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Penny the latest big name to disappoint in Japan

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POSTED May 14, 2012 1:45 a.m.

TOKYO (AP) — American pitcher Brad Penny was released by the Softbank Hawks after appearing in just one game for the Pacific League team, becoming the latest in a long list of former major league players to struggle to adjust to Japan’s unique brand of baseball.

The Hawks cut Penny on Tuesday, granting the player’s request to be released. In his one appearance in Japan against the Rakuten Eagles on April 4, the veteran right-hander gave up six runs, four earned, on seven hits while walking three in 3 1-3 innings for a 10.80 ERA.

The 33-year-old Penny, who went 11-11 for the Detroit Tigers in 2011, signed a one-year, $3 million contract in February to play for the Hawks.

The Japan Series champion Hawks lost three top-of-the rotation pitchers in the offseason and needed to make a statement to their fans by signing a marquee pitcher.

But Penny complained of soreness in his shoulder and said he had trouble adjusting to the softer pitching mound at Japanese stadiums. Japanese media reported that Penny refused to take part in team practices and meetings. Given his major league pedigree, the team was willing to let Penny work out on his own.

Penny had a hard time adjusting to living and playing in Japan. While many former major leaguers thrive in Japan, the transition is always easy.

“It takes a certain kind of ballplayer to make it in Japan,” said author Robert Whiting, who has written several books on Japanese baseball. “I guess Penny wasn’t one of those players. It’s a sad day when $3 million isn’t enough to keep you in Japan.”

Many of the best foreign players in Japan are ones that weren’t established major leaguers before they came over. Tuffy Rhodes, Randy Bass and Alex Ramirez are among the most successful players to make the switch to Japan.

Penny isn’t the only former major league player to struggle in Japan. When it comes to playing in Japan, former Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Jim Lefebvre, who played here from 1973-1976 summed it up best: “If you want to succeed in Japan, you have to forget everything you learned in the United States and pretend you are a rookie. Do everything they tell you and you just might make it.”

Following is a capsule look at some other players whose forays into Japanese baseball were cut short by an inability to adapt to the Japanese way.

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