Shinichi Etoh, First Batting Champ in Both Leagues, Dies of Liver Caner at Age 70
Onetime Chunichi, Lotte, Taiyo Whales and Taiheiyo Club first baseman Shinichi Etoh, a righthanded pull hitter who not only garnered three batting titles and better than 2,000 career hits, but who also denied hall of famer Sadaharu Oh two more Triple Crown possibilites with a pair of those crowns, passed away Thursday, February 28th at age 70 of liver cancer. Etoh is still the only man ever to have finished atop the average heap in both leagues and is remembered fondly for his intense competitiveness.
Etoh was born in Yamaga, Kumamoto Prefecture on October 6, 1937 as the eldest of four siblings to a father who once patrolled the outfield for renowneed industrial league ballclub Yawata Seitetsu. It was from his dad that he was first exposed to the sport and he would become a catcher in junior high, a position he would play up through his initial pro season. He would also awaken at 5 a.m. to deliver newspapers beginning in the third grade to improve the household financial picture a bit.
Following his graduation from Kumamoto Shogyo High, he went to Nittetsu Futase, another industrial league outfit, to try out. Team skipper Wataru Nonin, a former infielder with four professional clubs himself, allowed the stocky Kyushu native to audition as a social courtesy with the intention of blowing him off. But Nonin ended up being impressed with Etoh's fierceness and body and went to Nittetsu's management about adding the youngster to what had already been a full roster. Nonin would pop up at key points in Etoh's pro days as well.
The bigwigs relented and he pulled in all of 11,000 yen a month for Nittetsu, or at the then exchange rate, about $34. 8,000 yen, or just short of $25, of that was sent home to help out younger brother Shozo, who would become a pro player later too, and the other family members with school and other expenses.
Etoh spent two years with them, at one point facing off against Toyo Koatsu Omuta and its receiver, Mitsugu Hara. Hara strode up to the plate for his first at bat and Etoh teased him with, "you sure you can hit my pitcher?" Hara, who would later become a well regarded baseball coach in addition to being the papa of a future Yomiuri infielder named Tatsunori, reportedly turned to Etoh and fumed, "shut the fuck up!" Hara would tell the press many years down the road that he wanted to show his son what fighting baseball was.
Etoh tried out for Chunichi in 1959 and, partially thanks to the Dragons unsettled catching situation, snagged a spot on the club. Etoh also lied and averred to manager Shigeru Sugishita that he had also played first base. With the retirement of the legendary Michio Nishizawa at the end of 1958, Sugishita tossed Etoh out to the primary sack, where he was, on a good day, indifferent defensively, but he compiled a relatively solid .281 average with a .741 OPS that also saw him pump out 15 homers and 84 RBIs during an era dominated by pitching.
Like when he was in the industrial leagues, he attempted to bolster his family's finances and submitted his whole first paycheck with Chunichi to his parents. Not wanting to leave their son high and dry, they returned 5,000 yen (approximately $15) of it back to him.
Unfortunately, it was known even then that he had an overt fondness for alcohol, especially whiskey. "If I wasn't putting up the numbers I am, God only knows what people would say," he pondered to teammates.
Etoh's stats dropped off in 1960 to .252/.314/.403 with just 14 dingers despite playing in hitter friendly Chunichi Stadium and the Dragons plummeted into fifth from their 1959 third place showing, causing Sugishita, Japan's father of the forkball, to get the axe in favor of the aforementioned Nonin. Nonin dispatched Etoh to leftfield and he responded with a then single season best 20 homers and .759 OPS, also a personal high up to that point, and they came within two games of grabbing a pennant. And Etoh, despite swinging from the heels, wasn't missing the ball, whiffing just 155 times in over 1500 at bats thus far.
His homers, average and OPS would rise in the two succeeding years. But the author of his baseball career, Nonin, was booted even in the wake of a ten games over .500 campaign in 1962 and supplanted by Kiyoshi Sugiura, who would be fired in mid-1964 in favor of Nishizawa, who was in over his head as a handler of personnel. But he knew it and left most of the day to day details to his coaches. That didn't phase Etoh, though, as he notched his first batting title with a .323 figure, preventing Oh from claiming a Triple Crown the season he clubbed 55 homers. Part of that was due to the fact that Chunichi hurlers had walked Oh 15 times in their last ten battles with Yomiuri. In fact, Oh was losing sleep over the quest for the rare feat while Etoh was snoozing peacefully after sucking up copious amounts of booze. When Oh heard about Etoh's proclivity for imbibing and then going out and tearing up theCentral circuit's moundsmen, he realized that he was going to fall short.
So Oh picked up where he left off the ensuing season and Etoh would be the joker in the deck again, running his total up to .336, an easy 14 points better than the man who would be the greatest all around hitter in Japanese history. Etoh also smacked 29 homers, a new yearly high for him while racking up just 36 strikeouts in 529 plate appearances. The two times he rebuffed Oh's remarkable bids he referred to as the highlight of his career.
In addition, Etoh had played in 809 straight games before an injury finally sidelined him that year for a brief time.
His fiery disposition exhibited itself during this time as well. On July 10th, 1962 during a game with Yomiuri, the Giants Toshio Miyamoto tried to call time on a 3-0 delivery from righthander Yasuhiko Kawamura while Etoh was toiling behind the plate. Kawamura thought that time had been called and finished throwing the ball so he wouldn't hurt himself, which was called ball four. Etoh protested the judgement, insisting that Miyamoto had demanded and received time. The umpire rebuffed the 11 minutes long objection and, on the next pitch, Miyamoto stole second, Etoh's throw bouncing its way to the bag. The batter, catcher Masahiko Mori, had ducked while Etoh unloaded his peg. Etoh asserted that Mori interfered with him, which fell on deaf ears. So Etoh grabbed the umpire by the lapels and punched him in the right shoulder, earning him an immediate ejection. Etoh stomped off to the dugout and cried in frustration.
On August 25th, 1963, in another faceoff with the kyojin, Etoh crushed a pair of homers to send his side up 6-4 after five innings at Chunichi Stadium. However, Oh blasted a two run jack into the seats in the top of the sixth to knot it up at six all and then the skies opened up, as they are wont to do in August, which usually marks the commencement of typhoon season in Japan. The umpires cleared the field to wait the moisture out, but Etoh remained in left, thinking that if he entered the dugout the officials would indeed finalize it as a deadlock. So he remained out there for 20 minutes getting soaked as an incredulous NHK broadcasting crew sent this image out to the entire nation. Eventually, a Chunichi coach went out and coaxed Etoh into the clubhouse and it was, as Etoh had feared, ruled a rain shortened tie. "If we don't win it, they're meaningless," Etoh snapped to reporters about his two roundtrippers and the game itself.
There was a forgiving side to him, too. On Opening Day of the 1965 season, former Kokutetsu Swallows southpaw ace and future hall of famer Masaichi Kaneda made his debut for Yomiuri and went the distance in a victory, Etoh grounding into a game ending double play. Etoh subsequently told Kaneda, who was just as unrelenting a competitor as Etoh, that when he saw Kaneda's facial expression on the hill, he "didn't put anything into my swing. I wanted you to win."
Kaneda lent this portrait of Etoh: "He was probably exaggerating, but it was cute. At the plate, he was one of the most focused hitters I have ever seen. He would look for the ball in. He could come off a bit strong and often said over the top things, but in reality, he was kind of sensitive."
Dragons catcher Tatsuhiko Kimata remembered that the night before a September 10th, 1964 game with Yomiuri at Korakuen Stadium, Etoh, infielder Takao Katsuragi and pitcher Hiroshi Gondo had invited then rookie Kimata for a night of nabe (a kind of stew) and drinking. All were from Kyushu. They drained an issho of sake (1.8 liters, or slightly less than half a gallon) in a party that seemed like it would never end. When Kimata blurted that he needed to get some sleep in order to face the Giants the next day, Etoh, reacted, "you idiot! The ball is something you hit with your heart! You can'r runaway from it! You confront it!"Don't underrate me! You think that if I drink one or two bottles, my hitting will change?" The next day, Etoh passed Oh up in the batting race.
In any event, he would hit the prime of his career, cracking 26, 34, and 36 bombs the next three years and the Nishizawa years were winners until Sugishita was brought back in 1968 to finish last. Nishizawa was exchanged for ex-Yomiuri field boss Shigeru Mizuhara, whose old school domineering style resulted in clubhouse dissension. On one occasion, second baseman Morimichi Takagi, who was recently inducted into the hall of fame, allowed a routine ground ball to go between the wickets for a walkoff error. Mizuhara, in a postgame meeting, raked Takagi over the coals, propounding that a schoolgirl could have caught that ball and that perhaps Takagi's eyes were deteriorating. The next day, Etoh went to see Mizuhara in his office and warned him that it is okay to air the players out over mistakes, but to knock off the name calling. Mizuhara retaliated by announcing to the team that Etoh was a goner, an idea that initially met with a lot of resistance by Mizuhara's bosses. Mizuhara, though, stood firm and even a purported instance where Etoh went to Mizuhara's home and did the humiliating dogeza (getting on your hands and knees in apology) failed to move the erstwhile Giants golden boy's heart.
Etoh announced his retirement in December and then unretired shortly thereafter. In the interim, Chunichi was able to draft Kenichi Yazawa out of Waseda University. Yazawa is probably headed to the hall himself one of these days, which made Etoh expendable. In June, 1970, Etoh was assigned to the Lotte Orions, who, in turn, kicked pitcher Kazuto Kawaguchi over to Chunichi. This deal would be badly lopsided, as Kawabata would do very little, compiling a 9-10 record with a 3.89 ERA in 89 games for four teams over eight total seasons thanks to lackluster control. This was little more than a dead giveaway. And Mizuhara was gone at the end of the 1971 season anyway and another former Giant, Wally Yonamine, handed the reigns.
Etoh accumulated a .950 OPS for 1970 with the Orions and was reunited with Nonin. They made it into the Japan Series and lost to Yomiuri, who were in the midst of their string of nine consecutive championships.
Etoh then batted .337/.414/.555 in 1971 for history. Yet, both Etoh and Nonin would find themselves at new addresses for 1972 and it perhaps could have been attributed to an incident revolving around Etoh. On July 13 at Nishinomiya Stadium during a game with the Hankyu Braves, the plate umpire changed a call on a 1-2 pitch from a ball to a strike on an Etoh half swing after Braves catcher Koji Okamura protested. Etoh and manager Wataru Nonin lameneted that turn of events and then coach Takao Yazu assaulted the umpire and was ejected. Lotte's players were ordered into the clubhouse by Nonin and they refused to return, resulting in a forfeit. Nonin was punted in the wake of that and, after the last game of the season, a 6-5 victory over Nankai before a meager 500 fans at Tokyo Stadium, Etoh's birthday actually, he was called into the owner's office and informed that he had been traded to the Taiyo Whales for pitcher Osamu Nomura.
This was a decent deal for Lotte. Etoh slumped in 1972 while Nomura won 14 games even if his ERA was horrendous for the time, 4.13. Nomura would have an up and down career, earning 16 victories for Nippon Ham in 1976 and wrapped it up in 1986 with a ledger of 121-132 and a 4.02 ERA.
Etoh would also go hooligan on an umpire that year, kicking the plate arbiter several times on August 6th in a game against Yakult over a strike call.
Etoh's average improved in 1973, but his homers and slugging percentage declined in 1974 and he was shipped off to the Taiheiyo Club Lions for Akira Kawahara, an ex-first round draft pick. Kawahara would pitch 27 games for the Whales in 1975, going 2-2 with a 3.53 ERA at age 26 before his career abruptly ended and he went into the restaurant business.
Etoh was also tapped to be the Lions manager, spearheading the Fukuoka outfit that was also strengthened with the addition of Masahiro Doi, from the dugout to their lone first division placing in eight years while theatrically parking his bat in his back pocket during lectures to his charges. He was consigned to a six tatami mat apartment (about the size of your bedroom) thanks to the club's tenuous financial straits. But he enthused to the press that it was okay with him because he was still being given a chance to make his living with baseball.
At the dish, however, he eeked out a .228/.275/.351 with a mere eight homers. He did, though, snare a homer from his 12th team that year and lashed his 2000th lifetime knock on September 6 during a match with Kintetsu, becoming the ninth man to that mark.
When the Lions thought they had a contract with 70 year old Leo Durocher to helm them (The Lip's health ultimately went south and he couldn't fulfill the agreement), Etoh was cut loose and he was picked up again by Lotte, which was now under Kaneda's tutelage. His 1976 numbers were too smiliar to those of his 1975 effort and he called it a day.
He had been an 11 time all star, garnering two MVPs in the midsummer classic, and finished in the top ten in batting nine times. His 12 lifetime grand slams is third all time, two of those arising out of pinch hit duty. He was slotted into six Best Nines.
He would continue to endeavor to stay with baseball as a civilian. He had been afraid of flying his whole career, so he didn't have to do that any longer. What he did do was get involved with sandlot and youth baseball. He later opened a baseball school in what is now Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture before he managed the Yaohan supermarket chain's industrial league aggregation.
He had a family, but information on them is scant. He sired at least three kids. His drinking manifested itself in the necessity for liver surgery in 1999, however. Nonetheless, he ran for a seat on the Japanese Diet in 2001 in a losing bid.
