Given the Yankees’ ever-present need for starting pitching, it’s been hard to figure out why Masahiro Tanaka was not resigned. Now, we know.
In the early part of the offseason, and before the Yankees had signed Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, and it was settled that Domingo German would be welcomed back to the team, it was assumed Masahiro Tanaka would be re-signed to a new contract.
Time passed as Yankees GM Brian Cashman, and Tanaka or his agent sent love notes back and forth in the press, and it was assumed by many that, much like DJ LeMahieu, eventually a deal would be worked out.
Except that in Tanaka’s case, all we heard was a surprise report he had packed his bags with all his belongings. He was on a flight returning to Japan’s homeland, and he was through playing major league baseball in America.
Tanaka issued an innocuous and bland statement indicating he would be pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.
“I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season,” Tanaka wrote on Twitter. “I wanted to make sure and get in touch with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons”.
Okay, many Yankees fans figured, Tanaka has made his mark with the Yankees as one of the premier pitchers in the game, achieving a record of 78-46, with a reputation as the Yankees best postseason pitcher of his era.
Masahiro Tanaka’s Disturbing Story
Recently though, a more sinister and disturbing story behind Tanaka’s decision to leave a still-fledging baseball career behind has emerged.
In a story detailed largely by SB Nation, we now learn that when Tanaka and his family returned to Japan during the 2020 shutdown between spring training and summer camp, he tweeted: “During the Florida camp, there were events other than the Coronavirus that made me feel like I was in danger, so we decided to return home with due care.” (Google Translation)
More recently, it was reported by multiple English-speaking outlets and a Japanese magazine that one of the motivating factors in Masahiro Tanaka’s decision to return to Japan was the concern over the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in America.
The magazine claims that Tanaka and his family felt unsafe in America, stemming from a discriminatory episode experienced by his son in school.
Brian Cashman said he felt heartbroken to learn of these purported incidents, though he maintains that he never heard directly from Tanaka about such events.
Peter Brody (SB Nation) goes on to cite similar episodes in Tanaka’s personal and family life that raise a concern about Tanaka’s safety, as well as a need to escape from America and its growing racist tendencies toward Asian-American citizens.
Perhaps in the face of headlines that screamed, “We can’t be silent in the face of rising violence against Asian Americans,” President Biden said after an assault on a woman in New York, and Masahiro Tanaka said enough is enough.
It’s important to note that Tanaka himself has yet to respond, confirm, or deny the surfaced reports.
Perhaps, Tanaka’s quiet demeanor during his tenure with the Yankees is carried over to now, and he’d just as soon leave the stage as quietly as he leaped upon it when he signed a $155 million contract to pitch for the Yankees.
Never To Turn A Blind Eye…
And for those who may be thinking, oh here he goes again mixing baseball with politics – this is not politics, my friends.
Instead, this a story about a ballplayer’s human side, and one that stretches out from the robots who play the game we love.
We can turn ourselves away from somber stories like this one, choosing instead to seek comfort in the daily box scores, league leaders, and broken records.
But without Masahiro Tanaka’s name listed among the Yankees pitchers, we should at least agree that something of significance has been lost and returned to Japan, where it all began.
It didn’t have to be this way…
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