M’s Sasaki named A.L. rookie of the year

  • RONALD BLUM / Associated Press
  • Sunday, November 5, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports


Associated Press

NEW YORK – Kazuhiro Sasaki woke up in Japan and found out he had become the second-oldest rookie of the year in baseball history.

“I did not think I was going to receive this award because I did play in Japan for 10 years,” the Seattle Mariners reliever said after winning the American League award, overwhelmingly defeating outfielders Terrence Long of Oakland and Mark Quinn of Kansas City in voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Sasaki, a 32-year-old right-hander, was Japan’s career saves leader with 229 before signing with the Mariners as a free agent last December. He had 37 saves in 40 chances this year as the Mariners won the AL’s wild-card berth.

He received 17 first-place votes, five seconds and four thirds for 104 points in voting released today. For Sasaki, in Fukuoka, Japan, with a major league All-Star team, it was already Tuesday.

“My ultimate goal is to win the World Series,” he said through an interpreter.

Long, who hit .288 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs as Oakland edged Seattle for the AL West title, was second with 83 points, getting seven firsts, 15 seconds and three thirds. Quinn, who batted .294 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs, was third with 56 points, getting four firsts, eight seconds and 12 thirds. No other player received more than three points.

“I think they’re both great players,” Sasaki said. “I was able to face Terrence Long and he did a great job against me.”

The only older player than Sasaki to win a rookie award was former Negro leagues star Sam Jethroe, who was 33 days older in 1950, when he won the NL honor playing for the Boston Braves.

Sasaki becomes the second Japanese player to win a rookie award in the majors: Hideo Nomo won the 1995 NL award for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sasaki, a six-time All-Star for Yokohama in Japan, said he agreed with the BBWAA that Japanese veterans who migrate to the major leagues should be eligible. He said the major leagues and Japanese major leagues aren’t comparable.

“It is very difficult to say, but I can tell you the level of baseball in America and Japan are very different,” he said. “America is definitely higher. The level in Japan is coming along.”

Sasaki, the first AL pitcher to win the rookie award since Baltimore’s Gregg Olson in 1989, was 2-5 with a 3.16 ERA, and his saves total was the third-highest in the AL, behind Detroit’s Todd Jones and Boston’s Derek Lowe, who each had 42.

Alvin Davis in 1984 was the other Seattle player voted AL rookie. Sasaki beat out Jose Mesa in spring training to become the Mariners’ closer.

“He’s a pretty good dude,” teammate Jay Buhner said during the season. “You know, what he’s done isn’t easy. It’s tough going from the National League to the American League and vice versa. Can you imagine going from one country to another?”

Sasaki is friends with Ichiro Suzuki, who has won seven straight Pacific league batting titles and whose rights are up for auction among major league teams. The 27-year-old outfielder would be the first Japanese non-pitcher in the major leagues.

“You can’t really say how he will do, but I know he is a great player,” Sasaki said. “I’m just hoping, praying he will do well in America and be able to have success in America.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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