When Adrian Beltre left for greener waters after the 2004 season an obvious hole was created at third base. We were all left to wonder who the Dodgers would get to man the hot corner the next season. Is there even anyone in the system who can do the job?
For a time, our questions were answered when the Dodgers announced that a Japanese slugger by the name of Norihiro Nakamura had been given a non-roster minor league contract and an invitation to earn the job during Spring Training. Suddenly, thoughts danced around our minds wondering if he might be a power-bat version of Ichiro. Did we just find a diamond in the rough?
As you may know, Nakamura was a premier hitter in Japan. He had slugged over 30 home runs five-times, 100 RBI's three-times and OPS'd over .850 five-times prior to 2005. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn knee cartilage a couple of years back and saw his numbers decline as a result. Still, he could prove to be a effective veteran bat.
Nakamura did well enough at Vero Beach to make the Opening Day roster, but did not do enough with the bat to stay. He slashed .128/.171/.179 and recorded just three RBI's for the Dodgers. Less than a month into the 2005 season he was optioned to the Dodgers AAA club in Las Vegas and would never again make it to LA.
As you can imagine, his time as a Dodger was not a good one for him. Shortly after being released at the end of the year he said this, via Wikipedia:
"If Ichiro had started his career under minor contract like me, he couldn't be called up to Major League","This year is a kind of penalties for me", and "I don't know why I played in minor league".I hadn't realized he was that bitter about his MLB experience.
Featured in this post is a new autographed card for my collection. This is a 2005 Donruss Leather & Lumber - 'Lumber Cuts' autographed card of Norihiro Nakamura.
BTW, he continues to play professionally in Japan, but appears to be winding down his professional career. In 22 seasons overseas he has the following career totals: 2101 hits, 363 doubles, 404 home runs, 1,348 RBI's, .266 batting average and a .822 OPS. He was no doubt a great one. Unfortunately, it didn't translate well stateside.
Below are his career stats, via Baseball Reference:
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