In 2003, he suffered a stroke and was paralyzed and rendered mute. He would spend the final five years of his life bedridden in hospital being fed thtough a tube. He was conscious and refused visits from anyone he wasn't related to because he didn't want them to see him in the condition he was in. "The time he spent in hospital was really tough on him," revealed Shozo Etoh.. "It was hard to look at what he was going through. I always wondered when he would die before liver cancer finally took him. I owe my brother everything I have become today. As a great senior in baseball, I was always behind him. It was tragic that he went so early."
Ex-Giants third baseman Shigeo Nagashima commented, "he had googley eyes and was barrel chested,. The no sleeve unform really fit him well. I can still see his tremendous, powerful swing. It was emblematic of his personality. He was a baseball lifer to the total exclusion of everything else. You don't see guys like him anymore. His passing is very sad."
Kimata: "he looked after me, but even now, I can't ever remember Etoh practicing. It's about to ge loud in heaven. He might still think I'm a moron, but I hope he doesn't overdo it there. May he rest in peace."
Sugishita: he drank his way through his signing bonus his rookie year. He looked the best of anyone in the era when we didn't wear sleeves.
Former teammate Senichi Hoshino: "when I was a roolkie, he was our cleanup hitter. He swung and lived hard. He was a superstar in Nagoya and was the only guy who could fight Tokyo. It is sad to see somebody who helped my career go."
Yoichi Shibusawa, former Central League executive: "I met him when he was with Chunichi while I was still a reporter with Yomiuri. I ran across him at a yakitori stand and we became close friends. He could really handle his liquor and was a larger than life personality. But he was also always taking notes about opposing pitchers and studied baseball constantly. He reportedly didn't want people to see him bedridden, so I didn't see him for the last five years. It is sad that he left us."
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Death of Hall of Fame Ironman
Pitcher Kazuhisa Inao Stuns Japanese Baseball
Legendary Nishitetsu Lions (now Seibu) righthander Kazuhisa Inao, who brought the team down from a 3-0 Japan Series by personally winning each of the final four games in 1958, including one he finished off with a walkoff homer, died Tuesday at age 70 of cancer. The Beppu, Oita Prefecture native began experiencing numbness in his left arm and neck in mid-October and it worsened to include his leg on that side as well before he went into hospital at the end of the month to be examined. He was given radiation treatments before succumbing around 1 a.m. November 13th Japan Time.
During his career, he compiled a 276-137 record with a 1.98 ERA and a WHIP of 0.99 over the course of a rugged 756 appearances in which he was used in both relief and starting roles. He is only one of two pitchers, the other being Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase, to have more than 500 lifetime mound assignments and an ERA under 2.00 in the last 50 years, but Iwase's seasonal workload was never in the same universe as Inao's.
Inao was the last of seven children born on June 10, 1937 to a fisherman father and his wife, the oldest of those offspring, Hisako (now deceaseed), being 16 years his senior. He was said to have been a quiet baby who didn't cry much. As a young boy, Kazuhisa would often accompany his father on their small motorless dingy, which was thought by many to have helped build the kid's strength that would see him throught a strenuous pro career.
He bagan playing with an adult sandlot team in sixth grade as a catcher. But when he got to Midorigaoka High School, he was converted into a pitcher, becoming their ace and cleanup batter. He never made it to Koshien, but during a prefectural tournament game his junior year, a scout for Nishitetsu saw him club a homer and reportedly told the youngster that he ought to consider playing for the Kyushu based pro nine, especially as they were short on pitchers. He would be subsequently invited to see the Lions first Japan Series appearance in 1954, when they squared off against Chunichi in a seven game thriller that would be the Dragons only title until 2007. Unfortunately, Inao was so preoccupied with observing future hall of famer and Chunichi ace Shigeru Sugishita through a pair of binoculars during that match that he didn't pay any heed to what the Lions were doing.
Nevertheless, after he graduated high school, he signed with Nishitetsu for a salary of just short of $1300 and turned over a signing bonus of $1538 to his father, who made Kazuhisa promise that if he didn't succeed in pro baseball within three years he would return to Beppu and join his dad in the fishing business. The now ex-schoolboy packed up some underwear and other clothing in a large silk cloth and headed to spring training.
The Lions had originally joined the Pacific League as the Nishitetsu Clippers when the two league system was created in 1950 and were largely comprised of a bumch of discards from other clubs. Amid much wrangling with the league over which players would belong to whom during the 1950 offseason, they merged with the Nishi Nihon Pirates and also took on former Yomiuri infielder and manager Osamu Mihara, a guy who had not only alienated himself from his upper middle class family back on the island of Shikoku, but who had also run into issues playing for and tunning the Giants. When Mihara headed off to helm the Nishitetsu operation in 1951, the conventional wisdom was that Mihara had taken the subway to loonyland.
However, Mihara set about revising the Lions personnel, bringing in talented young eccentrics such as slugging third baseman Futoshi Nakanishi and snarky iron handed (clank!) shortstop Yasumitsu Toyoda, among others, to give them some offensive punch. But unlike some of the other managers, Mihara was okay with players quirks as long as they gave 100% on the field and the Lions quickly developed a reputation for partying and womanizing in addition to what they did on the field.
But by the time that Inao boarded this little pirate ship masquerading as a baseball team in 1956, one of their core starters, Tokuji Kawasaki, a onetime Giant who had fought in WWII, was hitting the wall and their other rotation members were still attempting to find their feet. That resulted in Nankai leaving Nishitetsu far in the rear view mirror in 1955.
Yet, Inao wasn't yet viewed as a potential tool to rectify this. Takayuki Hata, who had just pitched Kokura High School to a Koshien Tournament title, was picked up the same season as Inao and Mihara would later reveal that, "To be honest, when I first saw [Inao], my impression wasn't that he was something special. But my thinking at the time was that you can't have enough pitchers. He had good control, so he was at least suitable for throwing batting practice." So bp it was, an hour a day and at the high paced tempo Inao worked, eight pitches a minute, he would sling an estimated 480 up each time out there out of every three out of four days, which helped him develop his control of the strike zone while using a delivery that featured his rotating his body on the toes of his back foot before going to the plate.
Seeing the hardthrowing Hata made Inao realize that he was never going to be able to attain that kind of velocity, so he was going to have to get by on his control. Toward the end of spring training, he was also seeing more life on his fastball, since that is all he would throw over his first two seasons. Kawasaki, who was also the team's pitching coach, told Inao he would no longer have to toil as fodder for Nishitetsu's stickmen. He subsequently made his first exhibition appearance against Chunichi and dispensed with the Nagoya crew's order with little fuss and wound up on the Opening Day roster.
Inao would make his first career regular season appearance on March 21st, 1956, which, in fact, was Opening Day, relieving starter Hisafumi Kawamura at their home ballpark of Heiwadai Stadium after the Lions had jumped out to an 11-0 advantage after five innings against the Daiei Stars. He fashioned four shutout frames on four hits while striking out four and walking none.
He started for the first time approximately two weeks later on Aptil 5th against the Takahashi Unions, who were on their last round up in NPB, and he wove seven scoreless innings on three hits in a no decision.
From that point forward, he basically took Japanese baseball by storm. After several superb middle relief outings, he made another start on May 20th and posted his initial career victory against Takahashi at Kawasaki Stadium, which he says he doesn't remember because players didn't make the kind of big deal then over stuff like that as they do nowadays. He won another battle three days later and eight in a row altogether before he incurred his first loss, a decision to the Mainichi Orions (now Lotte) in relief on June 28th. He subsequently went 3-0 in July and and made 30 more appearances the last two months to contribute to their second pennant.
That saved their bacon because the other starters weren't doing very well and and Hata was injured. So he almost singlehandedly brought them from seven games down in the standings in August to Nankai to prevailing by half a game, permitting just two homers, one to future hall of famer Kazuhiro Yamauchi, both of which were in relief stints. He made 61 trips to the hill that year, 22 of those starts, and went 21-6 with a Pacific League record low 1.06 ERA to garner the Rookie of the Year Award. This is a pattern that would continue through his career and he would accumulate wins at an unreal rate, but he would also eventually blow his shoulder out.
In the 1956 Japan Series, it was Mihara's Lions tilting against his personal rival, Shigeru Mizuhara, and Yomiuri. Former Giant Kawasaki, who had come to Nishitetsu after some backstage intrigue that saw him try to spirit outfielder Noboru Aota from the Tokyo side to Fukuoka during that 1951 offseason, started game one, even after a terrible campaign, at Korakuen Stadium (upon which Tokyo Dome now sits) and was pointed to the showers after being bullied for a pair of first inning runs and Inao would anchor the resultant relief relay, devising a scoreless eighth and striking out two.
There was an odd happening, though: Japan's "God of Hitting," first baseman Tetsuharu Kawakami, who had become the first player ever to 2000 knocks that year, sidled up to the plate. Inao was a fan of Kawakami, who, similar to Inao, is a Kyushu native. Inao walked off the front of the mound, doffed his cap and bowed to Kawakami before pitching to him. Kawakami would reach on an infield hit, but Inao then picked his hero off of first. Inao would say years later, "he beat me and I beat him." The Giants came out on top to notch a 1-0 series advantage.
Inao opened on the bump for game two and was taken over the wall by Yomiuri ace Takehiko Bessho and would be pulled with two outs in the fourth down 1-0. Fortunately, the Lions caught fire at the dish and snagged a 6-3 triumph to take a split to Heiwadai.
Heiwadai was a pretty rickety ballpark by American standards. Built in 1948 as a soccer pitch for a big national athletic event and sited on what used to be the grounds of Fukuoka Castle, as well as a camp for U.S. occupation forces, it was largely a bunch of thrown together steel slats with bench style bleachers. It was named by a local college professor and, literally means, "a pedestal of peace" in commemoration of WWII being thankfully behind them. It was expanded in 1950 to become a 25,000 seater and then enlarged again in 1958 to a maximum of 33,900. Lights had been installed in 1954. That grandstand was low to the ground and it was single decked, imbuing it with a tremendous amount of intimacy that made fans seem like they were right on top of you.
So when game three kicked off in 1956, they were treated to Inao tossing a scoreless eighth and ninth while Nakanishi, et al overturned a three run deficit with a four spot in the bottom of the eighth to eek out a 5-4 triumph, Inao achieving his first career series win.
He was summoned from the bullpen in game four in the fourth of a scoreless duel and racked up six innings worth of goose eggs on two hits in an eventual 4-0 Lions victory to put them on the verge of their first Nippon ichi (Japan championship). Nishitetsu, though, got torched 12-7 in game five and it was back off to Tokyo to decide the thing.
Inao did so with a four hitter, the only run he allowed coming on a homer byTakashi Iwamoto in a 5-1 outcome. Toyoda, who hit .458 in the series, was named the MVP.
Inao was accorded another award back home in Beppu, as he was invited to party after party to celebrate both his and the Lions accomplishment. Inao's father was a hard drinker, so Inao apparenlty inherited an ability to handle his liquor from him, but he grew tired of all the boozing. In an uptight country where drinking is as much a part of social interaction as running the bases is to the sport which Inao played, he was perpelxed as to how to deal with it. Finally, one day, an answer appeared. He was invited by the Lions owner to a round of golf and dinner afterward. Inao had never golfed before in his life, but he found the game to be good exercise. That provoked him to this stratagem: when he would be invited to another party, he would recommend that they all go golfing first. It had its intended effect, which was that it would siphon off a lot of the revelers' energy and Inao was consequently able to get home earlier and less tipsy. After all the celebrating during the 1956 offseason, he decided to devote his time between campaigns to training rather than partying.
That's not to say that Inao was a choir boy. During the season, his roomates Toyoda and Nakanishi and he would go out to the bars and restaurants and Inao, when he started chatting up a girl he was interested in, would set up a subterfuge whereby he would tell the others he was going back to the delapidated ryokan that passed for their team dormitory to get some sleep. He would then wait until Nakanishi and Toyoda left and go back in and begin chatting up the girl again. This was easy to pull off if his roomies were engaging in hashigonomi (bar hopping), but they went back to the dorm early one night and found that Inao wasn't there. He was thus found out, so he then had to invent some new way of finding some private time. In his era, he was quite the ladies man, but he would ultimately meet his wife Ritsuko when mutual friends set them up unbeknownst to him. It was love at first sight and they married a little over a month later. She would bear him four daughters.
If 1956 was way more than what anyone could have expected out of a 19 year old, then 1957 would be off the charts and into another dimension. Again, armed with just the fastball that tended to tail in to righthanded hitters and pinpoint control, he not only totaled up a then Pacific League record 35 victories, but 20 of those came consecutively to tie a Japan best. And all in a mere 76 days comprising 31 appearances. He had 14 starts during that span and completed ten of them. The previous PL record for most straight wins was by Shoichi Ono of Mainichi at 13. In a neat twist, on September 3rd, he started against the Orions and went 4.2 innings, but two men reached and that brought up infielder Takao Katsuragi (father of Hanshin outfielder Ikuro Katsuragi), who owned Inao. Mihara went out to the mound and signaled for reliever Tadao Wako, while also carrying out an old first baseman's mit. Inao was stationed at first so that Wako could deal with Katsuragi. Katsuragi was put away without incident and Inao was back pitching in the sixth and finished it off to claim his 14th in a row and outdo Ono.
