So's loudest hit - HR off Wagner, Game 2 2006 NLCS. Courtesy ESPN.com
Why do I like So Taguchi so much? He played the game right.
So played 10 years in Japan for the Orix Blue Wave. Yes, the same team Ichiro played for before he joined the Mariners. Imagine the OF where Ichiro played RF because So was a better CF! A 4-time All-Star (1995, 1996, 1997, 2001), his teams won 2 Pacific League Championships (1995, 1996) and the Japan League Championship in 1996. He wasn't the first Japanese player to win a Japan League title and a World Series title (Tadahito Iguchi has also done it, at a minimum), but he's a member of that very select group.
All that's great; but then, following the 2001 season, he headed for the states to play Major League baseball. Didn't speak a lick of English; he learned that on the fly and from his wife. He struggled mightily to hit Major League pitching, but he wanted to play at the ML level so HE WENT TO THE MINORS AND STARTED FROM SCRATCH WITH HIS SWING. I play a little bit of softball now and then, and I have a swing honed from 30 years of swinging a bat; it's not great, but it's good. I can't even imagine a successful baseball player willing to start over from scratch learning how to hit. Can you see any successful American player being told, 'yeah, you need to start over or you might as well quit' and then the same player willingly and without complaint doing the work needed to fix it?
So eventually made it back to the majors, and you know the rest. He carried the Cardinals during the summer of 2005, when Edmonds was down with an assortment of nagging injuries, batting .379 in July at the top of the order - easily the brightest he shone until that great HR off Wagner last fall.
He was also an excellent defensive outfielder. I haven't been able to find any Gold Glove statistics for him in Japan (or if they even give out a similar award over there), but So could play the OF. However, the thing that sticks with me about him defensively happened in the 2006 NLCS as well. He mis-judged a fly ball to CF that hit the wall behind him, and then caromed away. Of course, the bases were loaded, and the hit cleared the bases. Not good.
So went out to CF with a coach the next day and practiced taking balls off the OF wall so he wouldn't make the same mistake.
Which is exactly what I would have done had I been burned like that.
I'm glad I was able to get a hold of a 'Taguchi 99' shirt last season. I seem to play better defense with it on.
So a toast - to the great So Taguchi. You will be missed in this corner of Red Bird Nation.