The Cubs have not really had much success when it comes to Japanese-league imports. Kosuke Fukudome turned into a screw driver every time he came to the plate and Kyuji Fujikawa hit the DL immediately upon landing in the states... OK, it wasn't THAT quickly, but it sure did feel like it.
Recently, there was one other former NPB star that the Cubs brought over, but he didn't come with nearly as much fan-fare and he wasn't actually Japanese - Chang Yong-Lim.
"Mr. Zero," as he was known in Japan, was well-past his prime by the time he landed in Chicago on a two-year deal. In fact, at age 36, he was coming straight off of his second (!!!) Tommy John surgery when he was inked as a free agent going into 2013. Not exactly a promising set-up.
He spent several years starring in his native South Korea in the KBO as a reliever. Lim even generated some MLB buzz with his sidearm fastball, which has been credited as the fastest sidearm pitch in baseball history (peak 99 MPH), but he stayed put.
That is, until the Tokyo Yakult Swallows came a-calling in 2007, looking to stabilize their bullpen. After jumping countries for the first time in his career, Lim rose to the challenge: 3.00 ERA and 33 saves in 51.0 innings.
Lim in his "Mr. Zero" days
Courtesy of The Korea Times
He began the 2009 season by going several months without giving up a single earned run, thus earning him the title of "Mr. Zero" and an All-Star berth. However, it was all downhill from there.
Wear and tear caught up with Lim and, two TJ surgeries later, he was seemingly washed up when the Cubs signed him. Still, there was a glimmer of hope that he could return to form.
He was not expected to contribute at the major league level that season, but he forced the issue. After beginning his rehab assignments, he rocketed through the system by going 2-1 with a 1.83 ERA in 39.1 innings across four levels. Not "Mr. Zero," but "Mr. 1.83" just doesn't have a ring to it.
Lim pitches against the Pirates last September
Courtesy of The Daily Herald
The Cubs could not ignore those numbers and called him up to the Bigs in September; unfortunately, he wasn't as sharp. In 5 innings stretched across 6 games, Lim gave up 3 earned runs and walked 7 men. However, he was unscored upon in 4 of those 6 games and didn't allow any home runs, so it wasn't all bad.
Lim was non-tendered in the offseason, but signed him shortly thereafter to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Alas, he was just as inconsistent in Arizona and was given his walking papers near the end of March.
Where is he now? He's back in South Korea and he seems to be doing just fine for himself: 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA and 12 saves in 17 innings for Samsung. It's just too bad he couldn't post such numbers in Chicago.
Finding a card of Chang Yong-Lim was a test of patience. His time in the MLB was so short and insignificant that he never had a card issued as a Cub. Plus, his minor league stints were so brief that he didn't end up in any of their team sets either.
Inconvenient for sure, but since he was a star over in Japan, his cards must be relatively easy to find right?
It seems he only had a handful issued in Japan and his KBO cards are pretty much out of the question. So, I had to wait several months before one showed up on eBay a couple weeks ago. When it finally showed up, I wasn't even annoyed that I had to overpay to get it.
It's a nice piece and it looks like it comes from a retrospective set of NPB stars. Perhaps the NPB Guy over at Japanese Baseball Cards could fill me in on the specifics?
In acquiring Lim, I'm getting ever so close to completing my side-quest of collecting a card of every Cub who has played since 1980:
Gene Krug - 1981
Bill Johnson - 1983-1984
Johnny Abrego - 1985
Mike Maksudian - 1994
Ramon Tatis - 1997
Steve Gajkowski - 1998-1999
Richard Barker - 1999-2000
Raul Gonzalez - 2000
Mike Mahoney - 2000, 2002
Mike Fyhrie - 2001
Jeff Beliveau - 2012
Lendy Castillo - 2012
Hopefully I can knock off a few more of these without having to import my baseball cards from another country! But, I'd be lying if I said I didn't like to obtain cards from distant lands. That said, tomorrow's post will be focused back in the United States, but back in the distant past.