Over in the world of sports, the baseball season is down to its last handful of games before the first round of playoffs start this weekend. Plenty of tension and excitement swirling around ballparks at the moment, but perhaps the most notable baseball event last week was not a game, but an off-the-field story, so unusual that it left fans both impressed and puzzled.
In perhaps the classiest act of the year, Minnesota Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka waived his right to his entire three million dollar salary for the 2013 season (along with a $250,000 buyout), asking for release from his contract instead. But it’s not like this was some clever strategy to negotiate a better contract or to seek a more lucrative offer elsewhere. No, Nishioka was simply refusing to be paid for what he deemed was his own unsatisfactory performance. Think about it; this guy basically refused to take three million dollars that was his, opting instead for honor, self respect, and peace of mind. Screw all the rest of the overpaid, selfish players in the league; even without a hit all season, Nishioka is the player of the year.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: Nishioka was signed to a three-year, $9.25 million contract before the 2011 season, after the Twins had bid $5.3 million to his Japanese team for negotiating rights. Once his stint with the Twins started, however, things quickly turned sour. Nishioka broke his left leg just five games into the season when a New York Yankees player slid into him, trying to prevent a double play. But when Nishioka returned from the injury two months later, he never got into a groove and finished the season with a lowly .226 average, only five extra-base hits, along with 12 errors. This was a sharp contrast to his stellar career in Japan, where he was a five-time all-star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. In fact, the year before he signed with the Twins he had the highest batting average in the league.
So obviously, Nishioka was a big disappointment during his time playing baseball in the US. Some fans even used the word disaster. Nishioka spent most of this year in the minor leagues, and during his short (less than one week) call-up to the big league club Minnesota in August he went hitless and made more mistakes on the field. So, rather than extending this reign of embarrassment, Nishioka decided it was time to walk away. In a statement to the press, this is what Nishioka had to say:
“I would like to thank the Twins organization for helping me fulfill my dream of playing in Major League Baseball,” Nishioka said. “I take full responsibility for my performance which was below my own expectations. At this time, I have made the decision that it is time to part ways. I have no regrets and know that only through struggle can a person grow stronger. I appreciate all the support the team and the fans in Minnesota and Rochester have shown me.”
While his performance on the field was far below expectations, Nishioka consistently showed class during his time with the Twins. In various interviews he was always unfailingly polite and promised to try and improve his play in order to help his team. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t play better and make a more positive contribution to the team. Unselfish players with good attitudes like Nishioka seem to be a rare thing in sports nowadays. It’s damn refreshing to see a player take responsibility for his own lack of performance and not offer weak excuses or blame others. The transition to a new league, and to a new country and a new culture, all while communicating in a new language, could not have been easy for Nishioka, yet he never stopped trying. Most likely he’ll return to play in Japan next year. But no matter where he continues his career, I’m rooting for him to succeed. Tsuyoshi Nishioka is the epitome of class.