Saturday, October 29, 2016

Diamond Diplomacy



A new documentary now in production called Diamond Diplomacy: U.S. Japan Relations Through A Shared Love Of Baseball needs your support!


Go over and see what IndieWire and Rafu Shimpo have to say and then please donate....

Sunday, May 22, 2016

1950 Shake Up Part 1: 1949



The 2016 Japan Series is still a whole season away, but the 2015 Series, between the Swallows and the Hawks, ended last fall after 5 games and the Hawks Victorious.  The Hawks were part of the original post war league, while the Swallows began life as an expansion team when the two league system of Central and Pacific Leagues was born in 1950.  Some great comments from NPB Card Guy on a post  last year led me to investigate a little more thoroughly the development of the two league system in Japan, taking us back 65 years...

Yuasa Sadao, nearly 50 years old, as old as the 20th century itself, pitched a throwaway game in November of 1950 against another half-centenarian, Shinji Hamasaki (right), as the rest of his teammates prepared for the first Japan Series.  His team, the Orions, were an expansion team who, the previous year, had been a semi-pro team on which Sadao had been involved ever since his days as a star at Meiji University.  The game against Hamasaki and the Braves on the last day of the season represented the end of the first century, setting the stage for the second half, in which the gestation period of baseball in Japan gave way to the complete professional and consumer entity it had already become in the West.  It would be Sadao's only inning of professional pitching, and, though he and Hamazaki would meet again two years later on the field (as coaches) during the Heiwadai incident, his brief role in professional baseball serves as a perfect bookend.

The 1950 Japan Series was to be the final contest of the first season of two-league competition in the history of Japanese professional baseball, The Orions were set to face the Shochiku Robins, another expansion team, in a very late, cold Japan Series that was to be the culmination of two years of wrangling, discussion, debate, shenanigans, wheeling, dealing, compromise and success in forming the system that exists to this day in Japanese baseball.


In the beginning, there was tournament style play. Between the founding of the league in 1936, and the final season in 1944 before the short hiatus brought upon by the final stages of the war, the single league system sufficed for the Japanese baseball loving public, the owners, players, and stakeholders.

That system had been founded after the development of the Yomiuri Giants from an all star team facing the 1934 touring Americans, to a barnstorming team traveling across North America, and into one of the founding seven teams of Japanese Professional Baseball.

Occupied Japan in 1946 was a place of hardship, rebuilding, sorrow and, in many places even starvation.  However, baseball returned in both amateur and professional form, with the new spring. That same pre-war league, now slightly modified, sanctioned and encouraged by the US Occupation leadership, saw a slow return to pre-war form, with additional support from the occupation forces and American influence.

As the seasons became longer and the Japanese fans slowly shed the hardships of the post-war landscape, the league became more and more profitable.  In addition, the occupation army was hungry for anything that tasted of home, and, though they could at times be rowdy and disrespectful, American servicemen attended in droves. The growing Japanese industry took notice.

Additionally, the post-war talent became stronger.  Those who survived the war returned from foreign battlefields.  POW camp and work camp survivors joined any of those who had stayed at home, or those whose kamikaze number had yet to be selected by August of 1945.  As normalcy crept back into their lives, these men gravitated back to the ball field stronger and more determined than ever to succeed.

There was the emergence of popular players and rivalries, such as that of Tetsuharu Kawakami, the God of Batting, with his"red bat", and Hiroshi Oshita with his"blue bat" (right).  They added color to one of the few forms of entertainment that those stricken with the hardships of post-war life could enjoy.  The game's popularity was was soaring.

So much so that several businessmen sought to capitalize on that popularity by introducing some competition in the vein of the Federal League in 1914.  The new league opened for business in March of 1947 with four teams.  The minimal team number, dearth of post-war attendance, and lack of recognition by the main professional league, led to it's dissolution less than a year later.

Though the immediate post-war environment couldn't yet support two leagues, by the second half of the 1948 season, the profitability of professional baseball had become more than apparent. Several national companies, including the Mainichi Shimbun, which had fielded semi-pro industrial league teams in the post war years, now wanted to field pro teams and share in the profits.  The desire among Japanese companies was growing.  Despite the Admission Tax, which was a 60% tax paid to the occupation government, entry into the league was sure to bring in as much money available in occupied Japan.