On October 1st, Inao stretched his string to 20, that also coming against Mainichi. Mainichi realized a measure of retribution two days later, however, as they roughed him up for two runs in relief to stain him with the loss.
The final numbers would be staggering: 68 appearances, most in the league, 1.37 ERA, an opponent average of just .186, a ridiculous WHIP of 0.85, and a circuit supreme 373.2 innings pitched for the first of two consecutive MVPs plus a second straight pennant, this time by seven games over the Hawks.
Inao thus started game one of that year's Japan Series against Yomiuri and saw it through to the end on two runs in a 3-2 decision that culminated in him seizing two wins in the five contest set of tense confrontations, one of them a scoreless ten inning tie, for another Nippon ichi.
With that, Inao felt that he belonged in the pro ranks and was looking forward to the 1958 slate with a great deal of confidence. Tragedy would take a lot of the joy out of that. When he went home, his mother informed him that his father had terminal cancer. Like a lot of men, his father hated dealing with doctors and hospitals and had to be talked into finally undergoing an examination. But in those days, cancer was pretty much a death sentence. So while his father was still alive, Inao went to Nishitetsu's owner to not only negotiate the raise he was due, but also to ask for a loan. The owner called Inao an idiot and rejoindered, "what would you use it for?" Inao then laid out the whole story about how his father had wamted to build his wife (Kazuhisa's mother) a house with lots of sunlight and that he didn't have very long to live. The owner castigated Inao with, "why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" and reportedly broke down in tears as he approved the loan. Repaying your debt to your parents is a big part of the moral system in Japan and this example obviously moved the otherwise hardened businessman.
That offseason, Inao had a two story home overlooking Beppu Bay erected for his parents. When he initially told his father what was going on, his dad said he wasn't moving anywhere from the old quarters fisherman's families in that districk resided in. Perhaps it was because he couldn't do it himself and his pride was hurt that his son did it for him. Whatever the case, Inao's father was eventually cajoled into the new digs, where he died at age 63 a week into the Lions 1958 spring camp.
During that season, Inao bought a pendant and put a picture of his father in it and wore it the rest of the year.
The previous season, Inao had begun toying with a slider and a shuuto (a reverse slider), but never tried to use them in a game. He polished them during the 1958 pre-season. He threw a 100 slider and shuutos a day to nail them cold, but the the broken fingernails he engendered necessitated that he resort to keeping them filed and manicured during the season.
He lurched out of the regular season gate slowly, going 7-5 over the first two months. Nankai had just acquired Rikkyo University submariner and future hall of famer Tadashi Sugiura and the Lions therefore found themselves 11 games in arrears to the birds of prey in the standings. He also had twinges in his elbow, but that improved by the beginning of June and and he gathered momentun. Following the all star break, he would go 17-1 to not only catch Nankai, but nose them out by a single game for their third voyage to the postseason in as many years. In all, he went 33-10 and took home another ERA trophy with a 1.42 figure.
Inao was afflicted by a fever of 104 five days before the Japan Series was to commence and didn't practice. He was still tapped to start game one at Korakuen Stadium and coughed up an RBI triple to then rookie third baseman Shigeo Nagashima in the first and shortstop Tatsuro Hirooka pulled off a bit of yardwork against him in the third. He was charged with three runs on seven hits in four innings and the Giants romped 9-2.
They were also drubbed 7-3 in the next one and the series moved to Fukuoka, where an RBI triple in game three by Hirooka sent Inao down to his second defeat, this one by a 1-0 margin.
It had been a curiously dry monsoon season in Japan that year. They had even asked the U.S. military to try cloud seeding so that farmers could get some rain for their thirsty crops. The climate in Nishitetsu's locker room was emotionally parched, as they figured their chances of pulling this thing out were pretty much nil. It had begun raining that morning and kept on doing so. The game was ultimately called, providing the ballclub time to regroup. Yomiuri protested, asserting that the decision was overly hasty.
Inao started game four and was lit up for three runs in the second, but Nishitetsu retaliated immediately with three of their own and Toyoda belted a pair of homers in as many at bats to enable the Lions to snake a 6-4 victory. Inao went all the way on ten hits. The man he saw as the key to the Yomiuri attack, Nagashima, was 0-3.
They got behind again in game five 3-0. Inao was inserted in relief in the fourth and the score remained that way through six. But in the seventh, Nakanishi pounded a two run homer and they pushed another across in the ninth to level it at three. Inao was allowed to hit in the tenth and pasted a Takumi Otomo delivery into the leftfield bleachers to slip by 4-3. Inao had supressed the Giants on a hit in seven innings.
They were able to force it back to Korakuen Stadium and Inao was asked to do it again. He indeed had the prescription on hand, a 2-0 three hit walkless shutout.
In the then brief history of the Japanese fall classic, being down 3-0 was foreboding. Now it was even. And they counted on Inao to make the start again. He went all the way and and had a shutout for eight before Nagashima's belt to the wall in center in the ninth went for an inside the park homer. But by that time, the Lions were sitting on a 6-0 cushion, so it was just a flesh wound and Inao wrapped it up for the crown.
The chant among the Nishitetsu faithful then became, kamisama, butsusama, Inao-sama (God, Buddha, Inao) and it would resound in the chronicles of Japanese baseball forevermore.
But leave it up to Sugiura to upset Inao's apple cart. Sugiura, Inao and Nakanishi had been part of an NPB all star team that year that faced off against the St. Louis Cardinals, who had finished sixth in the National League that season. During that NPB-MLB series, Sugiura basically told Inao, "I'm going to say this to your face: we [Nankai} are going to win the pennant next season." Incidentally, both Sugiura and Inao won a game apiece against the redbirds, the only two of the 16 that the stateside nine came out on the short end of during their tour.
While most sports fans are used to players blowing smoke and then choking when it counts, Sugiura delivered on his boast. He went 38-4 with a 1.43 ERA to earn the MVP and wins and ERA titles while Inao checked in with another 30 win showing. But Nishitetsu went into the tank and slotted into fourth 22 games out of the top spot. Sugiura then capped that off by winning all four games of the Japan Series in a sweep of Yomiuri, sending up some balls with blood on them after he broke a blister. Sugiura had thus not only broken Inao's league wins mark, he had also set a new standard for guttiness in the postseason.
So feeling humiliated, Inao disappeared for a few days by going to Kumamoto and playing golf to exorcise his angst. Upon arriving home, he shifted his concentration from refining his pitches, which also now included a curve ball, to determining hitters tendencies. He endlessly quizzed Nakanishi and Toyoda about what hitters are thinking when they are at bat.
As a new decade dawned and Mihara quit in favor of the aforementioned Kawasaki, Inao failed to get to the 30 win plateau for only the second time in his career, going 20-7 and watching his ERA "balloon" to 2.45. The Lions were first in the PL in homers and runs scored, but next to last in ERA and it was the Daimai Orions who went to the postseason, where they were swept away by that season's miracle aggregation, the Taiyo Whales.
Inao, though, rebounded like a super ball in 1961, though there would be some unintentional comedy at the end of it. By July 11th, he had already matched his 1960 win total and on August 27th, he was back up to 30. On October 1st, he tied Sugiura's record with 38 in a start during the first game of a doubleheader against Hankyu (now Orix) and then tucked away his 39th shiroboshi in the nitecap in relief.
In the wake of that feat, the NPB office checked to see what the all time record was and it was determined that both Victor Starfin (Yomiuri) and Jiro Noguchi (Taiyo, but not the same one as the Whales) had each won 40 during a season in their careers. On October 7th, Inao worked two innings of relief against Kintetsu and was credited with the win to pull alongside Starfin and Noguchi. Inao then started the following day against the Toei Flyers (now Nippon Ham) and was buffeted by nine hits, but only two runs (one earned) in a complete game outing for what was believed to be the record clinching 41st win. He was even given a trophy for it.
Now he also wanted Kokutetsu ace Masaichi Kaneda's strikeout record of 350. He snapped up his 42nd victory in a two inning stint against Hankyu on October 11th to push it up to 42. In a start against Daimai on the 15th, he struckout six to finish with 353 whiffs. He also set a new PL innings pitched record with 404 and took away his fourth ERA title.
In December, it was discovered that Starfin had actually won 42 games back in 1939. "If I hadn't won that last game, I would have had to send the trophy back," Inao later joked.
Nishitetsu, though, landed in third that season with 81 wins, more than half of them by Inao. He tailed off to a 25-18 record in 1962 under new field boss but old friend Nakanishi and he was also named the Lions pitching coach. Some of Nishitetsu's non-rail businesses were headed in the dumper at that time and they decided to get more bang out of the bucks they were paying their star players. They finished third.
Inao's ERA, WHIP and batting average against would worsen in 1963, but Nishitetsu survived another heated duel with Nankai to sneak into the Japan Series by a game, Inao going 28-16. That would be bittersweet for a host of reasons: one, Inao went 2-2 in the series, as the Giants destroyed them in game seven 18-4 to carry the championship back to the Japanese capital; Secondly, it was the last time that the Lions would win a pennant before they were sold to Seibu in 1978; Thirdly, and most importantly for Inao, it marked the beginning of the end of his greatness.
He had shoulder stiffness during the season, but kept pitching through it to help the team. One day in September, he was scheduled to start and while warming up in the bullpen, couldn't reach home plate with any of his pitches. That start was scrapped and he was able to make his starts after that, but his pitches just didn't have the movement they once did. Inao rather sardonically offered about this that in attempting to help the team (in the short term), he ended up hurting them (in the long term). He had won 234 games in eight seasons and thrown well north of 2700 innings.
An airline had given him, Nagashima, Sadaharu Oh and Nankai catcher Katsuya Nomura free first class tickets to Europe that offseason. While there, he caught a persistent cold, one that lasted into spring training. That did little for his aching shoulder.
In 1964, his shoulder became so painful he couldn't throw at all after July, as he went 11.1 innings before shutting it down. He wouldn't throw for another six months and even that was an amazing act of desperation.
When he tried to throw, it sent shards of pain into his shoulder. Now I don't know who came up with this idea, but somehow it came to pass that an iron baseball was made and the concept behind that was that the pain from attempting to hurl that would be so great that flinging a baseball would seem like a minor pin prick by comparison. His initial goal was to throw it about 15 feet, which didn't happen. But as much as it hurt, he kept throwing it. He would throw it into a mat in the garage of an apartment building he lived in. And early into spring training in 1965, what do you know, the pain stopped. His pitches weren't doing anything, but at least it didn't huty anymore. Kids and washed up pitchers, do not try this at home. Ever.
He won a game on June 5th against Toei, his first in almost two years while being smacked for five runs on eight hits. His goal was to hang on long enough for 300 wins, but he won 42 and lost 43 over his last five years and fell 24 short.
He actually hadn't intended to retire when 1970 rolled around. But with the fallout over the kuroi kiri jiken (black mist incident) game fixing scandal that saw ace Masaaki Ikenaga kicked out of baseball, Inao was hurriedly hired as the new manager to try to hang on some shred of the team's prestige even as it went further into mediocrity. Inao did what he could for five losing seasons, the last two of which he got them within five games of .500, but his nerves were frayed and he said sayonara.
After the Lions left Fukuoka with the sale to Seibu in 1978, Inao and some local business leaders cast about for a replacement for the departed team. The Lotte franchise had bounced around from Tokyo to Sendai to Kawasaki, and so they became the likely team to target. Overtures were made and, with the proviso that they would look into a move to Kyushu, Inao accepted their offer to manage the club, which he guided from last under his predecessor to second place finishes in 1984-1985, the highest position they would reach until Bobby Valentine was installed in 1995. They also stayed in the Kanto.
He would stick around baseball by being a commentator and a member of the Sawamura Award committee in addition to running his own small trading company. He also managed in the Masters League for six years, surrendering that position after last season due to his health. He had been on Ikenaga's side in the former ace's attempts to get reinstated to baseball. Ikenaga, who pitched for Inao on that Masters League squad, was rehabilitated in 2005. Just what level of involvement in gambling he had remains murky at best.
Baseball did come back to Fukuoka. Heiwadai Stadium was updated, if you can call it that, with artificial turf in 1979 and when the Daiei supermarket chain bought the Hawks and moved them to Fukuoka, Heiwadai was their homeground frem 1989-1992. The last game was played at that facility on October 1st, 1992 in a head to head with Kintetsu. It was torn down five years later and a park now sits on the site, the stadium commemorated by a monument there. Before it went under the wrecking ball, Inao stopped by one last time to relive some old memories. "It was like I was a fetus and it was the mother's womb," he analogized his feelings to the press. "And the fans were the father."
But he isn't so nice about the pitching routines of modern day moundsmen: "they throw on five days rest now and should be getting better results than they have. "
In 18 Japan Series games, he won 11 games, nine of them complete, with a 2.45 ERA.
A museum in Inao's honor was opened in Beppu in October.
Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai just picked up the Matsutaro Shoriki Award, but called it "a strange day" as he began to tear up. "He was a nice guy. A star has disappeared from the baseball world. "Ochiai had played udner Inao at Lotte and they became close, Inao teaching Ochiai how pitchers think. When they got toegther even after Inao stepped down at Lotte, it was always about baseball, Ochiai stated.
Nomura hit .266 with 14 homers, 47 RBIs and 69 strikeouts against Inao for his career. Of Inao's death, he said, "my life has just gotten sadder. He competed with his brain, which is the kind of baseball I like. It was enjoyable facing him. Because he had such a tough shuuto, I had some 16 millimeter film of him shot so I could analyze it. In one game, I saw it coming and hit it out of the park, but he made an adjustment after that and shut me down. Great players raise other great players and, thanks to him, I became the man I am today."
Sadaharu Oh went 1-11 against him in Japan Series play with three RBIs and no homers. "I faced him in the 1963 Japan Series and we ultimately won it, but he beat us twice. His delivery was textbook and you can't tell the story of Japanese baseball without including Inao in it. I want to take the baton from him and help bring more excitement to baseball in Kyushu."
Nagashima was 6-29 with two homers
and six RBIs off of him in Japan Series play. "I
heard the news this morning. It was so sudden that even now I'm suprised.
I have strong memories of facing him in the 1958 Japan Series. He really
threw well from game four on and I couldn't do anything with his sharp
slider on the outside corner. We traveled to Europe together during one
offseason and he let me get to know him well. We became more friends than
hated rivals. This is really too bad. May he rest in peace. "
Kaneda: Players come and go, but nobody pitched like Inao. Precise control, mechanics, mentality, he was the best. He was better than me technically. His body was ten times stronger than mine and I can't believe that we went before I did."
Inao's former batterymate Hiromi
Wada: "he was like a machine with his control. He could put it within a
third of a baseball where he wanted it at anytime."
Hirooka: "if it weren't for him, there wouldn't have been any Nishitetsu Lions. He had stellar control and never doctored the ball. He competed courageously. His mentality was to put it all on the line for his coaches and the company."
Nakanishi: "I had heard he went into hospital, but I expected that he would leave in good health. So this is really sad. People can't comprehend how close we were. This is hard. That bastared went to heaven and left me behind. Hey Inao and [former Lions second baseman Akira] Ogi, wait for me!"
Toyoda: "Among my list of great
pitchers, there is only Inao."
Masayuki Dobashi: "I heard he was going into hospital, but I didn';t think this would happen. His control and the life on his pitches were incredible and I learned a lot from him even though he was younger than me. As a person, he also never acted like a big shot and that was great."
Kawakami: "I was astonished.
He was still young. He still had some things to do to help baseball. I
remember the old times with him. He beat us singlehandedly in the Japan
Sugishita: "he is a generation younger than me. He went too quickly. Anyway, he was an amazing pitcher. His control never faltered. It was outstanding."
Nagisa Arakaki said that Inao often gave him advice about his slider.
Toshiya Sugiuchi: "I'm in shock. He really treated me well and we talked a lot about pitching technique. "
Nobuhiko Matsunaka said that will dedicate this season to Inao. "I hope he will watch over me from heaven," he said.
Senichi hoshino "he gave me a lot of encouragement toward the end of my pitching career. He was a senior who was both heroic and understated."
Inao had an official website and there is a message board there. The top box is for your name, the second one is for your email address, the next bit is whether you are male or female. Then there is the box for the message. If you are inclined to write, please use very simple and polite english if you don't know Japanese.
I would like to extend my most
heartfelt thanks to Nikkan Sports' Eiji Satake and his long
series of pieces on Inao, without which this article would not have had
nearly the depth it has. You can find them Here
and they are well worth your time. Also, Nikkan Sports Inao photo
tribute is Here
Nagashima homers off of Inao on 10/30/1963
Inao faces the plate
Inao begins uncoiling to the plate
Inao delivers the ball
Jiro Noguchi, Who Once Threw 527 Innings in Season, Dies at Age 87
Hall of fame righthander Jiro Noguchi, who won two ERA titles and who once threw 527.1 innings in a single season, died Monday of pneumonia at a hospital in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. He was 87.
Noguchi was born on January 6, 1919 in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture as the second oldest of four brothers who also later played pro ball. He was a catcher in elementary school before he went to third base at Chukyo Shogyo Junior High (which were five year institutions at the time; junior high and high schools were split off after WWII), where he was installed on the mound after their ace was injured. He spearheaded them to three Koshien Tournament bids, winning it all twice.
Their first trip to Koshien was during the spring of 1937, where he pitched them into the final, losing to famed Naniwa Shogyo High School and its ace Chotaro Muramatsu, who later played four seasons in the pros as an outfielder, 2-0, the only defeat he would suffer at the hallowed tourney.
They made it back to Koshien the summer of the same year and he outdueled Kumamoto Kogyo High number one Tetsuharu Kawakami, who was paired with catcher Masaki Yoshiwara, both future hall of fame inductees, though Kawakami became known for being a first baseman (much like a future pitcher turned infielder named Sadaharu Oh decades later), in the final 3-1.
He reached the zenith of his high school career in the spring, 1938 Koshien, where he tossed four consecutive shutouts, one a no hitter against Kaiso Junior High in game two, for their second straight title, the final in that one being 1-0 against Higashikuni Shogyo Junior High.
Noguchi then moved on to Hosei University in the Tokyo Big Six University League, but he dropped out to join the Tokyo Senators in 1939 and became known for precision control and a smooth delivery that featured only two pitches, a sneaky fastball and a curve. He won 33 games against 19 losses in a remarkable 459 innings during that debut campaign, the most victories by any rookie to that time and it wouldn't be exceeded until Hiroshi Gondo racked up 35 for Chunichi in 1961.
But while Gondo would flame out due to overuse, Noguchi thrived. He totaled up 387 and 338 over the ensuing two seasons and won ERA titles both years with WHIP numbers in the 0.80 range (see stats) and then really got worked in 1942 with 527.1 innings, second most all time and only second most that season because Yasuo Hayashi of Asahi toiled for 541.1 innings. He also became only the second man to win 40 while also tossing 19 shutouts, another new standard (it was equaled by Yomiuri ace Hideo Fujimoto in 1943 and hasn't been touched since). His batting average against was a farcially low .162, the last time, though, that number would finish below .200.
Noguchi started the most notorious game in Japanese baseball history on May 24, 1942 at Korakuen Stadium (now Tokyo Dome), when he went the distance in a 28 inning 4-4 tie. He had gone into the ninth with a no hitter against Asahi the previous day when it was ruined on a knock, forcing him to settle on a one hit shutout. So he went out drinking that night to wash away his sorrow at not getting the no no. He then opened on the mound with a hangover (roll over Grover Cleveland Alexander and tell Dock Ellis the news!) in the third game of a tripleheader (different teams) against Nagoya and had a 4-2 lead with two out in the ninth, but he was taken deep with a man aboard by Seizo Furukawa to tie it at four all.
The opposing pitcher, Michio Nishizawa, matched Noguchi and the outs accumulated until the top of the 26th, when Nishizawa doubled to rightcenter with his catcher on first base. The backstop, who was probably stiff from all that crouching, attempted to score and was tagged out at home.
Nagoya then had a man gunned down at the dish in the bottom of the 27th. Finally, the umpiring crew called it on account of darkness after the 28th. Incredibly, it had begun just a little after 3 p.m. and only took three hours and 47 minutes. Noguchi unloaded 344 deliveries and Nishizawa 311. So that was excellent pitch economy on the part of both men. He was tagged for 13 hits and walked or hit six, an in game WHIP of 0.68.
He had a relative holiday in 1943, 385 innings and fashioned 25 wins during an 84 game schedule, but he was then drafted into the military, which took some of the sharpness out of his arm swing and weakened his shoulder. So when he rejoined the pros with Hankyu in 1946, he would see a lot of action at first base and rightfield when he wasn't starting, having only one 50 and one 40 appearance season the remainder of his career. His last 20 game showing was when he prevailed in 24 in 1947 and then dropped to 14,10,14, 4 and 1 before hanging it up at the end of the 1953 schedule.
But even if he was no longer as durable or as effective on the hill as he once was, he posted a career high .298 batting average at the plate in 1946 and would be serviceable with the stick through 1950 before his offensive numbers fell off badly his last three years. He amassed a 31 game hit streak in 1946 that would stand as a pro yakyu record until 1971. The interesting tidbit about that was that it wasn't recognized as a record until one of the Pacific League statisticians noticed it two years later. Even Noguchi had no idea the rarity of what he did.
He once told a reporter that going to the hill after beginning a game at first base wasn't so bad because at least you got to throw the ball around a few times during a contest. But in right, where balls rarely came to you, he would often have to compesate for the lack of action by dashing into the bullpen to warm up before returning to the field to pitch.
He spent his final season solely as a pinch hitter and first baseman, getting into just eight games before he concluded his career at age 34.
He went on to coach for Hankyu (now Orix) and the Mainichi Orions (now the Chiba Lotte Marines) before managing for Kintetsu's minor league team.
He left behind a slew of records, including being the winningest pitcher to have also won a Koshien title at 237 victories against only 139 losses for some pretty mediocre teams and a lifetime ERA of 1.96, second best all time for any pitcher over 2,000 innings. His 13 walkless complete games in 1948 is a record. Indeed, Yomiuri hall of fame second baseman Shigeru Chiba used to say that because he was known for such fine control, Noguchi always got the close pitches from the umpires. His 57 lifetime CG without a BB was a pro yakyu record until Hanshin hall of famer Masaaki Koyama eclipsed it. He is the only man to have had back to back ERA's in the zero range for full seasons qualifying for the title. He hit just 18 batters for his WHOLE career. That is only one more than what Don Drysdale totaled in that department in 1966 alone!
Noguchi is survived by his eldest son, Makoto.
Onetime Hankyu Ace Takao Kajimoto Succumbs to Respiratory Illness at Age 71
Hardthrowing southpaw Takao Kajimoto, who won 254 games during a 20 year career with the Hankyu Braves, died Saturday of respiratory arrest at age 71. Hs is survived by his eldest son Masashi.
Kajimoto was born in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture on April 8th, 1935 and began playing baseball in elementary school. He later moved on to Tachimi Kogyo High School for three rather anonmymous years there, his team not making it into any Koshien Tournaments. He was signed by the Braves before the advent of the 1954 season and literally just came out of nowhere to blow everybody's doors off with his 93mph plus fastball during spring training to the point where he was made the Opening Day starter as a rookie. He didn't disappoint, taking a 5-3 decision from the Takahashi Unions.
He would go on that year to finish with a 20-12 record and a 2.73 ERA (1.24 WHIP) for a team that couldn't hit its way out of a paper bag, He lost the Rookie of the Year award to Nankai freshman Motoji Takuwa, who had an even better campaign (26-9 with a 1.58 ERA), to become the only 20 game winning newbie to be topped in a Rookie of the Year balloting. It needs to be noted that Takuwa would essentially be useless after the 1956 season and was out of baseball five years after that.
Kajimoto followed that up his sophomore season with an 18-14 2.86 and then had his best year ever in 1956, when he was 28-17 with a 2.24 ERA (1.10 WHIP) and didn't do too shabby in 1957 either, 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA. He was also sharpening his control, as his BB/9 began to decline to two to three a game. On July 23rd of that season, in a match with Nankai, he fanned nine hitters in a row to set a new NPB record. The old mark was seven. It has since been done two more times.
In 1958, he just missed a no hitter, settling for a one hit shutout on September 14th against Toei.
Righthander Tetsuya Yoneda joined Hankyu beginning in 1956 and he and Kajimoto made one of the more formidable tandems in Japanese baseball history, as they were known as the Yonekaji Kombi (the Yoneda-Kajimoto duo), Yoneda going on to be inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. But because the club couldn't hit, they went into a nosedive from 1959-1963. In fact, manager Yukio Nishimoto was so desperate at one point during the 1963 campaign that because Kajimoto was relatively handy with the bat Nishimoto penciled him in to the three hole in a game against the Tokyo Orions. Kajimoto also pinch hit on numerous occasions and was actually intentionally walked twice during his career and blasted 13 homers. But it was also that 1963 season when he had his worst showing to date with a 4.33 ERA AND A 9-17 record.
In 1964, though, things were beginning to look up. They improved by 22 wins over the previous year and finished second to Nankai in the standings even with a 9-13 put up by Kajimoto. He did, though, register his 2000th strikeout, becoming only the third man to do that. However, the team went in the tank for 1965-1966 and even though Kajimoto's ERA was in the 3.60 range, he went a combined 7-26, losing a Japan record 15 in a row during the 1966 season alone and 16 straight total after being on the short end of his first decision in 1967.
But he ultimately rebounded in 1967 with a 15-9 2.44, accumulating his 200th win, and the club went on to rip off three pennants in a row while Kajimoto won 45 games in that period, only to drop all three Japan Series against the V9 Yomiuri Giants in six games each.
In 1970 he did something you don't see every day, permitting ten runs and winning anyway in a contest with the Tokyo Orions on May 31st.
