Jan 27, 2019

Early 2000's Japanese Mets Outfielder: Tsuyoshi Shinjo (2001/2003)

Tsuyoshi Shinjo was born January 28, 1972 in Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. He was one of the best defensive center fielders of the 1990's in his native Japan. Although he didn't hit for power he was a very popular player due to his antics & good natured personality.

He dyed his hair, leaped with a hop when he caught a ball, wore flashy clothes & colorful wrist bands.
He left Japan and signed with the New York Mets for $200,000 in 2001, turning down a $2 million deal in Japan.
His signing in MLB with New York was influenced by manager Bobby Valentine & surprised a lot of people. Shinjo played hard for the Mets, winning over the fans as well as his manager Bobby Valentine. He hustled & always had an positive, upbeat attitude.

He debuted getting an at bat on Opening Day in Atlanta & got his first MLB hit. In the third game of the year he got his first start & that day he drove in his first RBI. On April 9th he hit his first career HR it came off Jason Marquis & the Braves at Shea Stadium. On May 13th he had three hit day at Shea Stadium in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. A week later he singled in the bottom of the 9th inning scoring the Mets winning run against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On July 18th he had another game winning hit, this time scoring Joe McEwing to beat the Florida Marlins. From June 1st through June 7th on an East Coast road trip, he had four games where he drove in two each time. In the first game after the September 11th attacks, it was Shinjo who drew a bases loaded walk to drive in the first run on the return, it came off the Pirates Todd Ritchie in Pittsburgh in the 3rd inning.

He had a good rookie debut, as he made the Topps All Star Rookie team, batting .268 with 10 HRs 23 doubles & 56 RBIs playing in 123 games. He also made MLB ethnic history becoming the first Japanese born player to bat clean up in an MLB line up.

In the outfield he played in center field (53) games where he posted a perfect .1000 fielding % & in left (46 games) where he was fourth in the league with a eight assists. He also played right field (39 games ) posting a .985 fielding %.

Some people criticized his hot dog style of play & his flashy look. He wore big bright orange wrist bands & had fancy wraparound sun glasses. After the season, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants with Desi Relaford for pitcher Sean Estes. He struggled a bit in the Bay Area batting only .238 with 9 HRs 15 doubles & 37 RBIs in 118 games. But Shinjo made history again, that season becoming the first Japanese native to play in a World Series. He went 1-6, in three Series games for the Giants, as they lost to the Anaheim Angels in seven games.

He was released after the Series and got signed by the New York Mets once again for 2003. He saw some action in the outfield (54 games) and was used as a pinch hitter as well. He faded quickly and was done at the end of June. He was sent to AAA Norfolk where he hit .324 the rest of the season.After only 62 games he hit .193 with one HR & 7 RBIs. He ended his big league career with 202 hits, 41 doubles, 20 HRs, 100 RBIs & a .245 batting average in 303 games.

Retirement: He went back to play in Japan & had some solid seasons before retiring in 2006. He played on many losing teams in Japan, but in his final season, his Nippon Ham Fighters won the Championship. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he took the field in the last inning, and the team carried him off the field in victory when it was over.

Overall in Japan, he won 9 gold gloves & made three Best Nine teams. Currently he is a TV celebrity in Japan, has a coffee drink named for him, runs a line of clothing & won ten million Yen on the Japan version of "Millionaire".

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