SAN FRANCISCO -- The gentleman surrounded by reporters near the Giants' dugout before the team took batting practice on Thursday might have been some sort of businessman or dignitary, given his natty attire. Or he could have been a tourist, since he was toting a bag of baseball-related merchandise.
In truth, the man was a legend, albeit a modest one.
Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese-born player to reach the Major Leagues, visited AT&T Park to be honored during the Giants' Japanese Heritage Night festivities, and he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Murakami's arrival in the big leagues. The former left-handed reliever made his debut with the Giants on Sept. 1, 1964, at New York's Shea Stadium, striking out two in a scoreless eighth inning during a 4-1 loss to the Mets.
Murakami, 70, recalled various details of that season. He spent most of it with the organization's Class A Fresno affiliate, finishing 11-7 with 11 saves and a 1.78 ERA. That earned him the California League's Rookie of the Year honors.
Murakami found out that before he reported to Fresno, the team's manager, Bill Werle, sternly told his players to avoid hurling racial epithets at Murakami.
Impressed with Murakami's fastball and curve, the Giants promoted him to the Majors for the season's final month.
"I always played in front of 700 people, maybe 2,000," Murakami said, recalling being summoned for his debut. "This time there were 40,000."
Murakami calmed himself by softly singing the international hit song "Sukiyaki" as he left the bullpen.
Murakami appeared in nine games that season and thrived in 1965, posting a 4-1 record and 3.75 ERA in 45 appearances. Among his eight saves was an appearance at Candlestick Park on Aug. 22 -- that's right, the infamous game in which Juan Marichal hit Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with his bat.
Murakami returned to Japan and the Nankai Hawks in 1966 for a reported $40,000.