This is the second Japanese player in Pirates history. Masumi Kuwata, a 20-year veteran of the , pitched in 19 games in 2007. A former MVP in Japan, the chronological sequence on his Baseball Reference wiki page is nonetheless funny, but typical of a Pirates signing:
"1987-1994: The Glory Years," "1995-1996: Injury," "1997-2002: Post-Injury," "2003-2006: Further decline," "To the USA."
Though he was an eight-time All-Star in Japan, he was 39-years-old when Pittsburgh signed him, and somehow couldn't crack their weak roster. He retired in March, 2008, after a spring training game:
Kuwata, a baseball superstar in his native Japan, formally announced his retirement after the Pirates' 7-4 victory against the Detroit Tigers this afternoon, a game in which manager John Russell asked him to pitch one final time as a show of respect. But he declined.
"He told us he's pitched thousands of innings, that we should use that time to look at pitchers for our future," Russell said. "He's a class act, a true professional and a great human being. We wish him the best of luck in everything he does."
The ritual at the mound was meant to symbolize a farewell to the game. And, although Kuwata's impact in Pittsburgh was negligible, some in the assembled Japanese media were saying that this farewell would top their nation's news for the day.
"He's a legend in our country," said reporter Yasuko Yanagita, who broke the story of Kuwata's retirement for the Hochi Shimbun sports daily. "Everyone will want to know about this, and everyone will be surprised."
He actually only pitched a portion of 2007, getting sent down to the minors in August. I felt terrible for him, since the day after his family came to Pittsburgh to see him pitch in the Majors for the first time he was sent to AAA, after giving up five earned runs in one inning against San Francisco.
"I was thinking when I was pitching in PNC Park and they were watching last night, and I was pitching [terribly]," said Kuwata, who gave up five runs in his one inning of work. "But for them to see my pitching at PNC Park [made me] very happy."
Pittsburgh doesn't have an appreciable Japanese community, but acquiring Iwamura will at least raise the city's profile among Japanese fans overseas, and will put my butt in a PNC Park seat for a reason other than the nice view.
After all, my fiance and her family knew of Pittsburgh not because of its hospitals, its steel industry, or the G-20 summit this summer, but because Misumi Kuwata used to pitch there.