukudome entered the prestigious PL Gakuen High School, and was quickly targeted by professional scouts as a potential first round draft pick. Seven teams chose Fukudome in the first round of the 1995 draft, and the Kintetsu Buffaloes won the right to negotiate with Fukudome by winning the lottery. However, Fukudome had already decided that he would not turn pro unless he could play with the Chunichi Dragons or Yomiuri Giants, and joined Nihon Seimei, whose baseball team belonged to the industrial leagues. In 1996, at the age of 19, he became the youngest player to ever be chosen for an Olympic baseball team, and his team won a silver medal in the Atlanta Olympics.
Career in JapanEdit
The Chunichi Dragons drafted Fukudome in 1998 in the first round as a shortstop. Fukudome had grown up a fan of Dragons infielder Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, and received an autograph from Tatsunami, who would be his teammate when he joined the Dragons.
Manager Senichi Hoshino used Fukudome in 132 games in his rookie year, and Fukudome batted .284 with 16 home runs, and contributing to his team's league championship. However, he also led the league in strikeouts. While Fukudome was fast and had a strong throwing arm, he simply could not field ground balls well at shortstop. He made several errors which led to his team's loss in the Japan Series, and was often taken out of games in later innings.
He was converted to third base in his second year, but his fielding improved little, and his hitting dropped as well. The next year, he was moved to the outfield. While he played poorly at first, he gradually improved to become the everyday right fielder. His natural speed and strong arm has since led to his winning four Golden Glove awards in the outfield.
His hitting also improved dramatically. He stopped Hideki Matsui in his run for the triple crown in 2002, by leading the league in batting average (.343). He hit .313 with 34 homers the next year, establishing himself as one of the best hitters in the league.
In 2004, he joined the Japanese Olympic baseball team for the second time, winning a bronze medal in the Athens Olympics. He was chosen for the 2006 World Baseball Classic team, and pinch-hit with a two-run home run off Byung-Hyun Kim in the semi-finals against Korea. He pinch-hit again in the finals for a two-run hit against Cuba.
In 2006, he batted .351 with 31 home runs and 104 RBIs, winning the Central League MVP award.
Career in the United StatesEdit
When asked whether he had any interest in the Major Leagues on a television show in the 2006 off-season, Fukudome answered, "It would be a lie to say I didn't. Playing in the World Baseball Classic increased my desire to play in the majors."
Fukudome became a free agent in November 2007. On December 11, 2007, the Chicago Cubs signed Fukudome to a four-year, $48 million contract. Fukudome said in an interview that one of the main reasons he chose the Chicago Cubs over the other three teams trying to sign him to their roster was because he wanted to be the first Japanese player to play for the team. He also thought Chicago had a great Japanese community, and that it was a great place to raise his children.
Fukudome made his Major League debut on March 31, 2008, against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. He went 3-for-3 with a walk, including a double on his first Major League pitch, and a three-run game-tying home run off Brewers' closer Éric Gagné in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Brewers went on to win 4-3 in extra innings.
In April 2008, a souvenir stand selling unlicensed Cubs apparel sold a t-shirt bearing the Cubs cartoon bear wearing over-sized Harry Caray-style glasses encircled by the phrase "Horry Kow" (an Engrish play on Caray's "Holy Cow!" catchphrase) in cartoonish Asian script below. Mark Kolbusz, the souvenir stand operator, said the shirt was his top seller so far that season, and that 1 in 10 customers complained that it was offensive. After he was shown the shirt, Fukudome said through his interpreter, "I don't know what the creator of the shirt meant this to be, but they should make it right. Maybe the creator created it because he thought it was funny, or maybe he made it to condescend the race. I don't know." After a story on the t-shirt appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs ordered Kolbusz to pull the shirt off the stand and to stop production.
After a fast start, Fukudome's 2008 MLB performance faded. After a .327 batting average in April, each successive month reflected less success as Fukudome batted .293 in May, .264 in June, .236 in July, .193 in August, and .178 in September, followed by .100 in the postseason. He ended the year with a .257 average, and a .370 slugging percentage. He hit .251 against right-handers, and .137 when there were 2 outs and runners in scoring position. Fukudome's slide was detailed in a New York Times article.
Nonetheless, on July 7, 2008, Fukudome was voted a starter in the 2008 MLB All-Star Game. Cubs manager Lou Piniella defended him from criticism, and said, "[Fukudome] does such a good job in right field we hate to take him out of the lineup," and further stated the team would continue to give him more opportunities.
After the Game 2 loss to the Dodgers in the NLDS, a reporter asked Piniella, enraged about the loss, about starting Fukudome. Piniella responded, "I'm going to play [Mike] Fontenot or Reed Johnson or somebody else, and that's the end of that story. The kid is struggling, and there's no sense sending him out there anymore." Fukudome managed only one single in 10 at bats in the postseason.
In 2009, the Cubs switched Fukudome to center field, after acquiring right fielder Milton Bradley. In July, Fukudome became the Cubs' leadoff hitter. He replaced Alfonso Soriano, who had been performing poorly in May and June.
In 2009 he had the lowest range factor of all starting major league center fielders (2.29). However, he walked 93 times, hit 38 doubles, and stole six bases. His .375 on-base percentage was second on the team, although it wasn't enough to keep the team from missing the playoffs, as they finished 7 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 2010 the Cubs switched Fukudome back to Right Field. He started the season strong, batting .400 in the first 2 series. On April 23, in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Fukudome doubled in the 1st to score Ryan Theriot. In the third inning, he hit a long home run to right field. In the 7th, Brewers' Pinch Hitter, Craig Counsell doubled into the Right Field corner, Fukudome bobbled the ball, but managed to pick it up and throw Counsell out at third.
On April 29 of 2010, during a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, in the bottom of the 8th inning, Fukudome hit his first career grand slam.
Fukudome is off to a good start in 2010, as he is currently 15th in the majors in Batting Average.
- ↑ ESPN - Japanese star Fukudome coming to Chicago to play for Cubs - MLB
- ↑ Sullivan, Paul. "Fukudome debut spoiled by Cubs' loss to Brewers", Chicago Tribune, March 31, 2008.
- ↑ Wittenmyer, Gordon. "Fukudome doesn't find racist T-shirts in Wrigleyville funny", Chicago Sun-Times, April 18, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-04-19.
- ↑ Wittenmyer, Gordon. "Cubs pull Fukudome shirt after Sun-Times report", Chicago Sun-Times, April 19, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-04-19.
- ↑ Schwarz, Alan. "Fukudome’s Hitting Is Downside on the North Side", New York Times, September 17, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-10-03.
- ↑ http://www.baseball-reference.com/pi/bsplit.cgi?n1=fukudko01
- ↑ http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20081003&content_id=3586311&vkey=news_chc&fext=.jsp&c_id=chc
- ↑ "MLB Player Fielding Stats - As cf - 2009," ESPN, accessed October 6, 2009
- Career statistics and player information from MLB, or ESPN, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
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