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All-Star Baseball Team Completes Exhibition Tour of Japan - 2002-11-20

An all-star team of major league baseball players has completed an exhibition tour of Japan. They beat the Yomiuri Giants in one game, then went on to win four games to three against a team of Japanese all-stars. This year's tour of Japan by major league all-stars gave baseball fans a lot of action: Seibu Lions slugger Alex Cabrera of Venezuela tied the Japanese single-season record with 55 home runs. Cabrera and Seibu's Taiwanese pitcher Chang Chih-chia were the first non-Japanese players on the Japanese all-star roster in three decades. Their teammate, shortstop Kazuo Matsui, impressed fans with both his batting and defensive skills. The young Yomiuri Giants pitcher Koji Uehara shut down more than one major leaguer.

And Japanese player Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners returned to compete against his countrymen.

Japanese fans also got the chance to see major league sluggers Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants and Jason Giambi of the Yankees, among others, live up to their superstar billings.

Rumors are abounding that Japanese icon Hideki Matsui, who is now a free agent after years with the Yomiuri Giants, might be leaving Japan to play for an American team. His possible departure made this year's all-star series especially significant. Japan Times sports editor Rob Smaal said "The main reason this tour was so important was because it was going to be the last time that Hideki Matsui would be playing in Japan. And [since] he has decided to go and try for the major leagues, it would be like a chance for a lot of major league scouts, players and fans to take a look at him." Mr. Matsui has retained an agent to negotiate with major league clubs, and says three teams, who reportedly include the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, have expressed interest in signing him to a contract. In what some say is a gesture to court Mr. Matsui, Yankee players were permitted to join the U.S. all-stars' Japan tour for the first time since 1973.

Visits to Japan by U.S. professional baseball teams are part of a tradition that dates to the early 20th century. Since then, there have been 34 teams have toured Japan.

One legendary tour, in 1934, was led by Connie Mack and included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Earl Averill, and Lefty Gomez, all future Hall of Famers. They played a Japanese team that evolved two years later into Tokyo's famous Yomiuri Giants.

Half a million people packed the Ginza district to glimpse the major leaguers on parade, and nearly an equal number attended the 18 sold out contests in Japan, all won by the Americans.