In 2004, a Japanese sensation arrived in Chicago, and then, almost as quickly he was gone. But it was fun while it lasted!
Shingo Takatsu. Remember that guy?
Takatsu was born Nov. 25, 1968, in Hiroshima, Japan and attended Hiroshima Technical High School and later Asia University. He was drafted by Tokyo’s Yakult Swallows, and built an impressive resume, helping the team win four Japanese League titles – 1993, 1995, 1997 and 2001 – and was on the mound for the final out in all four. He did not allow a run in any of the 10 championship series games he appeared in, earning the nickname “Mr. Zero.”
By the end of the 2003 season, Takatsu held the Japanese professional record with 260 career saves (since broken) and was ready to test the waters in the USA. He held a workout in January 2004 in San Diego and eventually signed a one-year deal (with a club option for 2005) with the White Sox on Jan. 22. He became the first Japanese-born player in White Sox history (since, only Tadahito Iguchi and Kosuke Fukudome have joined him among Japanese-born White Sox).
Mr. Zero made his MLB debut on April 9, 2004, at Yankee Stadium, and well, no zeros yet. He pitched one inning, allowing two hits (the first batter he faced was Hideki Matsui, who doubled), two runs and a walk, although he did notch his first strikeout – future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, who struck out looking to seal the 9-3 White Sox victory. He next pitched a week later, going an 1 2/3 scoreless, and then allowed a run in a third of an inning at home against the Yankees.
But then Takatsu got rolling, and the zeros starting piling up. He amassed a 24-game scoreless streak, going 26 1/3 innings (at the time the 10th longest scoreless inning streak in White Sox history) with 10 hits, no runs, five walks (0.570 WHIP) and 16 strikeouts, wresting the closer’s role from Billy Koch along the way.
After another zero on June 29, Takatsu season ERA was down to 0.92, having given the league a steady diet of sidearm 87 mph fastballs, 75 mph sliders, 70 mph changeups and low 60’s (and even lower at times) “Frisbee” curveballs. Some of those frisbees made the crowd gasp and the radar gun didn’t even register some of them.
Takatsu finally allowed a run on June 30 – a ninth inning Joe Mauer home run at the Metrodome, but the White Sox held on to win 9-6. He posted an acceptable 3.55 ERA from that game through the rest of the season, but it’s hard to forget the phenomenon that was peak Shingo Takatsu in mid-2004.
Takatsu earned one first place vote in the 2004 AL Rookie of the year voting, finishing second to Oakland’s Bobby Crosby. His season line showed a 2.31 ERA in 59 games, 40 hits allowed and 21 walks in 62.1 innings (0.979 WHIP) with 50 strikeouts and 19 saves. Not bad for a one-year flyer, though the White Sox ended up exercising his option for 2005.
2005 started out business as usual for Takatsu with a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve a 1-0 win on Opening Day. It all started to unravel in his next outing three days later, when he coughed up three solo home runs to turn a 5-2 lead into a tie game. Pretty soon, Ozzie Guillen was mixing and matching before Dustin Hermanson took over the closer’s role in May. Takatsu allowed at least a run in 11 of his 31 appearances before the White Sox released the 36-year old hurler on Aug. 1. He quickly latched on with the Mets to finish the season and allowed just two runs in nine appearances.
Mr. Zero racked up quite a few miles over the next few years.
Shingo returned to Japan, reuniting with the Yakult Swallows for 2006, and he pitched well (2.74 ERA) but struggled mightily the next year (6.17). He returned to the United States and signed with the Cubs in January 2008, but was let go in March. He found work for the Woori (Seoul) Heroes in South Korea where he was excellent, posting an 0.86 ERA with 8 saves over 18 appearances (21 IP).
In June 2009, Takatsu signed with Giants and struggled to a 6.87 ERA in 14 games at Fresno (AAA) and never made it back to the majors. He pitched for the Sinon Bulls in Taiwan (Chinese Professional Baseball League) in 2010 and showed glimpses of his dominant years, posting 26 saves and a 1.88 ERA.
Takatsu returned to Japan and managed the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Eastern League farm team before agreeing to take over the Swallows in September 2019. He’s one of two 2005 White Sox players to currently hold managerial jobs in Japan, along with Chiba Lotte Marines skipper Tadahito Iguchi.
Remember Shingo Takatsu? Of course you do!