The mild buzz surrounding Kazuo “The Uzi” Uzuki, the Japanese high-school pitching phenom depicted in 2008 Topps Baseball Series 1 started just after the company released its newest issue in early February. Considering Topps’ recent penchant for pranks on its cards, it was no surprise when the company today announced the card was, in fact, a hoax.
With the steady influx of Japanese players into American baseball, Topps says it created ‘The Uzi’ rookie card "as a way to generate excitement around the 2008 season." According to the company, the name Kazuo Uzuki means ‘the first son of April’ in Japanese.
“With the latest Japanese imports, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kosuke Fukudome, fans, scouts and even card companies continue to search the globe for the next sensation,” said Clay Luraschi, Topps’ Baseball Brand Manager. “While ‘The Uzi’ is indeed a fictional character, we look forward to the 2008 major league baseball season as the league continues to become more and more global.”
Some of the highlights on the back of Uzuki’s card had many collectors question its authenticity since the card was first distributed. Since fans had no information on the apparent pitching phenom, hundreds of posts covered message boards, blogs and websites, disputing the legitimacy of Uzuki.
Although listed at only 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, ‘The Uzi’ was said to be known for his devastating 104 miles-per-hour fastball and was on his way to becoming the first Japan-based high-schooler to jump straight to professional baseball in America.
The New York Daily News News tracked down the real face on the card, Sensen Lin, a 25-year-old New York University law student who isn’t Japanese.
"I’m Chinese and I don’t collect baseball cards," said Lin, who grew up in Maryland.
"I’ve never played [organized baseball]," Lin said. "I’ve been to like one or two Baltimore Orioles games and did more drinking than watching the games."
Lin said he earned $200 after agreeing to the stunt when proposed by a friend who works at the card company.
"I’m probably pretty sorry [at baseball] to tell you the truth," Lin told the paper. "I’ve played catch with friends and I’m just no good."
‘The Uzi’ rookie card is limited to one out of every 72 packs of cards, available in 2008 Topps Baseball Series # 1.