It’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the U.S. – a time to recognize many great figures of Asian and Pacific Islands descent. In honor of this occasion, we are taking a moment to recognize some of sports’ most iconic athletes with Asian and Pacific Islander ancestry. While NBA legend Yao Ming and NFL great Troy Polamalu have certainly made their mark in this area, today we turn our attention to the baseball world in highlighting trailblazers who have represented and continue to represent the AAPI community.

Who was the first Asian MLB player?

The roots of Asian baseball run deep with a storied history that dates back to the days of Babe Ruth. In 1934, Ruth embarked on a tour of Japan and played against the country's first professional team, formed by Matsutaro Shoriki. Originally known as the Yomiuri Shimbun Professional Baseball Team, the team was later renamed the Tokyo Giants.

Fast forward to 1964, when Masanori Murakami made history by becoming the first Asian MLB player. Murakami, then only 20 years old, was a relief pitcher who spent one year with the San Francisco Giants before returning to Japanese baseball due to contractual obligations involving his former team.

Are there any Asian-Americans in MLB?

There are many Asian-American MLB players on current team rosters.

Dane Dunning, a talented young pitcher, has a Korean mother and has expressed an interest in playing for the South Korean national team someday. Similarly, Tommy Edman's mother was also born in Korea, and he represented the South Korean team in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

There are many other players of Asian and Pacific Islands descent in baseball, including Connor Joe of the Pirates, Lars Nootbaar of the Cardinals, and Christian Yelich, whose grandfather was Japanese. The New York Yankees have high hopes for Anthony Volpe, a promising player of Filipino descent whom they see him as a key part of their franchise's future.

Current Asian MLB Players

While there are many talented Asian players active in the 2023 season, none have had a more profound effect on the game than Shohei Ohtani.

One of the league's most exceptional players, Japanese pitcher Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels is not only an Asian pitching superstar but also an outstanding offensive player. Ohtani, a two-way player, was named the AL MVP in 2021 and has become a two-time MLB All-Star. Due to his remarkable talent, he has gained a strong following among baseball fans, particularly from those in the Asian community.

San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish is another Japanese player in the majors. Other notable Asians include Korean first baseman Ji-Man Choi of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Connor Wong of the Boston Red Sox, and Keston Hiura of the Milwaukee Brewers.

According to a 2022 report posted by, Asian players make up 3.9 percent of all MLB rosters.

Famous Asian MLB Players

The most famous MLB Asian player is Shohei Ohtani. He has a massive following not only in the United States, but also in his home country of Japan and within the wider Asian community. Fans gather outside Angels games just to catch a glimpse of him, while millions of others tune in to watch his every move.

Before Ohtani, another Japanese baseball legend, Ichiro Suzuki, made a huge impact in the majors. During his 18-year career with the Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, and Miami Marlins, Ichiro amassed over 3,000 hits, 117 home runs, 780 RBIs, and 509 stolen bases. He was considered one of the best all-around players in the game and a true icon in Japan.

In honor of AAPI heritage month, here is a look at some of the best Asian players that Major League Baseball has ever seen.

Celebrating the 10 Most Influential Asian-American and Asian MLB players in History

  1. Shin Soo-Choo

Position: Outfield
Years Active: 2005 to 2020
Teams: Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (2018) 

Shin Soo-Choo was born in Busan, South Korea, and made his mark on the baseball world at the Under-18 Baseball World Cup. He was voted the MVP and best pitcher at that tournament, which led to his signing a contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Soo-Choo converted to be an outfielder in the majors and struggled a little at first, which eventually led him to be traded to the Cleveland Indians. Two days after the trade, he hit a solo home run against his former team to earn the Indians a 1-0 win.

Over his career, Shin Soo-Choo became a very patient and consistent hitter. He built a career .275 batting average with 218 home runs and 782 RBIs, and was a consistent presence in the majors for many years. He earned his solo trip to the All-Star Game in 2018 after one of his best years with the Texas Rangers. That year, he broke the Rangers’ single-season record for consecutive games reaching base, setting a new high at 52 consecutive games.

  1. Hideo Nomo

Position: Pitcher
Years Active: 1995 to 2008
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (1995), NL Rookie of the Year (1995), Strikeout Leader (1995, 2001), Two Career No-Hitters (1996, 2001)

Any list of great Asian MLB players must feature Hideo Nomo, who was a trailblazer for Asians making the transition from the Nippon league to the North American majors.

Before he came to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Nomo had been one of Japan’s most successful pitchers for several years, playing for the Kintetsu Buffaloes between 1990 and 1994.

While the Buffaloes owned exclusive rights to Nomo, his agent found a loophole that enabled him to retire from the Japanese league and become a free agent. That move opened the door to sign wherever he wished, so he headed for the U.S.

