Looking back to December ’07, this news item is noteworthy:
[Pacific rim scout Steve] Wilson and several members of the Cubs’ front office watched Fukudome play many times this season, and they came away impressed enough to make him the Cubs’ No. 1 off-season target. Hendry credited Wilson, along with assistant GM Randy Bush and scouting advisers Gary Hughes and Paul Weaver. “Gary Hughes has loved him since 2004,” Hendry said. “This was a collaborative effort involving outstanding talent evaluators.”
I guess we’ll start seeing criticism of the talent evaluators who brought Fukudome to the Cubs about the same time we see Larry Rothschild asked probing questions about the nosediving Cub careers of Michael Wuertz and Rich Hill.
While Fukudome had a great first game and a good start with the Cubs in 2008, there were early-season indications that not everyone was as impressed as the scouts had been. After Fukudome’s ninth-inning heroics on opening day, Mark DeRosa made a revealing comment:
“You can tell he’s been taught the fundamentals of the game to a tee,” Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa said. “But a lot of that goes out the window. I say he’s just so talented. He was sandbagging us in Spring Training.”
How else to interpret this last sentence, other than that DeRosa and presumably other Cubs had watched Fukudome in Mesa and wondered to themselves, where’s the beef? This is what Hendry bought with his $48 million?
For his part, Lou Piniella often characterized Fukudome as a “good professional hitter,” which sounds to me in retrospect like faint praise. Just about any hitter still in the majors past thirty has learned to work the count and go the opposite way with two-strike pitches. This is all that is implied by a professional approach to hitting. When I google “Piniella” and “professional hitter,” I find that he used the phrase to describe three players: Raul Ibanez, Fukudome and Al Martin, a .278 lifetime hitter whom the Devil Rays acquired at the age of 35 in 2003 and whom Piniella knew from Seattle.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but if Piniella liked Fukudome’s stroke or the way the ball jumped off his bat, he never said so.
In terms of garnering him a big major-league contract, the two-run homer Fukudome hit against Korea in the 2006 World Baseball Classic was a shot heard ’round the world. Less well known is that Fukudome’s home run was a pinch hit. He didn’t start the semifinal game against Korea, or the final game against Cuba, having gone 2 for 19 (.105) leading up to the semifinals.