Enter Matsutaro Shoriki.  Shoriki had been the owner of the Yomiuri Shimbum and had organized the Japanese All Star team that played against Ruth and company in 1934 tour.  The core of that team would go on, under the ownership of Shoriki, to become the Yomiuri Giants.

Before the beginning of the 1949 season, negotiations had already begun to include all of the companies clamoring to get in on the profits that would, eventually, roll in.  By February of '49, Shoriki, recently cleared as a war criminal by the occupation government, was appointed honorary president of the federation that would become the professional league in place today.


As the 1949 season got under way, there were eight teams set to play roughly 138 games, after which the Yomiuri Giants would run away with the pennant, 16 games ahead of the  2nd place Hankyu Braves.  Almost every previous batting and pitching record was matched or topped. Fumio Fujimura [left] led the league with 46 home runs and 142 RBI.

Chusuke Kizuka's 59 stolen bases was the second most ever, trailing Kawanishi's record set the previous year. Karao Betto set a record with 129 runs scored. Victor Starrfin won 27 games and Shissho Takesue [below] of the Hawks led all pitchers with 183 strikeouts.  Fujimura took MVP and Hideo Fujimoto of the Giants won the Sawamura Award.

A competitive, stat heavy season, overflowing with post-war talent, in which the perennial favorites won the championship confirmed the need for a new system - more competition and and a championship series would only improve upon a stellar product.   Not only was the league exceeding expectations but fans were getting everything they wanted.

Shoriki, and all plans to expand professional baseball, developed under the watchful eye, and governing hand, of the Allied Occupation of Japan.  The SCAP (Supreme Commander for Allied Forces) and it's commander General MacArthur, had established, in addition to the military tribunal and Allied Council, a civilian section of the occupation forces.  Made up of general accounting, general procurement, government, natural resources, public health and welfare, statistics, civil communications, civil information, civil intelligence civil property and civil transportation, there was, in addition, an economic and scientific section headed up by Maj. Gen. W. F. Marquat.  Marquat's aide de camp was Cappy Harada, a Hawaiian native Nisei who had played baseball with many Japanese natives and was charged by MacArthur with reestablishing professional baseball in Japan in 1946. The civilian section would keep a close tabs on Shoriki and prevent him from obtaining too much power too quickly.

According to his comments to Rob Fitts' in "Remembering Japanese Baseball", in addition to overseeing the return to professional baseball  in 1946 during the occupation, Harada had a hand in the development of the two league system as well.  "In the late 1940's, Mr. Shoriki asked me "How come our baseball isn't getting stronger like the Major Leagues?"I said, "Mr. Shoriki, there's a simple answer.  You have to form two leagues and have a Japanese World Series.  Then, everybody will be fighting for something, and that will foster competition.  Then, Japanese baseball will get stronger." Mr. Shoriki said, "Let's have a meeting on it." The meeting took place at a restaurant in Osaka.  At the meeting were Mr. Shoriki, Ryuji Suzuki [the president of the league], Mr. Nagata [the movie magnate], and Prince [Naruhiko] Higashikuni.  We discussed it and decided that it was a good idea.  I hate to take credit for it but I think I was responsible for creating the two leagues."

Despite Harada's words, Matsuro Shoriki most likely saw it as his own initiative.  Masaichi Nagata, film producer, owner of the Daiai Stars and future President of the Pacific League, also saw the two league system as his idea.  However, Harada's description of the meeting in the Osaka restaurant (which included both Shoriki and Nagata), in addition to the many meetings that would be held throughout the summer and fall, suggest that it was a group effort.  By April, Shoriki was leading the group in a more official capacity,while debate continued on how to structure a new, two-league system.
 
The new league organization was officially announced on April 16th, when Shoriki said, through the AP, that he "hoped to accomplish at least three things: build up two major leagues like the American and the National in the United States; build more baseball stadiums, and get General MacArthur's approval to invite an American baseball team to Japan next fall."

