The Strange Daily Commute Of Kei Igawa, Minor League Superstar

Bill Pennington has a splendid New York Times piece today about Kei Igawa, the other Japanese pitcher who came over to the US in the winter of 2006. The Red Sox splurged on the posting fee for Daisuke Matsuzaka—who, let's not forget, had two nice seasons before becoming the biggest Boston blight since the Big Dig—and the bridesmaid Yankees followed by paying a bundle, over $26 million (not including his contract), for Igawa.

Unlike Matsuzaka, Igawa did not have two good seasons in the AL East. In 14 games in 2007, he allowed 76 hits in 67 innings, while walking 37 and striking out 53—yikes—and he appeared in only two games for the 2008 Yankees before forever disappearing. (He did all of this while wearing sunglasses on the mound, which was kind of cool if really peculiar. They're not even stylish shades.) Until now, that is.

The Times explains:

In the middle of a bright Manhattan summer afternoon, the Yankees' $46 million pitcher steps from his fashionable East Side apartment building and slips into a waiting Lexus for a chauffeured ride to the ballpark.

But the car does not turn north for the five-mile drive to Yankee Stadium. The destination is instead Trenton or Scranton, Pa., where for the last five years Kei Igawa has pitched for two Yankees minor league teams. Day after day, start after start, complete with the return trip to Manhattan.
[...]
The five-year saga is a story of a giant mistake of a contract and an overmatched pitcher, a huge organization digging in and a quiet, somewhat mysterious Japanese pitcher with a sense of honor and a durable love of the game. The Yankees made it pretty clear Igawa would never pitch again in the Bronx, but they were determined that he pitch somewhere for his $4-million-a-year salary. They tried to return him to Japan, too. Igawa refused to go, standing fast to his childhood dream of pitching in the American big leagues. And so, the stalemate - remarkable, if almost entirely un-remarked upon - continues.

Anyway, go read the rest of the piece. And, hey, Igawa's only 3,000 hits away from 3,000. HBO better dust off its cameras.

Kei Igawa: The Lost Yankee [NYT]