They went to the Japan Series again in 1971 while Kajimoto was beginning to fade (6-8 3.44 in 136 innings) and this time lost in five to Yomiuri. Kajimoto would win only five more games total over his final two years, the Braves getting into the 1972 Japan Series only to lose in five again before they lost a playoff in 1973 to Nankai to miss out on being victimized by the Tokyo juggernaut again.
During that 1972 season in a game with Toei, he was called for a ball on the 20 second rule, the only known instance both before and after that anyone has ever been penalized with it.
Lifetime, he was 254-255, the only pitcher in the Meikyukai with a losing record after amassing 200 wins, and is third all time in appearances with 867, He was tapped to start on Opening Day six times and was named to 12 all star squads. He had been known as "the ace without a crown" because he never grabbed a wins or ERA title, though he did notch two strikeout titles and was named to a Best Nine team in 1956.
After hanging his spikes up, he coached for Hankyu four different times and was the guy who thought up the idea of having pitcher Yutaro Imai do some drinking before his starts. Imai had torn up the minor leagues, but when he got to the bigtime couldn't seem to get it done. Kajimoto, himself a hearty tippler, loosened Imai up with a few one day in 1978 and he went out and threw a dazzler. Imai went on to toss a perfect game that season. That was the last time anyone has experienced perfection in the Pacific League.
Kajimoto managed Hankyu from 1979-1980, taking them to second and fifth place showings until stepping down.
He also worked in Chunichi's minor league system in 1998-1999 before cadging a position with Daily Sports as a baseball commentator.
One story says that even at age 60, he was able to get up to 87mph on the radar gun during Masters League games.
Toshiharu Ueda, who managed Hankyu while Kajimoto was its pitching coach, remarked upon his passing, "that he was able to win so much while they were a weak team really says something for him. He was the best."
Sadaharu Oh, who had to bat against Kajimoto during that big Giants run, offered, "he spun that hard fastball out of that slim body and it was hard to hit. I've talked to him a lot at Meikyukai parties and he was always a gentleman. It won't be the same without him."
There was also one quote from Nankai hall of fame catcher Katsuya Nomura: "he didn't seem like a pitcher. He's like Buddah."
Kajimoto's brother Yasuo had a brief career with the Braves as well and is still alive, as far as can be ascertained.
Hall of Fame Pitcher Ryohei Hasegawa Dies at Age 76; Saved Carp From Contraction
Every year, the most valuable player is picked by Japan's baseball beat writers. That fact is duly noted and then everyone moves on awaiting the next spring training and a new season. Saturday, the man who never won an MVP but who may have been the most valuable player ever for his team passed away at age 76 of cardiac arrest after being taken to hospital with pneumonia. Ryohei Hasegawa wasn't a big man, only 5'6" and 125 pounds soaking wet, but if it weren't for him, there might not be a Hiroshima Carp ballclub.
Let's start at the beginning, though. He was born on March 25, 1930 in Handa, Aichi Prefecture, which is Chunichi Dragons territory. That fact will be important later on, but I digress. He attended Handa Shoko High School and then moved on to the industrail leagues for a year. When the Carp team was being organized, he decided to tryout for them in the spring of their first season, 1950. The audition basically consisted of having him faceoff against their projected starting lineup and, after he used his patented shuuto to render their bats into a pile of kindling, he was immediately inked to a contract.
That first year, though, was rough. Hiroshima went 41-96-1, good for eighth place in a then eight team Central League, which soon became seven because the Nishi Nihon Pirates went under and merged with the Nishitetsu Clippers in the Pacific League to become the Nishitetsu Lions. Hasegawa lead the pitching staff with a 15-27 record and a 3.86 ERA (opponents batted .260 against him with a WHIP of 1.48) in 348.1 innings over the course of 56 appearances. He also set the CL record for runs given up with 190, but only 150 of those were earned, such was the defense behind him at the time.
With the Pirates disappearing, league officials saw that a seven team circuit would make for scheduling headaches. So they decided that any team who finished with less than a .300 winning percentage would get the axe. Consequently, the 1951 season was literally a make or break proposition for Hiroshima. They survived by the skin of their teeth, as they finished with a .333 winning percentage, which was driven by Hasegawa's 17-14 campaign with a 3.48 ERA IN 263.1 innings (1.42 WHIP, .261 OBA).
However, Hasegawa was tired of the pathetic Hiroshima nine and tried to jump to the Dragons before the 1952 season convenced. He didn't sign his new Hiroshima contract before the deadline and the Dragons attempted to use that as a loophole, which has since been closed, to shanghai him to Nagoya. The NPB commissioner, though, in the very first such ruling ever made by that office, insisted that Hasegawa's rights belonged to the Carp and so back to Hiroshima he went to a suprisingly forgiving fan base.
Hasegawa's ERA fell during the 1952 pennant chase, but so did his wins, 11, against 24 losses in 306.0 innings (1.30 WHIP, .258 OBA), but the Carp barely scooted over the magtic .300 winning percentage mark anyway while the Shochiku Robins dropped into the vat of infamy with a .288 and were merged with the Taiyo Whales.
So that crisis averted, Hiroshima would suffer finanically for decades and about the only thing that was keeping this bottom feeding aggregation interesting was Hasegawa and that hand stinging shuuto (he also had a pretty decent slider) that he spun out of a herky jerky slightly below three quarters but not quite sidearm delivery. In 1953, he registered 20 wins and lost ten with a 2.66 ERA in 253.2 innings (1.08 WHIP, .230 OBA) and followed that up with an 18-17 1.82 1954 in 310.2 innings (1.09 WHIP, .238 OBA).
It would be how he fared in 1955, though, that would really burn his name into the edifice of pro yakyu, as he rang up 30 wins, still a Carp record, and dropped 17 with a 1.69 ERA despite leading the CL in hits surrendered with 305 (.218 OBA) and celebrate the only 200 strikeout season of his career (207) and a then lifetime best WHIP of 1.03.
He would win 22 and 21 games in the next two years (1.05 and 1.13 WHIP respectively), but his heavy workload took its toll and he hurt his shoulder in 1958. So he would work out of the bullpen a lot over the succeeding years and effectively so before he began to run out of gas with the 1961 season, finally calling it a day in 1963 after compiling a record of 197-208 and a 2.65 ERA, a career WHIP of 1.19 and OBA of .238. He was the Opening Day starter six consecutive years (1953-1958) and emerged 3-3. He later lost another Opening Day assignment in relief. He had two seasons where he won more than 50% of his team's games and another one at 48%. He pitched in 35% of all Hiroshima contests and garnered 27% of the Carp's total wins over his career. He was essentialy Steve Carlton in triplicate and was selected to seven all star squads. He was as he was nicknamed, "the little great pitcher."
Upon retirement, he coached for Hiroshima and Chunichi and managed for the Carp for three seasons (1965-1967), leading them to a 135-199-16 over that span. Upon leaving the ballclub, he worked for Chugoku Broadcasting as a baseball commentator.
He was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Hasegawa leaves his wife Yoshiko behind.
Nishitetsu Pitcher and Manager Tokuji Kawasaki Dies at Age 84; Authored Wartime Baseball Chronicle
Former Nankai Yomiuri and Nishitetsu (now Seibu) pitcher Tokuji Kawasaki died Tuesday of gall bladder cancer. He was 84.
Born on May 7, 1921 in rurual Tosu, Saga Prefecture, Kawasaki began playing basemall in fourth grade and later graduated form Kurume Shogyo High Schoo before pitching and playing the outfield for a coal mining outfit in Manchuria, becoming that team's ace with a repetoire featuring a fastball, knuckle curve, sinker and shuuto and playing in a nationwide Japanese industrial league tournament in 1940. His performance impressed Nankai, who signed him in October of that year.
He spent three seasons in Osaka with Nankai, going 28-37 in 98 games and 575.1 innings, posting an ERA over that time of 2.38.
He was subsequently drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army after the 1942 season and sent to was sent to Burma, an experience that became the basis for his book, Senso to Yakyu (War and Baseball). The front of the book features a photo of him with Phillies great Robin Roberts, whom Kawasaki admired greatly, and details not only what Japan's pro baseball players went through before the start of the war, but the bond they continued to hold for each other as soldiers while seeking to survive the conflict inatct. Kawasaki was eventually captured and was interned in a POW camp.
When he returned to Japan after WWII, he was signed by Yomiuri in October, 1946 and lead the league in wins in 1948 with 27. However, he became the first ever pitcher to be credited with a loss after throwing just one pitch on May 29, 1948 when he entered a game in the ninth with a man on and promptly got taken deep for a walkoff two run homer to left by Chunichi outfielder Satoru Sugiyama for a final of 14-13 at Ujiyamada Stadium. On April 26, 1949 against the Daiei Stars (defunct) at Kenrokuen Stadium in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, he slugged three homers, the first pitcher to ever do that. In addition, his nine RBIs in that game remains the Giants team record. But at the same time, he was taken deep a record eight times in that same contest.
Moving to the Nishitetsu Clippers (later the Lions) in 1950, he went 24-15 in 1953 with a 1.98 ERA to grab another wins title and well as the ERA crown while being the anchor of a squad of developing young guns such as Kazuhisa Inao. He retired in 1957 with a lifetime record of 188-156 and was selected to three Pacific League all star teams (1951-1953).
Inao remembered one time when he was a rookie and was in a late inning jam and Kawasaki padded out to the mound and told the youngster, "Inao, if you get this guy I'll take you out and treat out to a big old steak." Inao said that pumped him up and he retired the hitter to extricate himself out of the predicament. Inao went on to say that he did something similar on one occasion when he was Lotte's pitching coach and Choji Murata, who is now in the hall of fame, too, found himself in some difficulty.
After retirement, he became hall of fame manager Osamu Mihara's bench coach before managing the club himself in 1960-1961. He worked in the Lions front office from 1962-1967. He was then taken on by Hanshin as its pitching coach when Yutaka Enatsu joined the Tigers in 1967.
After leaving baseball, Kawasaki turned restauranteur, running an udon noodle shop in Tokyo and later a coffee shop back in his hometown of Tosu.
Yomiuri Hall of Fame Righthander and Manager Motoji Fujita Passes at Age 74
A vital component in a Yomiuri Gianta team that went to five Japan Series in the late 1950's and early 1960's, winning two of them, hardthrowing righthander Motoji Fujita died Thursday of cardiac arrest at a Tokyo area hospital at age 74. He is survived by his wife Setsuko, 70.
Fujita was born on August 7, 1941 in Ochi-gun, Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. He began playing organized baseball in junior high before moving on to Saijo Kita High School, where he earned a reputation not only on the baseball diamond, but he also ran the 200 meters and threw the javelin for the track squad, setting a prefectural record in the sprint event. He was also known as a quick tempered kid, quick to settle things with his fists despite his skinny frame. He even got into a few confrontations with fans of opposing schools after the end of games.
After graduation, Fujita, who hadn't done so well from the standpoint of grades because he was so focused on sports and thus was looking at continuing his baseball career in the industrial leagues, somehow ended up taking the entrance exam to one of Japan's most elite colleges, Keio University, and, even more astonishingly, passed it. Fujita would say afterward that if he flunked the exam he wouldn't have become the man he is today.
Fujita excelled in the Tokyo Big Six University League, although in his debut start for the school, which came against Hosei University, he threw the first pitch to the backstop, eliciting laughter from the stands. He hung in, though, and eventually compiled a 31-19 record as a collegian, the 31 victories being the second most in Keio's long and celebrated history. He also tossed a no hitter against Tokyo University.
This period also saw him mature and calm down, especially with regard to how he felt about umpires, and the tanturms of his earliest days at Keio disappeared to the point where he became known for his stoic appearance on the hill.
Nevertheless, his next step on the career path was to the industrial leagues with Nihon Skeiyu (Japan Oil Company), for which he spent the following four years before another Keio alumnus, Shigeru Mizuhara, asked (Fujita said it was "more like an order") him to join the Central League team he was managing, the Yomiuri Giants.
The rookie with the three quarter
delivery got plenty of work his freshman campaign in the pros, getting
into 60 games and piling up 17 wins against 13 losses with a 2.48 ERA,
which got him the Rookie of the Year award. But he did just okay
in the Japan Series, losing his only decision in four appearances, as the
Fukuoka-based Nishitetsu Lions blew through
the Tokyo nine in four games.
Fujita added a sinking shuuto during spring training and then had the best season of his career in 1958, going 29-13 with a 1.53 ERA in 58 games and 359 innings, carting off the MVP. Unfortunately, despite a 1.09 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in the Japan Series, he ended the fall classic with a 1-2 record while Nishitetsu ace Kazuhisa Inao won each of the last four games to take the crown back home to Kyushu in seven.
The way pitchers were used during that era being what it was, starting on consecutive days or starting one day and relieving the next and then maybe starting again the day after that was pretty much the rule of thumb for top flight moundsmen and Fujita wasn't much different. He would often get home after pitching on consecutive days absolutely worn out, but he couldn't complain and also felt it would be selfish to do so anyway.
So he would see action in 55 games in 1959, stacking up 27 wins and losing 11 times with A 1.83 ERA in 333 innings, earning another MVP. He also went all the way for the win in the Emperor Game that was won on third baseman Nagashima's walkoff homer. However, he would be stymied in the Japan Series once more, as he didn't pitch well, incurring two defeats, and Nankai Hawks submariner Tadashi Sugiura, broken blood blister and all, won all four games of the series singlehanded.