Membership applications from companies aiming to participate in the expanded league were numerous throughout the following months: the Mainichi Shimbun, Kintetsu, Kyoto Shimbun, Kumagai Gumi Co., Ltd., Japan National Railways, Shochiku, Ocean Fishing, Nagoya Railroad, Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., Ltd., West newspaper, Seibu Railway, and others.

With the 1949 season waning, Mainichi, Kintetsu, and Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., Ltd. became part of the forming league by the end of September. 

Only a few days later, on the second to last day of September, a conference was held during which representatives of the current teams raised objections to expanding the league. They were voted down, and the new association moved towards a final vote at a meeting after the end of the season in December.

Also set for the post-season was the first visit from a US professional team since the 1934 tour. As Shiriki had explained, the owners wished to add legitimacy to the new league with a visit from a Major League team.  SCAP saw it as a good idea as well, but attempts to convince a Major League team fell through. Cappy Harada, already involved in the organization of the new leagues, was empowered by Gen. MacArthur to supervise a tour of Japan by the San Francisco Seals.

Cappy, in turn, contacted his old friend Lefty O'Doul, who still retained a great deal of popularity from his time in Japan in 1934.  The tour was arranged with the assistance of baseball writer Sotaru Suzuki, O'Doul's friend and organizer of the 1934 tour.

The Seals would play seven games against various amateur and professional Japanese All-Star squads, and against US Air Force and other US military All-Star squads. The tour would be the cherry on top of a great year for Japanese baseball.

By the end of the 1949 season, the receipts confirmed what all of these 'stakeholders' had been excited for.  The league had drawn over four million fans during the '49 season, a 25% increase over the '48 season.  However, each team posted a loss except for the Giants, who claimed simply to break even. The Tigers, though finishing in the second division, made almost enough to break even.  This may have been the result of the “Admission Tax” (mentioned above) paid by all Japanese companies to the occupation government of 60%, cutting into the 1.15 million in gross receipts for the league. The NY Times reported that Columbia University Prof. Carl Shoup's recommendation of reducing the admission tax was set to be enacted into law by the Japanese National Legislature, which would ease the burden on the new league.

The 1949 Tigers most likely drew so many fans as much due to their location as because of the star studded product they fielded.  Despite finishing in the second division, 20 games out of first, the Tigers fielded one of the most talented teams in the league.  Fujio Fujimura was only a few batting points short of winning a triple crown, and player-manager Bozo Wakabayashi led the pitching staff with a 3.29 ERA.

The stars of that team, including Wakabayashi [above, left], Karao Betto, Shosei Go and Takeshi Doigaki, would go on to shake up the new system and lead a new team, in a new league, to the 1950 pennant.

In October, the Seals arrived in Japan to a parade on the Ginza.  To quote Cappy Harada: "One of the highlights was at the opening ceremonies when I had General MacArthur's permission to raise the Japanese flag and play the anthem at the same time. It was the first time after the War that the Japanese flag had been raised together with the Stars and Stripes, so it was a very historical moment.  The Japanese people were very surprised, and a lot of them were moved to tears."  

The tour would eventually attract over 400,000 fans and contribute greatly to the popularity of professional baseball in post-war Japan.

On the day that the San Francisco Seals landed in Japan for the 1949 tour, Shogi Uno, President of the Yomiuri Giants, was meeting with MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler during the World Series in New York.  He was seeking advice on the inevitable expansion of the current pro system in Japan.  According to Uno, "6 new clubs want[ed] to horn in on the gravy."  Chandler responded with an old axiom borrowed from Benjamin Franklin - "If you don't hang together, you will all hang separately."

By December, the stage was set for the dissolution of the one league system that had subsisted since 1936, and the beginning of an Americanized system that would persist for the next 60 plus years. It was also set for new rivalries and loyalties. Continued in Part 2....

