.259 BA, 34 HR, 156 RBI with Cubs
(Editor's Note: Ninth in a series identifying the 100 worst Cubs of all-time.)
When the Cubs signed Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome to a four-year,$48 million contract before the 2008 season, the outfielder was often described in the media as a cross between Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. In nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons, Fukudome hit .305, won a batting title in 2002, and was named the Japanese Central League MVP in 2006 after hitting .351 with 31 homers and 104 RBI.
It's a shame, that his lasting image in the minds of many Cubs fans will be an awkward-looking helicopter swing and a miss.
Kosuke Fukudome bats against the Washington Nationals on April 27, 2008.
Fukudome, the first native Japanese player in Cubs history, also brought with him a reputation for being a superior defensive player. His range and strong throwing arm, it was thought, would make him an ideal fit for the Cubs' right field job and his left-handed bat would provide his new team's lineup with some balance, offsetting right-handed sluggers Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano.
Fukudome's major league debut on March 31, 2008 was a memorable one. In a 4-3 10-inning loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, Fukudome went 3-for-3 with a walk. He doubles off Ben Sheets on his first major league pitch and hit a three-run game-tying home run off closer Eric Gagne in the bottom of the ninth inning.
He was hitting .327 with a .915 OPS through April and was initially a Wrigley Field sensation. But as the season progressed, his performance steadily declined. Fukudome's struggles have been attributed to the longer season and the more rigorous travel that he was subjected to in the U.S., but it's also a fact that when a weakness is discovered in a player, the news quickly travels throughout the rest of the majors. Fukudome's declining performance may simply have been a case of opposing pitchers figuring him out coupled with his inability to make adjustments.
The 2008 Cubs, with 97 victories, rolled to the National League Central title, but Fukudome who finished with a .257 average, 10 homers,a nd 58 RBI in 150 games was viewed by many fans as a liability as the North Siders opened postseason play against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hit just .217 after appearing as a starter in the All-Star Game. After going 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the first two games of the series - both Cubs losses - Fukudome was benched by manager Lou Piniella in he team's season-ending Game 3 defeat.
The Cubs brought Milton Bradley on board for the 2009 season and shifted Fukudome to center field. It was a position he was ill-suited for. He exhibited poor range at his new position and many fly balls that appeared catchable ended up as gap extra-base hits. His defensive struggles, coupled with another disappointing season at the plate (.259, 11 HR, 54 RBI in 146 games), made him a favorite target of Wrigley Field boo birds as the Cubs dropped to second place and finished 7.5 games behind the division-winning St. Louis Cardinals.
After an offseason trade of Bradley, Fukudome was moved back to right field at the start of the 2010 campaign. He got off to another hot start, hitting .344 in April, but slumped to .253 in May and .189 in June.
In July, he relinquished his starting job to rookie Tyler Colvin and made just 48 plate appearances that month. He returned to regular duty in August and the off time in July seemed to serve him well. The 33-year-old Fukudome hit .365 with four homers, 12 RBI, and a 1.117 OPS in August. He finished with a .263 average, 13 homers and 44 RBI in 130 games.