Date of Birth: July 24, 1935
Position: Left Field
Height: 178 cm (5’10”)
Weight: 82 kg (180 lbs)
Wore #: 56 (1960-64); 9 (1965)
Originally belonged to: Pittsburgh Pirates (1954 – never played MLB)
Joined the Tigers in: 1960
Left the Tigers in: 1963
Retired in: 1965
Hailing from Pennsylvania, Michael Solomko joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1954, but only made it as far as Class A ball in 1957. He quit baseball for personal reasons and later joined the US Army. After arriving in Japan (Camp Zama) in 1958, Solomko tried out for the Hanshin Tigers during the 1959 offseason. He passed the test and joined the team as the first non-Asian import in team history. He was, in fact, the first caucasian import to sign with any Central League team.
Solomko’s rookie season started with a bang, as he reached base safely in each of his first 10 games. At one point in the season, he also hit home runs in 4 consecutive games and had a total of 17 on the year, tied for 5th (with Sadaharu Oh). He was named to the All-Star Team and hit a home run in the third game. Another season highlight included a grand slam home run against the Yomiuri Giants’ Ritsuo Horimoto on May 15th.
His second season was even better than the first, as Solomko blasted 21 home runs, good for third in the league, and 70 RBIs, which was 4th best in the Central. His .270 batting average was 11th best in the league as well. While his 1962 numbers were his lowest during his time with the Tigers, he did contribute to the team’s first Central League pennant since the NPB divided into two leagues.
In 1963 he produced a career-best 22 home runs, good for first on the team and third in the league, behind Sadaharu Oh and Shigeru Nagashima. He was traded in the offseason along with Tomo Wako to the Tokyo Orions (now the Chiba Lotte Marines), where he played two more seasons before retiring from baseball.
Tigers journalist (and former teammate of Solomko’s) Masaru Honma says that Solomko was a great guy to play with. He had a strong arm and nailed several runners at home base, while also causing the opponents’ third base coaches to stop base runners at third base whenever balls were hit to Solomko in left. One of his other successful antics happened when he got walked. Feigning disappointment that he had gotten walked, he would trot slowly to first base. The second he touched the bag, he would break into a sprint towards second, catching the pitcher off guard and getting the extra base for free. NPB teams did not employ scorers/scouts in those days, so Honma says he probably got away with this at least once against each club.
What’s more, Honma says that Solomko and his wife (whom he met while with the Tigers) were very hospitable off the field, and that through his wife, Solomko mastered the Japanese language very quickly and was able to joke around in Osaka Dialect with his teammates. After retiring, Solomko continued to live in Japan, selling import cooking equipment for a living. While he did not put up the biggest numbers by a foreign player in Tigers’ history, his impact is still felt to this day as he paved the way for other foreigners, including Gene Bacque (who credits Solomko with helping him adapt to life and baseball in Japan).