Name (Japanese): ライアン・ボーグルソン
Birthday: July 22, 1977
Height: 193 cm (6’4″)
Weight: 98 kg (215 lbs)
Wore #: 36 (2007); 4 (2008); 12 (2009)
Originally Drafted By: San Francisco Giants (Round 5, 158th overall)
Acquired by Hanshin: November 9, 2006
Released by Hanshin: December 2, 2008
Ryan Andrew Vogelsong was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. After a university career at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, he was drafted in the fifth round of the 1998 draft by the San Francisco Giants.
Though he made his debut with the club in late 2000, he was unable to get regular playing time, and was ultimately shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Years of injuries, minor league stints and struggling to find a spot in the rotation led him to seek other options upon becoming a free agent after the 2006 season, which he spent almost entirely with the Indianapolis Indians of AAA ball.
That offseason he received a one-year offer to play with the Hanshin Tigers of NPB, and signed for ¥80 million. He would make his debut on April 12, 2007 at Koshien Stadium against the Chunichi Dragons. His impact was immediate, as he not only won the game (6 IP 1 ER) but also hit a 2-run home run in the bottom of the second inning (off future MLB pitcher Kenshin Kawakami). Despite pitching quite well against the Dragons and Yakult Swallows, Vogelsong struggled against the Yomiuri Giants and Hiroshima Carp, failing to earn a win against either team. He only made 4 starts in September but was unable to complete 5 innings in any of them. Despite ending the year on a low note, he was offered a year extension contract worth ¥90 million.
His second year with the team was not any better than the first. Worse, in fact. He only recorded three wins all year, and pitched his way out of the starting rotation by mid-season. However, this was not before he was able to hit another home run off another team’s ace pitcher – this one coming on July 29, 2008 off Masanori Ishikawa of the Swallows. By August he was in the bullpen and eventually was sent to the minors. As the Tigers were seeking to acquire big-name free agent Daisuke Miura that offseason, they did not extend another contract extension to Vogelsong.
He was, however, picked up by the Orix Buffaloes, for whom he pitched mostly in long relief. His April was strong, but he struggled mightily through May and June, eventually being sent down to the minors. At long last he made his return in late August and recorded a victory in September against the Nippon Ham Fighters, and despite solid numbers the rest of the season, Vogelsong struggled with control and was not offered another contract with the team. Though he desired to play on in Japan, no other team offered him a contract, and he made his way back to America to resume his career.
Two stints with different teams’ minor league clubs proved fruitless, but his old club, the San Francisco Giants, re-acquired him in the 2010 offseason. When Barry Zito went down with an injury in early 2011, the club called on Vogelsong to patch the leak, and he did more than that. In fact, his 6-1 record and 2.07 ERA at the All-Star break earned him a spot on the NL roster. This made him just the third foreign player in history to play in NPB and later make it to an MLB all-star game – joining Cecil Fielder (Hanshin) and Alfonso Soriano (Hiroshima). Vogelsong would finish the season tied for the club lead with 13 wins.
Vogelsong’s biggest contributions to the Giants’ success came in the 2012 playoffs, when he pitched 24 ⅔ innings and allowed just 3 runs, winning 3 games (two of which came with the team facing elimination) and helping the team win its second World Series in three seasons. He would go on to play an important role on the 2014 championship squad as well, though he did not earn any wins in the postseason. After one more season with the Giants in 2015, Vogelsong became a free agent and signed back with another team he had previously played in the National League – the Pittsburgh Pirates. He spent some time coming out of the bullpen but was also used as a starter.
He tried out for the Minnesota Twins in the spring of 2017, but was unable to secure a spot on their roster. Though a free agent, the San Francisco Giants announced on September 11 that they would use Vogelsong as a starter on the 17th, after which point they would honor his decision to retire.
Vogelsong says he learned a lot of things while playing in Japan. He spent a lot of time talking and working out with veteran Tigers pitcher Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi, and says he will always remember that Shimo-san told him to trust his catchers more. Vogelsong says he learned the importance of having good control and a lot of patience – two virtues he says helped extend his career and bring him success in the majors.