Sunday, October 11, 2015

Takashi Saitoh

Eagles reliever Takashi Saitoh got out in front of the retirement bandwagon this season, holding a press conference back on August 17th to make his announcement.  His final appearance was on October 4 and the Eagles held his retirement celebration after the game.

Saitoh was taken in the first round of the fall 1991 draft by the then Yokohama Taiyo Whales (he was also chosen by the Dragons who lost him to the Whales in the lottery).  He made his ichi-gun debut with the Whales the following season.  He, along with Motonobu Tanishige and Daisuke Miura, was one of the last three active former Whales.

It's easy to forget since he's been exclusively a reliever for a long time but he was mostly a starter for Yokohama during his first nine seasons.  He lead the CL in strikeouts in 1996 with 206 and was one of the top starters for the Baystars (along with Daisuke Miura and Hiroki Nomura) in the Nippon Championship season in 1998.  He became the Baystars closer for the 2001 and 2002 seasons before moving back into the rotation for his last three seasons in Yokohama.  Following the 2005 season he headed to MLB, spending seven seasons with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Braves, Brewers and Diamondbacks.  He returned to NPB for the 2013 season, signing with the Eagles (who play in his hometown of Sendai).

He made the All Star team four times (1994, 1996, 1999 & 2001) plus once in MLB (2007).  He played in two Nippon Series - 1998 and 2013 - with his team winning both times.  He won an "Outstanding Player" award in the 1998 Series when he went 2-0 including a complete game three hit shutout in Game Two.  He also won the Comeback Player of the Year award in 1998 (after missing most of the 1997 season with an elbow issue - he did not make an appearance at ichi-gun that year).

Here's a sampling of his cards, including his BBM rookie card from 1992:

1992 BBM #471

1994 Takara Baystars #11

1997 BBM #20

1998 BBM Nippon Series #S59

2000 Epoch #139

2001 BBM All Stars #A18

2004 BBM All Stars #YB70

2013 Eagles Heat #020

2015 Calbee #125

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