Monday, January 18, 2016

Hall of Fame Class of 2016

     The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Tokyo today announced that Masaki Saitoh, Kimayasu Kudoh, Takizo Matsumoto, Masatake Yamanaka, and Kihachi Enomoto have been elected as the 2016 Hall of Fame Class.
     Enomoto (left) led the last year's expert ballot of non-electees with 66 votes, but his election is long overdue.  It's possible that Enomoto, a private man who, before his death in 2012, refused to participate with the Meikyuki despite his 2000 career hit qualifications, was snubbed by voters for being an outsider. Groomed by Sadaharu Oh's famed teacher Hiroshi Arakawa, Enomoto was the Rookie of the Year in 1955, an award he cherished, possibly because of Arakawa's guidance. For most of his career, Enomoto hit in the 3-hole, setting up cleanup hitter, and fellow Hall of Famer, Kazuhiro Yamauchi. Not content to support his teammate with a great average and OBP, Enomoto also led the league in Hit By Pitch in three seasons.
     Yamauchi and Enomoto would go on to play together as members of the All Star team that faced the St. Louis Cardinals before leading the Orions to the pennant in 1960.  That year Enomoto won the first of his two batting crowns.  Like Oh (pictured in the upper left corner of the card on the right, diagonal from Enomoto, standing on the steps), Enomoto was blessed with both talent and strong work ethic, building his own batting cage at home after a year long slump and returning to win another crown in 1966 with a .351 average.
     No slouch in the field, he won 9 First Nines and 12 All Star selections as a first baseman, setting a record for fielding percentage in 1968.  That year he also continued a two season errorless streak at First. He retired with 2314 hits, 246 home runs and a .298 career average.
     Both Jim Allen and Japanese Baseball Cards have great posts on Enomoto that are worth reading.



     Kudoh (left, with the Gians), with 76.6 percent of the vote, was only the fourth first-ballot Hall of Famer (after Victor Starffin, Sadaharu Oh, and Hideo Nomo).  Saitoh (below), a former MVP and three time Sawamura Award winner, was just shy of election last year, but was elected by a comfortable margin, However, no other candidates were within nearly 75 votes.
     Takizo Matsumoto will be enshrined due to his administrative work with all levels of baseball, including the 1949 San Francisco Seals tour of Japan, while Masatake Yamanaka's career in University and Industrial baseball earned him a plaque.



Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hall of Fame 2016 Ballot


     The ballot for the 2016 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame election was released on December 1, and it includes nine new candidates for the Player division, as well as four new candidates for the Expert division.  Along with the returning candidates, the new names on the Expert ballot include Ise Takao, Akio Saito, Takeshi Yamaguchi, and Akinobu Okada (right).
     Okada may be best known as the former pennant winning manager of the Hanshin Tigers, but his playing career included a Koshien Tournament, Rookie of the Year award and Japan Series title.  A star in the Tokyo Big Six with Waseda, he was drafted in the first round by the Tigers, where his skill with bat and glove caused new manager Don Blasingham trouble when he didn't immediately start the star rookie.  Blasingham and fellow Gaijin Dave Hilton were let go, and Okada fulfilled expectations, fielding well at 2nd base while hitting 18 homers.  He was part of the miracle 1985 Tigers team that took the Series for the first time in franchise history, playing alongside fellow 2016 candidate Randy Bass, whose presence contributed to the Curse of the Colonel.  After several successful seasons with Hanshin, Okada finished out his career playing alongside Ichiro during his breakout season in 1994 on the Blue Wave, where he would eventually coach, then manage.  First, however, he would return to the Tigers to lead them into the post season several times, including nearly winning it all in the 2005 Nippon Series.
     The new Players division candidates include Naoyuki Omura, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Makoto Kosaka, Kazumi Saito, Shingo Takatsu, Koichi Hori, Arihito Murmatsu, Akihiro Yano, and Keeichi Yabu.
     Kimiyau Kudo (left), a member of the Meikyukai as a pitcher, won it all last year in his first season as manager of the Softbank Hawks.  After pitching a no-hitter in his only Koshien appearance, Kudoh signed with the Lions as a sixth round pick instead of his first choice, which was to play in the industrial leagues.  Though not much of a hitter, Kudoh was a pro pitcher from 1982 through 2009, finishing his career 7th all time in strike outs, and becoming the first pitcher since Bozo Wakabayashi to win at least 20 games after his 41st birthday.  However, in 27 pro seasons he never won a Sawamura Award.  He pitched on 11 Series champions, earning MVP honors twice.
     Shingo Takatsu (right) pitched two seasons in MLB for the White Sox and Mets, but earned his reputation as a reliever for Yakult.  There are conflicting reports that he was called "Mr. Zero", but what is known is that he was the best closer of his era, setting a new all time saves record that was only eclipsed in 2011, and appearing in 11 games without surrendering a run in Japan Series play.  Takatsu even faced Ichiro once as a pinch hitter - when Ichiro took the mound in the 1996 All-Star game.  Also played professionally in China and Korea before retiring in 2010.
     Yakyu Baka's post on the ballot announcement includes the number of votes each candidate received last year.   On the Players ballot last year, only Masaki Saito came close to election, with Kazuyoshi Tatsunami a distant runner up.  Kihachi Enomoto and Masaji Hiramatsu led the Expert ballot for most votes without election.  ANAFN favorite Masayuki Dobashi took a dip last year, with only 19 votes.
     The ballot results will be announced on Monday, January 18th, 2016.