Nomo took the majors by storm and was named the National League Rookie of the Year after leading the league in strikeouts, opponent batting average, and shutouts. He struck out over 200 batters in each of his first three seasons, making him the only pitcher other than Sandy Koufax to achieve that feat.

With two career no-hitters to his name and an All-Star Game appearance in 1995, Nomo is one of the best Asian MLB players in the game’s history.

  1. Chan Ho Park

Position: Pitcher
Years Active: 1994 to 2010
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (2001)

Chan Ho Park is a South Korean former MLB pitcher who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent out of Hanyang University in Seoul.

After spending some time in the minor leagues, Park played his first full season in the majors in 1996 and went on to have a breakout year in 1997. From then on, he became a key feature of the Texas Rangers’ pitching rotation for years to come.

Park’s major-league career spanned 17 seasons, and his 124 wins make him the winningest Asian pitcher in MLB history.

In his prime, Chan Ho Park was one of the fiercest strikeout pitchers in the majors, ranking in the National League’s top 10 for five straight seasons with the Dodgers.

  1. Masahiro Tanaka

Position: Pitcher
Years Active: 2014 to 2020
Teams: New York Yankees
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (2014, 2019)

Masahiro Tanaka had been a successful pitcher in the Nippon League in Japan, spending several seasons climbing through the ranks. In 2013 he posted a perfect 24-0 record as a starting pitcher, which led MLB scouts everywhere to clamber for his signature.

Several teams were very serious about signing him when he became available after the 2013 season, but the New York Yankees came out on top, and Tanaka would spend the next seven seasons with the franchise.

Upon joining the Yankees, Tanaka signed a massive contract worth $155 million, which was the fifth-largest deal for a pitcher at that time. He went on to become a two-time All-Star, recording a 78-46 win-loss record, 991 strikeouts, and a 3.74 ERA. However, in 2020, he decided to leave the Yankees and return to Japan to play in the Nippon League.

  1. Yu Darvish

Position: Pitcher
Years Active: 2012 to Present
Teams: Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2021), All-MLB First Team (2020), NL Wins Leader (2020), AL Strikeouts Leader (2013)

Yu Darvish is one of the most successful Asian pitchers in the major leagues today, sharing top billing with Shohei Ohtani and Kenta Maeda.

Born in Osaka, Japan, Darvish, like many others on this list, was discovered while playing in the Nippon League. He made his MLB debut in 2012 and the following season led the AL in strikeouts with 277 in 210 innings pitched. His performances helped him finish second to Max Scherzer in voting for the Cy Young Award.

Darvish signed a six-year deal with the Chicago Cubs in 2018 for $126 million dollars and spent the next three seasons with the team. That included the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic season, when Darvish led the National League in wins and ranked second in multiple other categories. He once again placed second in the Cy Young Award voting.

As of 2023, Darvish has a career 3.49 ERA with 1,828 strikeouts and almost 100 wins under his belt. Now a member of the San Diego Padres, Darvish represents Japan at the World Baseball Classic, where he has won gold twice, including at the 2023 tournament in Miami.

  1. Hideki Matsui

Position: Outfield
Years Active: 2003 to 2012
Teams: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (2003, 2004), World Series Champion (2009), World Series MVP (2009)

Hideki Matsui built a name for himself as a very tough outfielder while playing for the New York Yankees.

Originally from Japan, Matsui signed a three-year deal with the Yankees in 2003. The news was so big that a parade was held in Tokyo to celebrate his success.

Yankees fans will remember Hideki Matsui as a clutch hitter who always provided a much-needed spark from the middle of the lineup. He was a consistent RBI producer and was one of the most reliable members of the 2009 World Series champion Yankees.

In that 2009 World Series, Matsui notched three home runs and eight RBIs, earning him MVP honors and a permanent place in the hearts of Yankees fans around the world. He ended his MLB career with a .282 batting average, 175 home runs, and 760 RBIs.

  1. Ichiro Suzuki

Position: Outfield
Years Active:
2001 to 2019
Teams: Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Miami Marlins
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), AL MVP (2001), AL Rookie of the Year (2001), Gold Glove Award (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008), 2009, 2010), Silver Slugger Award (2001, 2007, 2009), AL Batting Champion (2001, 2004), AL Stolen Base Leader (2001(, MLB Record 262 Hits in a Single Season (2004)

When it comes to talented Asian baseball players, Ichiro is the pinnacle. After playing for the Orix BlueWave in the Nippon League from 1992 to 2000, the Japanese star became an overnight sensation in the MLB.

