Alex Cabrera had a short-lived MLB career that consisted of a single season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000, but he became the first Venezuelan player to hit a homer in his first major league at-bat, and wreaked havoc on Asian soil to become a Japanese baseball legend earning the nickname “El Samurai.” In that season with the Diamondbacks, he ended with a .263 average with five home runs, 14 RBIs, 10 runs, two doubles, one triple, and a .500 slugging percentage in 31 games.
While famous Japanese warriors used the “katana” as their weapon of choice, Cabrera turned his wooden bat into a lethal weapon against pitchers in Japan’s Pacific League.
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It is impossible to know if Cabrera could have had the same success in the majors if the Diamondbacks had given him the opportunity instead of selling him to the Seibu Lions, but the truth is that his impact in Japan was historic.
For 12 seasons he played with the Seibu Lions, Orix Buffaloes and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and finished his Japanese baseball career with a .303 average, 1,368 hits, 357 home runs and 949 RBIs. He is one of 29 players to join the 300 home run club, which is the equivalent of the 500 home run club in the major leagues.
In 2001, he made a big debut hitting .282 with 49 home runs and 124 RBIs and the next season he was like a whirlwind hitting .336, 55 home runs and 115 RBIs.
The Venezuelan’s 55 homers tied the then-one-season record set by Japan Baseball Hall of Famer Sadaharu Oh (1964) and Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes (2001).
Although Oh’s mark was eventually surpassed by Wladimir Balentien from Curaçao in 2013, the truth is that when any foreigner like Randy Bass (1985), Rhodes (2001), and Cabrera (2002) started flirting with the records, they didn’t see good pitches or were walked by rival teams, especially the Yomiuri Giants who were led by Oh.
The Venezuelan in a 2014 interview with prodavinci.com acknowledged that his run toward the record was “frustrating.”
“I saw that I could break the record but they didn’t pitch to me. It frustrated me. I said: ‘Oh my God, it’s a record!’ And they told me to my face: ‘the records are for the Japanese, not for the gaijin (foreigners), outsiders. ‘I wanted the record. It was one of the first records I was going to have. I tied it and that’s good. “
In seven seasons with the Lions, he hit .308 with 246 homers and 605 RBIs and then played three seasons with the Onix Buffaloes, adding another 73 homers and 225 RBIs, before ending his time in Japan with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2012.
Cabrera then played five seasons in the Venezuelan winter baseball and one season in the Mexico Pacific League. The slugger set the home run single season record in the Venezuelan league when he took out 21 with La Guaira (2013-14) and ended his career with Aragua in 2016-17.
Combining his entire professional career on the diamond, Cabrera hit 538 homers and drove in 1,565 runs. His years in Japanese baseball, made him a legend on the other side of the world, where he will forever be known as “The Venezuelan Samurai.”