His shoulder was bothering him, too, and that affect the remainder of his career. After treating it in the offseason with a folk remedy and rest, he deteriorated markedly in 1960 to 7-12 3.06 in only 141 innings and the Giants lost out to the Taiyo Whales for the Central League pennant. That engendered the firing of Mizuhara, who was replaced by former first baseman Tetsuharu Kawakami.
His ERA improved to 2.74 in 1961, yet he ended the year only 8-13. In spite of that, Yomiuri went to the Japan Series once more, where Fujita got clocked against Nankai. Still, the Giants recovered and prevailed in six and he finally got to experience the rush of a championship.
1962 lent Fujita a hopeful sign that he could salvage his career, as he went 13-11 with a sparkling 2.03 ERA, sixth best in the CL, but intraleague rivals Hanshin won their first pennant since the introduction of the two league system while the kyojin slipped to fourth. He did, though, win his 100th career game against Hiroshima on September 15th at Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, becoming the 36th man to do that in NPB annals.
By today's standards, Fujita's 10-4 2.48 in 30 games in 1963 would look pretty sweet, but it was evident that his durability was a thing of the past, as he rang up just 119.1 innings. The Giants, though, barely edged out the Chunichi Dragons for the flag. Fujita snaked a win as well, but only thanks to his teammates in the batting order ripping Kazuharu Abe to pieces in a 9-6 game two final. It ultimately went to seven, as they destroyed their old nemisis Inao in a record 18-4 laugher.
In 1964, he fell to 8-13 2.73
in 175.1 innings and decided it was time to hang it up. He was immediately
hired by Kawakami as his pitching coach and the Giants ran off nine
straight Japan Series titles before Kawakami stepped down at the end of the 1974 season in favor of the just retired Shigeo Nagashima. Kawakami had actually almost retired two years earlier, but Nagashima, among others, had begged him to stay on.
Upon Kawakami's departure, Fujita resigned and was brought on board by Taiyo to guide its pitching staff from 1975-1976. But neither manager Noboru Akiyama, who is also in the hall of fame and a former pitcher, nor Fujita could do much with a terrible ballclub and each was fired. Fujita then became a scout for Yomiuri.
Meanwhile, Yomiuri was floundering. Under Nagashima, it had rebounded from its first ever last place showing in 1975 to win the CL pennant in 1976-1977, but were whipped both times by the Hankyu Braves in the Japan Series. To add insult to injury, the Giants then finished second, fifth and third and slugger Sadaharu Oh retired at the end of the 1980 schedule. Yomiuri owner Toru Shoriki decided to make a change and hired Fujita.
Things immediately got off to a nice start when Fujita drew the winning lottery ticket for touted high school infielder Tatsunori Hara during the 1980 draft, sending three other clubs away emptyhanded. He persuaded Oh to become his assistant manager. But things would get a little rockier from there off the field.
While Fujita had a reputation for being a bit of a rough customer when crossed, he turned out to be more pussycat than martinet as a skipper. His philosophy was that one had to judge just who one was dealing with. If there was a player who needed his butt kicked often, Fujita would provide it. If you had a player who performed better after being told what a great player he was, Fujita did that. If there were players who knew how to handle their own business, he left them alone. That's not to say that he cut practices short or anything like that, but he did know enough when to turn it off and on. Hara once said, in fact, that "he would cuss me out one minute and then pat me on the back the next."
That brought instant results, as the Giants comfortably eased into first place and took it by six games over Hiroshima and their pitching was almost a full half a run better per nine than the next best staff . Offensively, they were middle of the pack, but that was fine with Fujita, as he built the club around pitching and defense. They would then go down to Nippon Ham 2-1 in the Japan Series before siezing the following three tilts for their first championship since 1973 pic.
But Nagashima's popularity with
the rank and file fans created problems for Yomiuri. Circulation of the
Yomiuri Shimbun dropped and many fans resented Fujita for, in their words,
"chasing Nagashima out." Shoriki had apparently even talked with Nagashima about returning as manager again. When Fujita got wind of that, he hit the roof and met with Shoriki and told him that he would resign right then if he wanted Nagashim back that bad. Shoriki backed off.
That wasn't helped by the Giants finishing 2.5 games behind Chunichi in 1982. Fortunately, they came back and put another six games between them and the second place Carp before dropping the Japan Series to Seibu four games to three. By then, though, Fujita, who had taken time off during the season due to heart problems that required him to carry nitro glycerine pills around with him from that point forward, had enough and ceded the managerial reigns to Oh.
Nevertheless, Fujita was talked into coming back beginning with the 1989 season and took the Giants to back to back pennants. Yomiuri were down three games to zero in the 1989 Japan Series and the Kintetsu Buffaloes front office was already planning their victory parade. But then Fujita's troops swept the next four for a miracle championship.
No such luck in the 1990 series, however, as they were trampled underfoot in four straight by the then mighty Seibu Lions, who would go on to win the next two series titles to boot.
The Giants plummeted to fourth in 1991 and rose back up to second in 1992, but the team's front office really wanted Nagashima back and so Fujita resigned. Setsuko-san believes that this second stint running the team really did his health in, but Fujita himself didn't much mind the idea of dying in a Giants uniform if it came to that.
Fujita then began promoting youth baseball while working as a baseball commentator for NHK. He was also a little bit of a different mindset from other Giants OB (old boys---that is, former players), who were always going on about how players were better in their day, but Fujita retorted that they were delusional. Fujita would eventually chair the team's OB Association, stepping down in favor of, who else, Nagashima. He also had a seat on the Sawamura Award committee.
He had heart surgery in 1996, the same year he was inducted into the hall, and then an abdominal artery procedure in 1999. He was hospitalized on December 22nd with kidney problems and had to undergo dialysis, even spending time in ICU. He also was beset by gallstones.
The last public event he attended was for one held in Hara's honor last December, Hara helping Fujita, who was walking with the aid of a cane and whose weight was down to around 110 pounds by that time, out to a car and then bowing as it drove away. Fujita had been worried about the path the Giants were taking, but felt better about it when it was announced that Hara was going to call the shots again.
Thursday morning, Fujita's adopted
son in law, who is the head baseball coach at Budo Kokusai University,
came over to visit him and his wife and all seemed normal. But later on,
Fujita's blood pressure dropped precipitously and he was taken to hosptial, being pronounced dead at 6:40 p.m.
Hara was at dinner when informed of Fujita's passing and reportedly began crying fopr the man who had "made me everything I am. I wouldn't be where I am today without him. And even more than just an honored teacher, he was one in a million." An obviously distrajght Hara then took a morning flight back to Tokyo to pay his respects to the Fujita family.
On a little historical side note, when Nagashima broke in, he struckout four times against Kokutetsu Swallows ace Masaichi Kaneda in his debut. Fujita was the starter for Yomiuri in that game and battled Kaneda for 10 shutout innings before being taken over the wall in a 1-0 11 inning loss. Fujita often squared off against ahll of famer Kaneda, one reason that he was nicknames, "the hard luck ace."
Fujita was recently an adviser to the Ehime side in the Shikoku Island League.
Former Chunichi Hurler and Manager Sadao Kondo Dies at Age 80
Sadao Kondo, who survived being hit by a U.S. military jeep TO then resurrect his pitching career after and who went on to lead the Chunichi Dragons to a pennant in 1982 as the team's manager, died Monday at age 80 of respiratory failure in a Tokyo area hospital. He is survived by his wife Keiko.
Kondo grew up in Aichi Prefecture, attending Okazaki Junior High (at the time, junior highs were six years) before moving on to Hosei University. However, he soon dropped out and was signed by Nishitetsu in 1943, for who he went 5-5 with a 1.96 ERA and four complete games in 114.1 innings, actually allowing more walks, 81, than hits, 75 (1.36 WHIP).
But due to wartime economic conditions, the Nishitetsu nine were dissolved and the Tokyo Giants, who had lost six players to the military draft, picked Kondo up. After getting into just nine games in 1944, he lead the club in wins in 1946 with 23 while working 300.1 innings and finishing second in ERA to teammate Hideo Fujimoto. He was also garning a reputation as a sharp dresser and ladies man.
Unfortunately, during the Giants' fall camp that year in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, he was hit by the aforementioned jeep and severed the tendon in his middle finger, making him unable to move it. As a result, he was released after going 0-2 with a 4.17 ERA IN 1947. The historical footnote there was that, according to Giants hall of fame second baseman Shigeru Chiba, it lead Yomiuri to decide to pursue Nankai ace Takehiko Bessho, who, amid much controversy, joined the Giants in 1949.
A former member of the Yomiuri pitching staff, Nobuaki Miyamoto, a submariner who had moved to Chunichi the year before, talked his team into signing Kondo. He worked assidulously to overcome his handicap, developing a palm ball that became his outpitch. In 1948, his record was 7-23, but his ERA was 2.60, just finishing out of the top ten, and he racked up 272.2 innings.
His ERA would rise by a full run in 1949, but a movie was made about his comeback from the traffic accident called, Jinsei Senshu.
He won ten and lost two in 1950, but he would go downhill precipitously from there, eventually retiring at 29 after the conclusion of the 1954 schedule.
Kondo was immediately brought on as Chunichi's pitching coach and held that position from 1955 to 1962. At the time, the Dragons were short of viable starters and therefore worked their one big asset, a youngster named Hiroshi Gondo, to death, as he won 65 games his first two years in the Central League but also totaled up 791.2 innings in what fans referred to as "Gondo Gondo Gondo, then hope for three days of rain." Gondo was never the same after his sophomore campaign and Kondo, feeling terrible about it, would make a 180 degree change during his next coaching stint.
Two years later, he was rehired by Chunichi and revamped his handling of pitchers, taking some of the stress off his the team's starters by using Eiji Bando as his relief ace. It helped the Nagoya nine to turn itself around from a losing season in 1964 to winning efforts the next three years with Michio Nishizawa running the show until they tanked again in 1968 and everybody, including new manager Shigeru Sugishita, was fired.
Chunichi won only one pennant over the next 12 years before Kondo was named manager in 1981, where they won 13 more games than they had the previous season. In 1982, Kondo had noticed that relief ace Takamasa Suzuki was starting to lose it, so he turned to second year righthander Kazuhiko Ushijima. "When he told me that I was going to be the closer, I was flabbergasted," said Ushijima, who is now manager of the Yokohama Bay Stars. "I hadn't done much up until that time. We were then able to win the pennant and it made me feel like a real pro." Ushijima had saved 17 games that year with a 1.40 ERA and he would go on to win three saves titles through 1988. They earned the flag despite the fact that they had won two fewer games than Yomiuri, but they had five more more ties and three fewer losses, so the Dragons eeked by the kyojin in the standings.
The Dragons, though, lost in the Japan Series to Seibu four games to two, as the Lions order batted .322 against Chunichi's pitching.
Kondo was then fired after a fifth place showing in 1983.
Kondo gained another chance to manage, though, and made a mark there as well. Succeeding Junzo Sekine at Taiyo in 1985, Kondo went for speed and put the fleefooted threesome of Yutaka Takagi, Hirokazu Kato and Kaname Yashiki at the top of his lineup and let them run wild, as they stole 148 bases between them and the team thieved 188 total to lead all of Japanese baseball, though they also were tops in runners caught stealing, too. Takagi, Kato and Yashiki were dubbed "The Super Car Trio" by Kondo and they swiped another 180 bags in 1986. The Whales were oftne accused of stealing bases for its own sake rather than only times when it was necessary. However, Kondo just shrugged off the criticism. But even with all the steals plus fine campaigns from Leon Lee in 1985 and his replacement,. Carlos Ponce, in 1986, Kondo couldn't compensate for mediocre pitching and the loss of one of his aces, Kazuhiko Endo, to an Achilles tendon injury and finished fourth before he was replaced after his second season.
He did, though, freely use defensive specialists in the late innings, introducing to Japan a kind of two platoon system that the press referred to as amefuto yakyu, or, very loosely translated, NFL baseball.
Kondo managed at Nippon Ham for three years, 1989-1991 and couldn't pull the club out of the second division even with his fierce manner of arguing with umpires that got him the moniker of "the Billy Martin of Japan," so he was let go and had made his living the last few years as a commentator for Chunichi Broadcasting. At the time he retired from baseball, he was the all time leader in managerial ejections.
Four years ago, Kondo hadn't
been feeling well, so he went into hospital to see what the problem was.
He was diagnosed with diabetes and a kidney infection. He received treatment
for a month and recovered. But last May, he fell ill agaian. While
things looked bad for a while, he eventually recovered. He had gome into
hospital Sunday for a dialysis treamtment and,
according to his wife, was in a good mood following his treatment.
But Monday morning, he reportedly choked on his breakfast, which induced that respiratory failure that killed him.
Senichi Hoshino, who pitched under Kondo at Chunichi, assessed that Kondo "was always looking for new challenges. He made baseball interesting."
Yukio Tanaka, who was managed by Kondo at Nippon Ham, averred that, "he was an upbeat guy. Even while he would often get mad at me, he taught me a lot during my formative years as a pro. Just for his looking after me, [his death] is sad."