In his very first season in professional baseball in America, Ichiro managed to break the rookie hitting record that had stood since 1927 with 242 hits for the Mariners. He also had a .350 batting average and 56 stolen bases, both of which led the American League. It marked the first time any player had led one of the major leagues in both categories since Jackie Robinson in 1949.

The Mariners outfielder was voted the 2001 American League Rookie of the Year and MVP, while also garnering the most votes for the MLB All-Star Game.

From there, Ichiro continued to flourish. He became the first player in MLB history to record 10 straight 200-hit seasons, a remarkable feat, and was a Gold Glove Award winner in each of those seasons, thanks to his outstanding defensive play in right field.

Ichiro holds the MLB record for hits in a single season with 262. He retired after 27 years of professional baseball with a .311 batting average, over 3,000 hits, 117 home runs, 780 RBIs and 509 stolen bases. He is not only one of the best Asian MLB players, but an all-time baseball legend.

Ichiro is expected to become the first Asian MLB player to enter the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2025. He will almost certainly take his rightful place in Cooperstown, N.Y., by being voted in on the first ballot.

  1. Koji Uehara

Position: Outfield
Years Active: 2001 to 2019
Teams: Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (2014), ALCS MVP (2013), World Series Champion (2013)

Koji Uehara is another Japanese pitcher who left the Nippon League for the majors, first signing with the Baltimore Orioles in 2009. He earned his first win in his MLB debut, allowing only one hit in five innings against the New York Yankees.

His career transitioned from a starting role to that of an elite reliever, and he turned in one of the best seasons of any relief pitcher in MLB history in 2013. While playing for the Boston Red Sox, Uehara set a league record WHIP of 0.57 in over 74 innings pitched. During that season, he put together a streak in which he retired 37 consecutive batters -- just four shy of the MLB record.

Uehara was widely considered the best reliever in baseball that season, and he went on to earn the ALCS MVP award for his performance with the Red Sox. He recorded nine strikeouts in the series and the series-clinching save in Game 6 to send the Red Sox to the World Series. 

In Game 5 of the World Series against St. Louis, Uehara picked up his fifth save of the playoffs, tying the MLB postseason record. He went on to deliver the World Series’ winning pitch in Game 6, which led Boston’s David Ortiz to throw Uehara over his shoulder in celebration.

Before he eventually retired well into his 40s, Koji Uehara recorded 95 saves and a career 2.66 ERA, as well as collecting his World Series ring with the Red Sox.

  1. Hiroki Kuroda

Position: Pitcher
Years Active: 2008 to 2014
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees

Hiroki Kuroda became one of the best pitchers in Japan prior to arriving in the majors. He was a groundout machine, which led to his signing a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008.

He established himself as a reliable starter with a 3.73 ERA in his first season. He never posted an ERA above 3.76 during his first four years with the Dodgers before leaving Los Angeles to sign a deal with the New York Yankees in 2012.

In New York, Kuroda became a key part of the Yankees’ starting rotation and continued to pitch well over the next two seasons, finishing with a 3.31 ERA in 2014. This was his final season in the MLB. In seven years of Major League Baseball, Kuroda managed a 3.45 ERA with 986 strikeouts and is one of the best Asian players in the MLB history books as a result.

  1. Shohei Ohtani

Position: Pitcher/Designated Hitter
Years Active:
2018 to Present
Team: Los Angeles Angels
Honors: MLB All-Star Game (2021, 2022), AL MVP (2021), All-MLB First Team (2021, 2022), AL Rookie of the Year (2018), Silver Slugger Award (2021), AL Triples Leader (2022), AP Athlete of the Year (2021)

Shohei Ohtani has only been playing in the major leagues since 2018, but the list of accolades he has already accumulated is quite spectacular. He’s a brilliant pitcher with a current career ERA under 3.00 and more than 500 career strikeouts, but he is also a reliable part of the Angels’ batting order.

Ohtani’s excellence as a hitter resulted in the “Ohtani rule” officially coming into play. The rule states that after a pitcher has been taken out of a game, he can still remain in the lineup as a hitter.

The Angels pitcher/hitter was planning on coming to North America out of high school in 2012, but he decided to develop his game in his home country’s Nippon League first. He had been interested in playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were the front-runners for his signature, but they didn’t want to let him to play both ways.

Now a Major League superstar, Ohtani is one of the most talked about players in all of baseball. No player comes close to doing what Ohtani has managed to do at this level. He is effectively two great players in one -- able to win games for the Angels both as a pitcher and as a crushing hitter.

Ohtani is the only player in baseball history other than Babe Ruth to manage 500 strikeouts and 100 home runs. He continues to write his name into the record books and will likely break another round of records when he signs a new deal at the end of the 2023 season. He is headed for free agency and will be able to sign with any MLB team.

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