Sunday, July 5, 2015

Takuwa


Rob Fitts recently released his excellent new book Mashi, the story of Masanori Murakami. Though best known as the first Japanese born player in the Majors, Murakami was also a stellar pitcher for the Nankai Hawks during the final managing years of Kazuto Tsuruoka (aka Yamamoto, right).   Tsuruoka had begun his career before WWII and, after the war, become the most successful manager in the game.

He understood that "there was money to be made", and he was the first to put together a powerhouse to rival the Yomiuri Giants, taking full advantage of the new two league system and dominating it for most of the decade. He drafted, recruited, and developed hundreds of players - those who succeeded, those who failed, and those who shone brightly and briefly.   His 1954 Hawks included three rookies on whose shoulders the future championship teams would seemingly stand.  Two would start slow before eventually living up to potential and putting together Hall of Fame careers. One would shoot out of the gate as a fireball before fading just as quickly.  In his first 150 games for the Hawks, Motoji Takuwa would win 56.  After that, only one decision, a loss in the last game he ever pitched for the Hawks, would mark his fade into obscurity.  But his start was much more optimistic.
 
Motoji Takuwa (below) was born on July 18, 1935 in Fukuoka Prefecture and attended Moji Higashi high school.  The ace of the baseball team, he played in the Kyushu tournament in 1951 but his school never qualified for the more coveted Koshien tournament.  He graduated in 1953 and was signed by the Hawks.

 As the 1954 season began, Manager Tsuruoka had won three straight pennants but lost three straight Japan Series to the Giants, and was ready to do anything to succeed.  He had three rookies to join his otherwise stellar team of Chusuke Kizuka, Kazuo Kagayama, future HOFer Tokuji Iida and 1953 MVP Isami Okamoto. One was Takuwa (left), who was joined by two other rookies - future Hall of Famers Katsuyu Nomura, who at 19 years old played in just 9 games in '54, and Matsuo Minegawa, who was a year younger and appeared in just one game more than Nomura, recording a paltry 0 wins to 3 losses.

Takuwa, however, was selected by Tsuruoka to join the Hawks starting rotation, along with veteran Susumi Yuki and Taketoshi Ogami, who at just 20 years old had been the ace of the staff in the previous year.

He was successful immediately and by seasons end racked up 26 wins against nine losses, along with an ERA of just 1.58.   He was voted Rookie of the Year (narrowly beating out runner up, and future HOFer, Takao Kajimoto), and led the league both wins and ERA.  In addition to all of that, his mark of 275 strikeouts would set a rookie record that lasted almost 30 years.

 Along with Takuwa, two other pitchers rounded out the "ace" category for the '54 Hawks.  One was Sasumu Yuki (right), a veteran pitcher who won 124 games in a nearly 10 year career spent entirely with the Hawks.  He had been a 27 year old rookie in 1948 when he immediately became their top pitcher, leading the league with a 1.89 ERA, and notching 19 wins.  Having been a star at Hosei U before going off to war, his late start was attributed to a fateful stint as a prisoner of war in Siberia until 1948.

The other, Taketoshi Okami, had been the ace rookie pitcher in '53 who had narrowly lost game 7 of the '53 Series despite home runs from Hawks stars Chusuke Kizuka and Jun Matsui.

