Japanese pitchers and uniform number 18

Blog called Mets by the numbers had a kind of interesting post about significance of uniform numbers in Japanese culture: Why Igarashi Was Issued No. 18, following the news that Mets’ new reliever, Ryota Igarashi, picked the uniform number of 18 this year.

Of course, our man Daisuke Matsuzaka wears number 18 for the Boston Red Sox.

When I first read the question “Why is number 18 significant number in Japan?”, first answer that popped in my head, speaking from my personal experience growing up in Japan, was that its because Yomiuri Giants’ number 18 has always been “Ace’s number.” But funny thing is when I looked it up, in my lifetime only two Yomiuri Pitchers have worn 18: Tsuneo Horiuchi from 1967-86 and Masumi Kuwata (also played for Pittsburgh Pirates) from 1986-2006.

Horiuchi is no doubt a great pitcher, he is in Japanese hall of fame and won bunch of Sawamura awards and MVPs, and Kuwata, for the most part, was a a great pitcher, too.

Other significant pitchers that I came across with quick internet search of who wore 18 are:
Victor Starffin, Motoshi Fujita (both Yomiuri Giants), Tetsuya Yoneda (Hankyu Braves, Japanese HOF), Hideki Irabu (Lotte- Yankees) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (Seibu Lions).

Masahiro “Ma-kun” Tanaka (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles), and Hideaki Wakui (Seibu Lions), who said I am not worthy of Daisuke’s 18 at first and wore 16 for a while, wear 18 now, that I can think of off top of my head. Both are considered up and coming aces. Wakui won last year’s Sawamura awards.

On the side note, I grew up rooting for Chunichi Dragons and their ace’s number has always been 20, and my friend told me that for Yaklut Swallows (Igarasghi’s team), ace’s number has aways been 17. So I guess in that regard, you can’t say 18 is Japan’s ace number entirely – but because of popularity of Yomiuri Giants, it could be argued. Also undoubtedly, in high school, ace’s number is 1. This is across the board ‘fact’ and I don’t think anyone would argue this in Japan. There was a news recently that Nippon Ham Fighters have kept number 18 open for this year’s biggest draft hopeful Yuki Saito, so that is another indication that 18 is a aces number. Speaking of Fighters, it is interesting that “Japan’s ace” Yu Darvish is wearing 11.

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