Kato, one of the aforementioned Super Car Trio, admired Kondo's "nose for innovation. He was also a good judge of talent. The name "Super Car Trio" remains [in Japanese baseball lore] and I am happy that I was part of that."
Gondo evaluated his ex-boss as, "ahead of his time and he always acted with a youthful vigor."
Ushijima resolved that he would work harder in 2006 to make baseball exciting so that Kondo won't be complaining about him in Heaven. "I hope he has a nice long rest."
Hall of Fame Manager Akira Ogi, the Man Who Made Nomo and Ichiro, Dies at Age 70
Akira Ogi, a Nishitetsu Lions second baseman who went on to manage a Japan Series champion with the Orix Blue Wave after inserting a young outfielder into his lineup named Ichiro Suzuki, died Thursday at age 70 of respiratory arrest.
Ogi had been rehired for the past season in an attempt to revive an Orix team that had fallen on hard times with a string of last place finishes in the Pacifc League, bringing them to a fourth place showing in 2005. However, the state of his health caused him to step down at the end of the schedule in favor of General Manager Katsuhiro Nakamaura. He was then named as an adviser to the club.
Ogi was born in Nakama, Fukuoka Prefecture on the island of Kyushu on April 29, 1935 and began playing baseball in elementary school. However, his father was subsequently drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army and was killed in action in Burma in 1944, leaving Ogi and his mother to fend for themselves in the chaotic postwar period when food was short and his country's infrastrure was in ruins.
He would eventually move on to Tochiku High School in Fukuoka, becoming his team's pitching ace and cleanup hitter, leadfing his squad to a Koshien Tournament berth in 1953. He was then signed by the Nishitetsu (now Seibu) Lions as a pitcher before the beginning of the 1954. But hall of fame manager Osamu Mihara converted him into a second baseman and immediately inserted Ogi into the lineup, as Mihara liked the kid's mental toughness. The young infielder would garner a reputation as fine glove man but a mediocre hitter, compiling a .229 average with 70 homers and 326 RBIs over the course of 14 seasons as a cog in a ball club that was so rowdy it often seemed like a pirate ship masquerading as a massively talented pro yakyu outfit.
Under Mihara's strong and sometimes eccentric leadership, Ogi saw action in five Japan Series, winning it all three times, though he wasn't much of a factor, and one all star team. His one notable achievement at the plate was spanking six hits in a game on May 22, 1955.
Following his retirement in 1967, Ogi became a coach for the Lions before taking a similar position with Kintetsu and working in that capacity for the Buffaloes until 1987, when he was tapped to manage the Osaka nine beginning with the 1988 campaign.
Up to that time, Kintetsu had been the joke of the Pacific League, even setting an NPB record by dropping 103 of 140 games in 1961 amd taking just 52 of 130 matches in 1987. He would shock Japanese baseball fans by pushing his charges to a 22 game improvement and a second place finish in 1988 and then lead them to their first pennant in a decade in 1989 in an electric finish, but lost in the Japan Series in seven games to Yomiuri after going up 3-0 in a historic collapse.
1990 saw the arrival of an industrial league righthander with a twisting windup named Hideo Nomo. Ogi agreed to let Nomo do his own thing in terms of his workout routine and the youngster responded with an insane rookie season, striking out 287 men in only 235 innings and leading the league in wins with 18. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes only slotted in at third place when the dust cleared and then rallied to a pair of second place finishes afteward as Nomo continued to ring up bucketloads of strikeouts and take home truckfulls of awards.
Ogi tired of the managerial grind and quit in 1992 to become a baseball commentator and his replacement, former 300 game winning pitcher Keishi Suzuki, was hired to replace him. Suzuki couldn't leave well enough alone vis a vis Nomo and the rest is history, as the Osaka ace decided to seek greener pastures in Los Angeles in 1995.
Meanwhile, in the Kobe suburb of Nishimomiya, former Yomiuri Giants second baseman Shozo Doi was leading the Orix Blue Wave and couldn't seem to get out of third place, where he finished all three of his seasons at the team's rudder. Perhaps one reason is that despite protestations by Orix slugger and former Minnesota Twin Greg Boomer" Wells and a team batting instructor who told Doi that a slim fourth round draft choice from Aichi Prefecture was a star in the making, Doi muttered back that Ichiro Suzuki "would never hit with that batting style." Ogi saw Ichiro's flare and potential rightaway after he was persuaded to manage the Blue Wave beginning with the 1994 season and the so-called "Ogi magic" worked again, as Ichiro smashed the NPB hits record with an astonishing 210 in 1994 to spearhead them into second while winning the first of seven straight batting titles.
Ichiro continued to hit and Orix carted off pennants in 1995 and 1996 to help lift the spirits of a Kobe that was ravaged by a deadly earthquake that killed more than 6,000. And after taking that second pennant, they whipped Yomiuri in five games for the title, its first since 1977.
That would be it, though, as Orix would then post a second place showing in 1997, succeeded by two thirds and a pair of fourths and Ogi was terminated in 2001, team officials apparently not taking into account that they had decided to post Ichiro. It perhaps says something that pretty much the same ballclub then went right into the dumper, anchoring the bottom of the standings until Ogi's return in 2005.
Ogi was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004. His final record was 988-815 with 53 wins.
One of Ogi's teammates with Nishitetsu, Futoshi Nakanishi, Japan's answer to Mike Piazza when he was a thick forearmed third baseman, revealed that he had talked to Ogi on the phone on the tenth and Ogi had asked him to be a special batting instructor during spring training. "He was always able to sell himself to his players and worked hard. He always wanted to fill Osaka Dome. [His death] is so sad."
New skipper Nakamura noted, "when I got the news, I felt so helpless. I was looking forward to working with him again next season. We will dedicate next season to him and aim to bring home a pennant."
Team owner Yoshihiko Miyauchi somberly offered, "as a person, there was nobody I could respect more than [Ogi[. He was a special man not just for Orix, but for all of Japanese baseball. I was hoping to hear more of his advice."
Orix pitcher and team player rep Hidetaka Kawagoe intoned that, "he looked after me from the time I joined the team. It is a huge shock. I just can't believe it."
All star centerfielder Yoshitomo Tani added, "when I came to Orix, he treated me like a son and I will always remember that. I had regularly discussed various things on the phone with him this offseason. He always showed his concern for me."
Japan's Mr. Baseball, Shigeo Nagashima, had this reaction: "I was astonished by the bad news. He was in good spirits this season while he was managing the team. I am in a state of disbelief. I will remember him as someboyd I managed against in the Japan Series. We are from the same generation, so I always kept an eye on what he was doing. May he rest in peace."
Onetime Nishitetsu ace Masaaki
Ikenaga, who was banned for life for his alledged role in the "Black Mist"
game fixing scandal in 1970 and who had that ban lifted the past year,
taken with the suddeness of the news. "I was shocked. Me and my buddies cried when we heard the news. I remember many times when he kindly helped me out."
Cardinals outfielder So Taguchi responded that Ogi's death doesn't seem real to him.
Seibu shot caller Tsutomu Itoh referred to times he was able to talk things over with Ogi when they managed against each other this season, Ogi giving him some tips andjust general advice. "There were times this season when it must have been hard for him and I was worried for him."
But more than his numerical records as a plyer and a manager, with his development of Nomo, Ichiro, So Taguchi and Masatos Yoshii, he changed the face of both Japanese baseball as well as what baseball fans abroad think about that country's quality of play. To a degree, MLB's expansion into Japan in such a big way commercially would not have been possible had Ogi not made some of the choices he did judging and employing talent and allowing them the space to express those gifts the way he did. So MLB owes much of its success in Japan to Ogi and one hopes that Commissioner Bud Selig will acknowledge the passing of an important figure in baeball annals.
Ex-Hanshin and Nankai Skipper Don Blasingame Passes at Age 73
Don Lee Blasingame, a former
all star second baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals who later went on
to play and manage with the Nankai Hawks and also helm the Hanshin Tigers,
expired Wednesday at his home in Fountain Hills, Arizona of heart failure.
He was 73. The speedy
former leadoff man also spent time in San Francisco and Cincinnati, with whom he went to a World Series, before being sold to Washington after the development of a youngster named Pete Rose made him redundant. He concluded his career in Kansas City with the A's and then retired on April 1, 1967.
Blasingame was born in Corinth, Missisippi on Wednesday, March 16, 1932. growing up on the corner of Wenasoga Road and a street that now bears his name.
As a shortstop at Corinth High School, Blasingame was dubbed "the Corinth Comet" and lead his squad to a state championship his junior year in 1949. Those heroics earned him an athletic scholarship to Mississippi University. However, he chose to take an offer from St. Louis, who gave him a $3,200 signing bonus. I knew thzt if i did four years of college and then military on top of that, I could forget pro ball," he told the Fountain Hills Times. Ironically, though, his hometown reserve unit wsas called to active duty and he served two years in Memphis. His base's team finished second in the worldwide air force league while he was played there.
Blasingame would attend two years at David Lipscomb College during the offseason when he was in the minors.
He was called up by the Cards in September, 1955 for five games and then grabbed a regular slot in 1956 by playing short and third in addition to second, garnering a reputation as a hustling spray hitter and deft glove man while being bestowed with the moniker that he was known by in MLB as well as Japan, "Blazer." Two years later, he was named to his one all star team, where he went 0-1 subbing for starter Bill Mazeroski. But he also carted off one of the pre-game prizes offered to the players on the NL side, some silverware he sent on to his mother at home.
The fourth place Cardinals journeyed to Japan to play games against a Japanese all star contingent. Blasingame was impressed by a third baseman of the Yomiuri Giants, Shigeo Nagashima, he averred during an interview for Rob Fitts' excellent oral history of NPB, Remembering Japanese Baseball: "Nagashima stuck out in my mind as an outstanding player. I think he had just come off of his rookie year. He had all the tools---he could run, field, hit, everything." Blasingame went on to say that he enjoyed what would be two tours of Japan during his career, but that he didn't think of actually playing there himself.
In 1959, after posting a career best .289 average and finishing eighth in hits (five of the other seven above him are in the Hall of Fame), he was moved to San Francisco in exchange for infielder Daryle Spencer and outfielder Leon Wagner. It wouldn't be the last time Blasingame's and Spencer's paths would cross. He would also score the first ever run at Candlestick Park in that stadium's debut season of 1960. In addition, he married Sara Cooper, a former Miss America finalist who was a daughter of imposing Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper.
Blasingame packed his bags again in 1961, as he was traded to Cincinnati. He became so popular with his teammates that. according to Frank Robinson, Rose was "ostracized" by the white players on the club for attempting to land Don's job and was befriended mostly by its black contingent.
Once it was evident that Rose was shaping up as something special, Blasingame was sold to Washington in 1963, where he toiled with some poor ballclubs for most of the following five campaigns. In fact, that team was so bad that Blasingame finished with the fewest RBIs ever by a second baseman with 400 or more at bats in a season, 18, in 1965.
Washington sold him to Kansas City in the middle of the 1966 season and he was let go that Sepetember.
Blasingame spoke with Spencer, who had already gone to Japan to play for Nankai, and was informed that the Hawks had released their second baseman. The former major leaguer was well treated by future Hall of Fame manager Kazuto Tsuruoka and was named to three all star teams (1967-1969; stats are Here) and, after returning to the states in retiremewnt, was asked to be the head coach by Nankai's newly minted fidl boss, Katsuya Nomura.
Nomura, though, was still an active player and the manager's job had been pushed on him by the front office due to his popularity. So that he could concentrate on catching, Nomura brought Blasingame back as his head coach and ultimately became the shadow skipper, calling almost all the plays during Nomura's tenure with the club, which ended in 1977.
Don was hired to coach for Hiroshima, and spent a year there before he decided to go home. That break would be short lived. TIgers president Shojiro Ozu, who watched his nine finish in last for the first time in their 43 year history a whopping 39 games under .500 in 1978, determined that a drastic rethink was in order. So he contacted Blasingame, who accepted the manager's chair to make him the second non-Japanese or Japanese-American to run a Japanese team (the first was Joe Lutz, who did it for Hiroshima). .
Blasingame wasted little time in shaking things up. Veteran catcher Koichi Tabuchi, who had slammed his 300th homer that past year. was shipped off to Seibu in exchange for four players, who included soon to become fixture at shortstop Akinobu Mayumi. Tabuchi's age was catching up with him and he didn't do much for his new club, making this one of the best trades ever for the Tigers even if it wasn't very popular at the time. They also got sidearmer Shigeru Kobayashi after the wrangling over Yomiuri's signing Hanshin draft choice Suguru Egawa, which also brought dividends.
One man who had been with Blasingame at Nankai and pitched under him at Hanshin was pitcher Takenori Emoto, currently a tart tounged commentator for Sankei Sports. Emoto, when quizzed about what kind of man Blasingame was to work for, testified, " let me tell you the kind of man Blazer is. Remember when Suguru Egawa got drafted by the Tigers but wanted to play for the Tokyo Giants? He refused to talk to the Tigers. So the Giants finally traded Shigeru Kobayashi to us for Egawa. The whole deal left a bad taste in our mouths, and now this star pitcher was coming from the almighty Giants.
