Based on the Phillies abhorrent history in regards to integration and race issues during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. As stated earlier in these pages, read Penn historian William C. Kashatus’ careful examination of these days in September Swoon: Richie Allen, the ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration. If one is wondering why the Phillies have won just a lone World Series since 1883, this book might hold some of the answers.
Nevertheless, the Phillies did open a baseball academy in Venezuela recently but closed it a few years back because of the civil unrest during the 2002 coup d’etat. The team has also signed a few Dominican players, but no one as notable as Placido Polanco – who attended school in Miami – and Jose Mesa.
Last winter I suggested that the Phillies would be well served to sign Kenji Johjima, the 30-year-old Japanese catcher who played 144 games for the Mariners in 2006, slugging 18 homers with 79 RBIs and a .291 batting average (.783 OPS), but, well, you know…
During the past decade and a half, the Phillies have not had a single Japanese player on the roster and it seems as if the closest the team ever got to having a player from Japan on the payroll was when Scott Rolen threatened to kick the holy-you-know-what out of Hideo Nomo in a famous incident in the bowels of the Vet.
But according to recent reports the Phillies are interested in Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura. The 27-year old is a lefty hitter who batted .311 with 32 home runs, 77 RBI and a .389 OBP in 2006 for the Yakult Swallows, which doesn’t fit the Phillies’ expressed need for a right-handed bat to break up the batting order with lefties Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. However, Iwamura could fit in nicely with the Phillies. Manager Charlie Manuel was a popular player and star for the Swallows during the 1970s, and general manager Pat Gillick has had an eye for gleaning and signing top talent from the Far East.
After all, it was Gillick who brought Ichiro Suzuki to Seattle during his GM days there.
Still, signing Iwamura seems like a long shot. The Indians, Red Sox and Padres are also reportedly interested in the third baseman. In order to get negotiating rights with Iwamura, the Phillies have to out-bid other teams in a silent auction “posting” period. If they do that, the Phillies have just 30 days to negotiate and sign the player before the next team gets a crack at him.
Plan B is to sign Penn alum Mark DeRosa or veteran lumbering slugger Wes Helms to split time at third base with Abraham Nunez.
The Phillies’ other needs – catcher and the bullpen – aren’t being attacked with the same alacrity as dealing away Pat Burrell or making overtures to free-agent Alfonso Soriano. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the Phillies will go with Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz behind the plate in 2007.
My suggestion? If the economics are right, Mike Piazza might be a decent option as a part-time catcher. The Padres didn’t pick-up the future Hall-of-Famer’s option so he should be out there.
If the price is right, why not?
The free-agent bidding period begins on Nov. 12.