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HARD DRIVES: Fukudome can blow by flag flack

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HARD DRIVES: Fukudome can blow by flag flack

by John E. Gibson / Daily Yomiuri Sportswriter (Jan 30, 2008)

The Chicago Cubs last week busted out an ad campaign for Kosuke Fukudome that went on the offensive--considered too offensive for some.

The club set out to honor its healthy collection of import players, starting off this year's highlight-the-imports campaign with Fukudome, who left the Chunichi Dragons in the offseason as a free agent.

The Cubs hired a local marketing firm that designed a graphic featuring a modified version of the Rising Sun flag, or the 16-ray Asahi, with Fukudome--pictured in something suspiciously resembling a Chunichi uniform--in bat-flip mode on his follow through.

The flag in the graphic is the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ensign and was used by the now-defunct Imperial Japanese Army and Navy.

Reports said bloggers and many others were wearing the letters off their keyboards, filling up cyberspace with unflattering prose about the graphic.

The uproar even prompted a Nagoya reader to take the trouble to call The Daily Yomiuri and pass along a few of the facts.

It appears the Cubs came out swinging for the fences with the campaign, which didn't miss everything. It obviously struck a chord with some war veterans.

Perhaps club officials didn't thoroughly weigh what kind of impact the flag would have on these people.

But the team didn't really acknowledge that there was flack over the flag.

The Cubs called it a "bold new ad campaign," which was also pictured proudly on their Web site.

They didn't remove the image from the Web site--though it did undergo a mysterious near-daily morphing--and in response to an inquiry from Hard Drives, a team spokesman served up a company-manual-laced line about the graphic and the public response.

"This is one in a series of ads highlighting the 2008 Chicago Cubs," Peter Chase, director of media relations, said in an e-mail.

"The overwhelming response to the campaign has been positive and we're excited about the upcoming season. The ads featuring Kosuke Fukudome ran this week to showcase our new right fielder.

"They were certainly not intended to offend," said Chase, who added that ads for Dominican Aramis Ramirez will run this week.

It's highly likely that Fukudome himself won't ever get wind of this Windy City wrangling.

The Fukudome graphic reads, "I don't need an interpreter. My bat does the talking." And the Wrigley Field faithful will likely get an earful when the outfielder graces the grass in right.

Fukudome came up as a clumsy--fitting right in with Chicago's marketing campaign--shortstop and struggled to get a handle on the glove side of the game.

Under the defensive-minded Senichi Hoshino, the national team manager, Fukudome botched plays no matter where the Dragons tried to hide him.

Perhaps his most memorable was a dropped ball on a routine grounder hit right at him during the 1999 Japan Series that allowed the tying run to score in the Game 5 clincher for the then-Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.

Also, even now he looks clueless at times against offspeed pitching.

In fact, Tokyo-based scout Dave DeFreitas of the Cleveland Indians went as far as to say, "Fukudome didn't just struggle with the change, he looked bad--like he'd never seen one before.

"So what happens when he faces guys that rush it up there a bit more and then drop a change, or guys like [Greg] Maddux and [Tom] Glavine?"

But if there is one thing Fukudome can do, it's stay confident and work hard to improve.

And defensively, Fukudome discovered a place where he could develop. His conversion to the outfield helped make use of his speed and arm strength. He put it all together when he won the Central League MVP in 2006, ripping a CL record 47 doubles along the way.

Last season, though, bone spurs in his right elbow kept him out of action for about half the season, though his teammates still managed a Japan Series title.

But a healthy Fukudome can faze out all the fuss from flag-furious fans.

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