The '54 Hawks would lose the pennant to the Lions by only half a game, and the disappointment was eased only slightly by Takuwa's stellar season, as well as a few other surprises.  Isami Okamoto, the MVP of the '53 season, was ineffective in '54 to the point that he was replaced at 2B by Nobushige Morishita - yet it was Morishita who would win best nine at the position, just as Okamoto had the previous year.  Tokuji Iida would hit for his worst average since his rookie season but still knock out 18 homers -  however he not win the MVP until '55. 

The next season, in 1955, the Hawks made it to the Japan Series. That season Takuwa became the ace, on whose shoulders Tsuruoka placed the bulk of pitching duties as he, and many other Japanese managers were want to do.   Despite a stellar season during which he won 24 games, he started only one game in the series.  After Takuwa lost the first game, Masaharu Obata and Ichiro Togawa would win the next three games. Blessed with a 3 games to 1 lead over the Giants, the Hawks then squandered it, losing three in a row to hand Yomiuri the title.

By the time he was twenty, in 1956, Matoji Takuwa's arm was dead.  Roughly 20 games into the 1956 season, still maintaining a 2.29 ERA, his arm stopped functioning.  He never won a game again.  He had pitched twice as many innings as his nearest teammate in '54 with an impressive 329 innings, but could muster only a little over a 100 innings for the Hawks during the following four seasons.

After pitching only 3 innings for the Hawks in 1959 (and giving up 2 runs), he moved to the Kinetetsu Buffaloes in 1960. He would only pitch 20 innings over two seasons before finally hanging up his spikes, garnering no decisions and little fanfare.  Manager Shiguru Chiba, famed Yomiuri 2nd basemen and the teams namesake, seems to have forgotten (or ignored) him in a bullpen filled with a bevy of burned-out arms.

After retirement Takawa took a position as a commentator for Mainichi television. In 1994 he accepted a position as coach of the Taiwan Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL)'s Tigers, and quickly became manager.  He served for two years before returning to Japan as a commentator once again for the Mainichi company.

His numbers, lined up in a row, seem unimpressive when representing a career, or a life: after 50 wins collected in just two seasons, Takuwa finished his career with 168 games pitched, 56 wins and 26 losses, with an ERA of 2.29.  In addition to his Rookie of the Year award, he was named best defense pitcher once, led the league in wins twice and strikeouts once.  But his moment of brilliance was only lost, not forgotten.

Kazuto Tsuruoka (left) continued on as Manager of the Hawks until 1968 before wrapping up a Hall of Fame Career as Japanese Baseball's winningest manager.  He had taken over the player/manager role for the Hawks as soon as post-war baseball began in 1946, and continued until moving to solely a managerial role after the 1952 season.  For the first 18 years of the Pacific League, Tsuruoka defined the Hawks.

After baseball resumed in 1946, the former Nankai/Kinki Nihon team was known as the Kinki Great Ring (or Ringers, as dubbed by the American Servicemen stationed in Japan, in part for the shortened term and in part due to the contemporary slang for an available Japanese girl, or "ring worthy").  In 1948 the team, owned both before and after the war by Kinki Nippon Railroad, would update their name to the Nankai Hawks.  After that '48 season, the success of the Hawks, as well as most other teams led to a frenzy of interest by corporations similar to Kinki Nippon Railroad, intent on earning similar profits.

Thanks largely to Tsuruoka and his ability to find and coach talent, the Hawks dominated the first decade of the Pacific League.  The birth of the Pacific League is just one part of the fascinating story of the development of the 2 league system in Japanese baseball starting in 1950.  Coming soon - a multi-part post on that history.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame Election Results

