Biography of Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka is a Japanese professional baseball starting pitcher for the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball (MLB). From 2007 through 2013, he played for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Nippon Professional Baseball’s (NPB) Pacific League.
Tanaka was posted by the Eagles after the 2013 season to be signed by an American team; he agreed to terms with the New York Yankees and signed a seven-year, $155 million contract, the fifth-largest deal ever given to a pitcher at the time. Masahiro Tanaka made his major league debut in 2014. Tanaka is known for being an exceptional pitcher in the postseason, currently sporting the 3rd-lowest postseason ERA in MLB history at 1.32.
Tanaka was the Eagles’ first-round pick in the 2006 NPB amateur player draft. From 2012 to 2013, Masahiro Tanaka won 26 consecutive decisions, which set a new NPB record. In the MLB, Tanaka has earned selections to two Major League Baseball All-Star Games.
Tanaka was born in Itami, a city in Hyōgo, Japan. He began playing baseball in the first grade as a catcher for the Koyanosato Tigers (a Little League team) alongside current Yomiuri Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who was then the team’s ace pitcher and Tanaka’s batterymate. Tanaka and Sakamoto hit third and fourth in the lineup, respectively. Masahiro Tanaka went on to play for the Takarazuka Boys while attending Itami Municipal Matsuzaki Junior High School, being used at both pitcher and catcher because of his strong throwing arm. He was chosen to the Junior All-South Kansai team in his third year of junior high—the equivalent of ninth grade in the United States.
High school career
Tanaka moved on to Komazawa University Tomakomai High School in Hokkaidō, now playing solely as a pitcher for the team. Armed with a fastball that sat in high-80s and a hard slider, Masahiro Tanaka led his team all the way to a championship in the 87th National High School Baseball tournament held at Koshien Stadium in the summer of his second year (eleventh grade).
His very last pitch of the tournament was clocked at 150 km/h (93 mph), the first time a pitcher had ever clocked that speed as a junior in the history of the tournament. Tanaka, already a highly coveted talent by NPB scouts, was chosen to the Japanese team that would play in the IBAF AAA World Junior Championships following the tournament and contributed to the team’s title.
Tanaka struck out 458 batters over the course of his high school career (2004–2006), surpassing Daisuke Matsuzaka’s previous national high school record of 423 with Yokohama Senior High School. He also hit 13 home runs during those three years.
After rival Yuki Saito announced that he would not be declaring for the upcoming draft, opting to go on to Waseda University instead, Tanaka became the single most highly touted high school player eligible to be picked. On September 25, in the 2006 NPB high school draft, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Orix Buffaloes, Yokohama BayStars and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles all selected Tanaka with their first-round picks.
The Golden Eagles drew the winning straw, signing him to a base salary of 15 million yen, a signing bonus of 100 million yen and additional performance-based incentives, the equivalent of what a first-round college or industrial league-player would normally receive, on November 2. Masahiro Tanaka was also given the uniform number 18, which typically denotes a team’s staff ace in Japanese professional baseball.
Tanaka was named to the Eagles’ ichigun (Japanese equivalent of “major league”) roster during Spring training of his rookie year, and made his professional debut on March 29, 2007, against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks as the starting pitcher, but gave up six runs on six hits and a walk in 12⁄3 innings. Though he was not charged with a loss, as the Eagles made a furious comeback to tie the game up in the fourth, he was seen sitting in the dugout in tears after being taken out of the game.
New York Yankees
Tanaka was repeatedly scouted by MLB representatives during the 2013 season. Through the revised posting system, Rakuten posted Tanaka to MLB during the 2013–14 offseason at a fee of $20 million. On December 26, 2013, all 30 MLB teams were notified that the 30-day period to sign the 25-year-old right-hander began at 8 a.m. EST. Clubs had until 5 p.m. EST on January 24, 2014, to reach an agreement with Tanaka, who was represented by agent Casey Close.
During the month-long period following Tanaka’s posting, teams reported to be serious suitors included the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Houston Astros. On January 22, 2014, Tanaka signed a seven-year contract worth $155 million with the Yankees. The contract contained an opt-out clause after the fourth year and a full no-trade clause.
Tanaka was the only player to be chosen to the national team to play in the 2008 Beijing Olympics from the Eagles, becoming the youngest Japanese baseball player to play in the Olympics as a pro in the history of the event. He pitched in relief in Japan’s first game against Cuba in the group stage, throwing one scoreless inning and striking out three. While Tanaka saw limited playing time as a middle reliever for the team, he recorded a 0.00 ERA and the highest strikeout rate of any pitcher on the team.
Tanaka is a right-handed pitcher who throws from a high three-quarter arm slot in a drop-and-drive motion. He throws two fastballs (four-seam, two-seam) usually in the low-90s that top out at 97 mph. He also has a plus 84–88 mph splitter with late downward action, a solid slider in the low to mid-80s, and an occasional curveball. Tanaka has added a high-80s cutter to repertoire in his MLB career. Post-UCL (elbow) injury, Tanaka has taken time to recover his fastball velocity, and he currently favors a two-seamer over the four-seam fastball he used to favor. He also has excellent command, posting a BB/9 (walks per nine innings rate) of 1.8 and a K/BB (strikeout to walk ratio) of 4.74 in his MLB career.
Masahiro Tanaka has stated that he is an avid fan of Momoiro Clover Z, a popular female idol group in Japan. He has attended the group’s concerts multiple times. When practicing he wears custom-made multicolored gloves in the five Momoiro Clover Z member colors (pictured) and he plays official games in gloves embroidered with a clover leaf.
When his baseball team presented its fan club members with “cheering goods”, the towel saying “Tanaka” used the same five colors. During the game in which he set a new Japanese professional baseball record of 16 consecutive victories in one season, cheer banners of the same color scheme were distributed among the spectators.
Masahiro Tanaka tied a knot to Mai Satoda, former member and former supervisor of the idol group Country Musume and television personality. The wedding ceremony was held in Hawaii in December 2012. Tanaka’s wife gave birth to a boy on February 15, 2016. Satoda is also a fan of Momoiro Clover Z.
- Full Name: Masahiro Tanaka
- Date of Birth: November 1, 1988
- Age: 31 years
- Birth Place: Itami, Hyogo, Japan
- Height: 1.91 m
- Salary: 22 million USD (2015)
- Spouse: Mai Satoda (m. 2012)
- Current team: New York Yankees (#19 / Pitcher)
- Education: Komazawa Univ. Tomakomai High School
- Salary: $22 Million
- Net Worth: $60 Million
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