"Blazer called me in. 'Emo-yan,' he says, using my nickname, 'there's a lot of scuttlebutt going around about how Kobayashi's going to star at the Tigers, what a big sacrifice he's making, and all. Well, let me tell you this. You started for us last year. You'll start for us this. You're the one this team depends on. I expect you to get the job done.'
"I'd been worried. We'd all been worried. But Blazer showed us loyalty. He did the kind of thing you'd think Japanese managers would . . . but never do. And I'll tell you, we'd have eaten nails for that man."
The Tigers got more aggressive under the aegis of Blasingame's so-called "thinking baseball" and slotted in fourth in 1979 with a 61-60-9 record. Things were looking up.
Unfortunately, Hanshin then drafted a collegiate superstar second baseman named Akinobu Okada while Blasingame brought in former Padre Dave Hilton to rove the keystone sack. Hilton had just been released by Yakult. That would be the beginning of the end for both Blasingame and Hilton.
Hanshin traveled to Arizona for spring training in 1980. Okada recently told Sankei Sports: "he suprised me during pre-season workouts for my rookie year when he said that he won't use [newly drafted players]. He emphasized fundamentals and doing the little things right rather than home runs. " Blasingame had noted that Okada was still pretty raw defensively and had trouble handling sliders down and away. So he saw the new addition as a two year development project. But when Hilton didn't hit at all in the early going, the crazies in the vociferous Tigers nation begame phoning in death threats and sending Blasingame envelops containing razor blades in lobbying for Okada. Hilton was under so much duress that Blasingame decided to ship him home. The team's front office then signed outfielder Bruce Boisclair without Blasingame's input and, 26 games into the regular season, Blasingame resigned.
And Ozu? He was made the sacrificial lamb for all the contoversy and was sent off to corporate Siberia, Hanshin's taxi cab arm. Okada, the guy who had inadvertantly set all this off, was inserted into the lineup by new shot caller Futoshi Nakanishi and was voted a Rookie of the Year at the end of the schedule. He is Hanshin's current manager.
It nevertheless needs to be said that many credit Blasingame with setting the team up so that it would eventually win its only Japan Seruies championship ever in 1985.
Nankai, which was now in the midst of what would be a long decline for a once proud perennial contender, scooped Blasingame up and made him manager of its outfit that offseason. Blasingame could do little with the suspect personnel that the club had at the time, however, and following fifth and last place finishes, he called it a day in 1982. Blasingame posited to Fitts that he believes the Hawks job was attained through the influence of his ex-boss, Tsuruoka, a show of respect from a man who is nicknamed "oyabun," or "godfather."
Blasingame caught on with the Phillies and did some talent evaluation for them upon heading home. He had a youth league named after him in 1972 in Corinth and it remains a going concern even today. One of his sons is a Far East scout for Colorado, putting to good use the Japanese he had learned while living in the Land of the Rising Sun. Another son was a pro soccer player. Blasingame described his family as "just a bunch of jocks."
But his old teammate Nomura says that Blasingame left another family back home in Japan, one that learned from his style of managing and playing: ""it was he who pioneered the concept of 'thinking baseball' in Japan. He provided me with different ways of looking at baseball strategy while we were playing together with Nankai. He went back to the U.S. after his playing days were over, but I brought him back as my head coach. At that time, the emphasis was on the spritual aspects of baseball. The players Don coached felt that they were playing at a high level and actually began looking down on players from other teams. All of what is credited to me as I.D. Yakyu is imbued with his outlook. I had heard that he was doing well in the U.S, so I was suprised by the news of his death." See pic of the two men Here.
Blasingame was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.
A relative of Don's disclosed that she understood that he was undergoing treatment for cancer, but was in good shape nonetheless. He had reportedly played golf earlier the day he died. A sportsman to the last.
The Daily Corinthian
Fountain Hills Times
Charlie Whpple's Homepage
Ex-Nankai and Hiroshima Hurler Fukushi Found Dead at 54
Born Akio Matsubara in Tottori Prefecture on 12/27/1950 and of Korean ancestry (his Korean name is Chang Myeong-bu), Fukushi went undrafted after playing at Tottori Nishi High School. However, he was subsequently signed by Yomiuri that fall and went 0-3 in parts of three seasons before being traded to Nankai in 1973. Haiws skipper Katsuya Nomura inserted Fukushi into the rotation and he posted a 7-6 record with a nice 2.87 ERA while showing a procilivity for buzzing hitters inside with his shuuto, becoming a mainstay of the Nankai rotation until going to Hiroshima before the opening of the 1977 schedule.
He showed that the Hawks made a mistake in letting him getaway, as he spun a 15-8 record and lead the Central League in complete games to earn his first lifetime all star nod. He had also changed his name to the one he is now known by. Regressing to 7-9 despite a 3.57 ERA in 1979, he notxhed a win in the Japan Series in three appearances against Kintetsu to help secure a series title in a fierce seven game battle.
The following year, he bounced back with a 15-6 mark despite his ERA inflating to 3.95, taking home the winning percentage title and was named to the all star squad again while cadging another victory in the Japan Series in three more appearances in a rematch with Kintetsu for another championship, this one also going to seven.
He would see more all star action in 1981, finishing 12-9 with a 4.03 ERA.
At the end of the 1982 campaign, though, he was released as the result of a 3-11 4.46 effort and he was picked up by the Sambi Superstars of the new Korean pro league, the KBO. Sambi was put to work like a vote in Chicago, early and often. He appeared 60 times and snagged 30 league best victories against 16 losses and six saves in an arm dropping 427.1 innings and was also the circuit strikeout king with 220. This feat made him a media darling and he reportedly earned as much as 10 million won per endorsement, money he often contributed to welfare charities.
But he basically flamed out after that, which is understandable, and was done after a 1-11 year in 1986. For his KBO career, he was 55-79 in 172 games with a 3.55 ERA in 1043.1 total innings pitchedm racking up 541 strikeouts. He was accorded all star honors three times.
He stayed in Korea to coach for Samsung. But that job was cashiered when he was arrested for possession of amphetamines in Seoul. At least he was let off only with probation. So he returned to Japan and, capitalizing on his name value in Osaka, Nankai's homeground, worked for a construction company and a real estate firm, mostly living paycheck to paycheck.
He is survived by three sons, one of them a professional sumo wrestler.
His Japanese stats can be found Here.
Nankai Sidearmer Mutuso Minagawa, Japan's Last 30 Game Winner, Dies
Crafty righthander Mutsuo Minagawa, who won 221 games over the course of his 18 year career with the Nankai Hawks (now owned by Softbank), including 31 in 1968, the only time in the last 36 seasons that someone has reached past the 30 plateau, died Sunday at 2:20 a.m. at an Osaka area hospital of internal bleeding at age 69. He is survived by his eldest son, Tadahiro.
After signing with Nankai before the start of the 1954 season, he would become a regular with the advent of the 1956 campaign, he and moundmate Tadashi Sugiura forming one of the most formidable pitching tandems in Japanese annals, helping to place the Hawks among the strongest teams of the 1950's and 1960's. Minagawa would compile an 11-10, 2.17 record during that year and, and, after changing his delivery from overhand to a sidewinding one at the suggestion of fellow hurler Susumu Yuki upon experiencing a sore arm, followed it up with 18 more shiroboshi in 1957 and 17 in 1958 to cement his place in the hearts and minds of the then Osaka based team's faithful.
Stylistically, he would turn his back to the batter somewhat before unleashing a nasty sinking shuuto seemingly out of his hip pocket, moving the ball in and out with tremendous control (1.8 BB/9 lifetime) to make the hitters get themselves out. For the time, he didn't have many complete games because he often pitched in relief, registering in double figures in CG only three times, with a career high of 27 during that highlight year of 1968. The Nishitetsu Lions great slugging third baseman, Futoshi Nakanishi, blamed his swinging and missing on so many Minagawa offerings for aggravating the wrist problems that dogged him while he was an active player.
In addition, Minagawa would win two games in one day twice, on August 7, 1966 against the Tokyo Orions and on October 1, 1968 against the Hankyu Braves. In fact, he owned the Orions, collecting ten straight wins against them over the course of the 1966-1967 seasons. He would also lead the Pacific League in shutouts with eight in 1968 and spun two one hitters lifetime. He is sixth on the all time list in appearances and is behind Sugiura in 12th place in career ERA. His lifetime WHIP was a phenomenal 1.06.
He was selected to six all star teams and was on the hill in four Japan Series, though he never emerged with a career victory in either the mid-summer or fall extravaganzsa.
After hanging it up at the end of the 1971 schedule, he did some baseball commentary for Asahi broadcasting and toiled as a pitching coach for Kintetsu, Yomiuri and Hanshin. Giants righthander Masumi Kuwata told a Sankei Sports reporter that Minagawa treated him like a son and taught him what being a pro is all about.
Softbank skipper Sadaharu Oh,
who was Minagawa's boss when the Oh was skippering at Yomiuri, called Minagawa
"a gentleman and
he was a real smart guy, too."
Minagawa's former batterymate, hall of fame catcher Katsuya Nomura, wistfully recalled their days playing together as minor leaguers with Nankai before each man was promoted and became among the finest players of their era.
We at Baseball Guru.com and Japan Baseball Daily would like to express our condolences to the family of former Kintetsu Buffaloes outfielder Takahisa Suzuki, who played 1501 games with the club over the course of 15 seasons and was most recently working as a batting instructor for the team's minor league affiliate. He died early Monday morning at a hospital in Yao, Osaka Prefecture at the age of 40. The cause of death was thought to be an acute tracheal infection. He had been complaining of feeling sluggish the past week and believed he had a cold. On Friday, while walking his dog in the evening, he fell down after avoiding a passing car and the next day said that his back was bothering him. Sunday was on off day and he spent it at home and then passed away just after midnight. He is survived by his wife Yukari.
Suzuki was born on 11/28/1963 in Hokkaido. He attended Asahikawa Daigaku Fuzoku High School and made it to the Koshien Tournament his senior year. After graduation, he moved on to Den Den Hokkaido's industrial league nine. He was later drafted on the fifth round in 1984 and was elevated to the big club in 1986, hammering at least 20 homers four straight seasons (1987-1990) and 192 dingers total until he retired at the end of the 2000 campaign.
Suzuki was most famous for two feats, driving in the deciding run in the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader with a two bagger on 10/19/1988 against Lotte at Kawasaki Stadium that almost enabled the Buffaloes to clinch their first ever Pacific League pennant (they won it the following year in another photo finish, but in any event, they tied the nightcap of the aforementioned twin bill and Seibu took home the flag that year as a result). Then on 4/8/1997 against Lotte, he slugged the first homer ever hit at newly opened Osaka Dome. You can see his yearly stats Here.
After a comeback victory Monday, Buffaloes skipper Masataka Nashida, who was the runner that Suzuki sent home on that double, commented, "he made us win this game. It's tough losing somebody who wore the same uniform you did." A tearful Eiji Mizuguchi, Kintetsu's starting second baseman, offered, "everything he did was a model for me. He was my teacher." Slugger Norihiro Nakamura lamented, "there was more I was hoping he would teach me." Catcher Tetsuya Matoyama, who is wearing Suzuki's old number, 2, revealed, "he showed me a lot at last year's fall camp. I'm also bearing his number, so it will be a special memory for me." Rookie Hiroaki Onishi, who has contributed some big hits this season while being platooned, intoned, "everything I am now I owe to coach Suzuki. I'm glad we won the game for him."
The funeral will be on the 19th JST and Nashida will leave Monday's game ball by Suzuki's side.
We at Baseball Guru.com and Japan Baseball Daily would like to express our condolences to the family of former Taiyo Whales pitcher Shinji Niihari, who died of cardiac arrest Tuesday at age 62 in Koganei, Tokyo. He is survived by his wife, Keiko.
After attending Koishikawa High School, where he had to play nanshiki ball since his school had no hardball program, Niihari passed the difficult entrance exam to get into Japan's equivalent of Harvard on the second try, where he became ace of its perenially weak baseball team. He finished with an 8-43 record (the defeats is a Tokyo Big Six University League record) there and then got a job with Taiyo fisheries. Whales manager Osamu Mihara ordered him to tryout for the club. Niihari passed it and went to spring training with them in February, 1965, getting knocked out of the box in his first pre-season appearance.
However, he managed to hold his own from there on in and made the Opening Day roster. The first time he saw regular season action was April 17th, when he spelled future hall of famer Noboru Akiyama and tossed two innings of one run relief on one hit, two walks and a strikeout.
But he was demoted to the minors
almost immediately afterward, winning an Eastern League game against Toei's
affiliate on April 19th.
His next significant appearance with the big club was on July 25th against Hiroshima at Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, entering the game in the late innings and going two innings of one run ball while striking out four, enabling him to pick up his first pro win. He ultimately threw in 40 games that season and racked up five victories against two losses and posted a 3.16 ERA. He fell to 4-4 3.60 the following season and only had sporadic appearances his last two campaigns with Taiyo, not being in any decisions in that time.
Over the course of his four year pro career, Nihari was 9-6 with 3.29 ERA in 88 total games.
He would then return to the parent
fisheries firm and also was president of the old boys club comprised of
former Tokyo University players.
Later on, he would become president of the Kuji Taiyo Golf Club.