     The Hall of Fame and Museum in Tokyo today announced three new members to be inducted for 2015: Atsuya Furuta (with 76.8 % of the vote), Kazuo Hayashi, and Ryohei Murayama.  Hayashi helped to develop the Little League system in Japan, and Murayama, at the helm of the Asahi Shimbun in 1915, developed the National Secondary School Championship and Invitational tournaments, more commonly referred to as Summer and Spring Koshien.
     Furuta was one of the most popular players of his time.
A bespectacled catcher from the start, he played high school baseball in Hyogo Prefecture at Meiho High, not known as a baseball powerhouse, and never made it to a Koshien.  Furuta then went on to Ritsumeikan University, which is not in the "Tokyo Big 6" of college baseball teams, resulting in Furuta once again flying under the radar.  Seen as risky due to his vision, Furuta bolstered his skills playing industrial baseball after college, a move that helped him make the 1988 Japanese Olympic Team where he won a silver medal.
     More teams took notice, including the Nippon Ham Fighters, who eventually passed due to concerns with his vision.  It was the Yakult Swallows, managed by the greatest catcher in the history of the Japanese game, Katsuya Nomura, who finally took a chance on him, though Nomura was initially reluctant.  That reluctance was short lived, as Furuta became their starting catcher, winning the All-Star MVP in his second season while hitting .340.  He would add another All-Star MVP, a regular season MVP, and several Japan Series Championships to that before the decade was done.
     Known as a great handler of pitchers and an all around intelligent ballplayer, Furuta benefited immeasurably from his manager and mentor Katsuya Nomura's guidance.  He regularly was among the league leaders in preventing stolen bases, and was one of, if not the best defensive catchers in the game, winning 10 golden gloves. Several former MLB players in Japan have stated that he could have played in the US.  He also followed in Nomura's footsteps by becoming the first player-manager in Japan since the old catcher had done it himself twenty years before. By the time he had retired he had collected over 2000 hits, making him one of only 44 players in history to reach that milestone
     Furuta is perhaps most admired by fans for his role as head of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association.  In 2004 he led the first ever players strike that, unlike previous strikes in the US, developed overwhelming fan support and led to many significant improvements for players in the NPB.
     Former Angels and Padres infielder Jack Howell played with the Swallows in the 90's.  In conversation with Rob Fitts for his book Remembering Japanese Baseball, he said, "Our manager, Nomura, was the best catcher that ever played in Japan, and he was tough on Furuta.  Furuta had a lot of pressure on him, but I think if you asked Furuta, he would probably say that it was the best thing that happened to him.  He became one of Japan's best catchers.  Furuta was also the fan favorite.  He was a G.Q.-type guy.  He wore designer clothes and glasses, and the girls really liked him.  When we would come off the bus or go into a hotel, the fans would be yelling and screaming, 'Furuta!' and going nuts.  He would wave to them or sign for them, and they would go whacko!"
   

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hall of Fame 2015

In November 2014, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Tokyo announced the Players Division and Expert Division ballots for the Hall of Fame Class of 2015.  Superstars such as Atsuya Furuta, Masumi Kuwata, and Kazuhiro Kiyohara return to the the Players Division Ballot, and are joined by notable former stars Tuffy Rhodes and Norihiro Akahoshi (below) among 9 first timers.

Rhodes hit 464 home runs for the Kintetsu/Orix Buffalos and Yomiuri Giants, but is probably best known for tying Sadaharu Oh's single season home run mark of 55 before the Oh led Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks allegedly pitched around him in order to preserve their manager's (and national hero's) record.  Akahoshi was a base stealing, smooth fielding infielder for the Hanshin Tigers who retired early after a diving catch resulted in a major injury.

The Expert Division ballot includes return appearances by Kihachi Enomoto, Koichi Tabuchi, Randy Bass, Boomer Wells, and ANAFN's favorite Masayuki Dobashi, among others.  They are joined by five newcomers, including Senichi Hoshino, Haruki Ikara, and Yasunori Oshima.


Oshima (right) is a member of the Meikyukai, and after a 20+ year career with the Chunichi Dragons and Nippon-Ham Fighters he ended up with 382 home runs and 2204 hits, good for top 15 all-time in both categories at the time of his retirement.  His long hair and good looks set him apart from his fellow Dragons in the 70's and earned him a youthful fan following.  After retiring, he took the helm of the Fighters, though to little success.

Hoshino (below) found success as a pitcher with the Dragons, winning 146 games and a Sawamura award as a teammate of Yasunori Oshima, but found even greater success as a manager.

He led both the Dragons and Tigers to pennants, and proved to be immensely popular throughout his career with an outsized personality and outspoken dislike of the Yomiuri Giants. He then took the helm of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and, with the help of Masahiro Tanaka's 24-0 season, won the pennant and the Japan Series in 2013.

The results are scheduled to be announced on January 23, 2015.
 
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