Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The Hall of Fame in Japan will be announcing some new members in a few weeks- see who has made the short list here, or in Japanese on the HOF site here. Stay tuned for some endorsements/recommendations/suggestions- kind of a wish list of who we would like to see elected. Look out in the next week for the post, and Happy New Year!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
May 2, 1943, right in the middle of the Second World War. That day, Roosevelt gave a speech on the coal crisis, the tide was slowly turning in North Africa, allied and Japanese bombers were fighting it out over the Pacific, and Yoshio Tenpo pitched the first of three no-hitters of that month. It was the only time the history of Japanese Baseball that three no-no's would be pitched in a single month, though there have been several months during which two were thrown. The other two pitchers to accomplish the feat in that May of '43 were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame: Hideo Fujimoto and Takehiko Bessho. Tenpo's name, though linked with the other two in that month, would eventually be dropped from mention with the Hall of Famers, despite his longevity and his ability to keep the opposition to low scores (his 2.78 ERA was 8th all-time when he retired).
He did not end up with a glamorous record, owning a loss total that puts him in the top 25 all time. Over 14 seasons Tenpo (which has also been translated as Tenbo and Tanpo) was 131-152, but his record is a bit deceiving- he played his entire career with the hapless Hankyu Braves, who would not finish in first place during his entire tenure (1942-1957), and would only finish higher than fourth four times. However, when he retired, he was 8th on the all-time list for ERA, and is still in the top 25, which means that his team lost despite his pitching, and won with the help of it. Part of the problem was that the Braves never had the significant run producers that benefitted other pitchers of his era- they collected only 14,195 hits during that time, for a team average of .242.
During his peak years (42-52), the Braves scored more runs than the league average only three times, and in those three seasons ('44, '48, '49) he was 5-4, 19-22, and 24-15, respectively. And in his last productive season, 1953, when the Braves once again scored more than the league average, he was 11-8. In those other seasons he was 71-99 and, due to his low walk and strikeout numbers, combined with his low ERA, it is obvious that his dependance on batters making contact and scoring infrequently, his team's lack of run production directly affected his W-L totals. If he had been with a team with higher run production, one can see his record turn around in those years- maybe something closer to 99-71. That would give him a 159-124 record lifetime, resembling much more the type of pitcher he was.
Tenpo is also in the top 30 all time for complete games, and finished his career with over 10,000 batters faced, putting him in the company of the top pitchers in his era. What is most impressive, though, is that he looked like a warrior, like a god- or at least that is how he was portrayed on his various cards. According to Japan Baseball Daily, Tenpo was a highschool dropout who played through the war (though it is very possible that he fought in that last year), but his portrayal was always that of the samurai, of the peerless and attractive nobleman on the field who fought for every pitch and every win, despite his teammates or whatever circumstances might work against him. Yet, aside from his appearance on a few statisitical lists and on checklists for Karuta and Menko sets, Yoshio Tenpo seems to have been left off of the 'all-time greats' compilations and conversations for the Hall of Fame. With as stellar record as his, and with such a noble representation, the idea of his presence in history growing is an attractive one, even if he may be only on the fringes of the Hall of Fame discussion.
In the next post, coming soon, will be the recommendations of A Noboro Aota Fan's Notes for the 2010 Japan Hall of Fame election, covering some players reviewed in the past year and some not yet covered.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Check out this amazing collection of Bromides (see above example of a gorgeous card of Kazuto Tsuruoka [Yamamoto] from the late 40's) from the John Gall collection on A Journey Round My Skull. Gall is the co-author of Sayonara Home Run, and the art director for Vintage and Anchor Books. The blog is great as well, with some amazing images and great collection of links.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
After analyzing the catchers selected to the Best 9 teams in the post war era in to the formation of the two leagues in the previous Miracles post, it's time to look at the Central League. The first star catchers of the Central League were Akira Noguchi, Jyun Hirota, and Shoji Arakawa. Akira Noguchi, brother of several professional Japanese ballplayers including Hall of Famer Jiro, was almost as productive a hitter as Tadeshi Doigaki (see Miracles pt. 2), and began his career at the beginning of it all (in terms of professional baseball), catching in both the Spring and Fall series of the inaugural season of Japanese baseball for the Tokyo Senators.
That first season, when he wasn't catching or in the outfield, Noguchi won 7 games (fourth in the league behind leader Eiji Sawamura) as the Senators best pitcher. He then proceeded to go 19-7 in the Fall, and 15-15 in the Spring of the 1937 season- once again second only to Sawamura in terms of dominance. After a five year hiatus (possibly due to the war), he returned to the Senators in '42 as a catcher and first-baseman and led them in home runs and rbi, while also managing to fit in a few games on the mound (though, his 0-2 record did not quite compare to his brother's 40 wins). The next season, 1943, his last as a Senator, Akira was tied for the league lead in rbi with Aota while splitting his duties between first base and catcher, and was traded the next season to Hankyu, along with brother Jiro (though, due to the war, Jiro would not debut with the Braves until '46). Akira led the war-ravaged league in at-bats in '44 before the entire show was shut down.
Returning with his brother and Aota for the Braves when play resumed in 1946, Noguchi (right) performed utility man duties for a few seasons with mixed results- it wasn't until he was traded to the Dragons, for the 1949 season, that he got back behind the plate for good. Between '49 and '54, Noguchi was the starting catcher for Chunichi, handling a great young pitching staff that included Hall of Famer Shigeru Sugishita, who would go on to win the Sawamura Award in 1951, 1952 and 1954 as the best pitcher in the league.
He also, along with Michio Nishizawa and Satoshi Sugiyama, led the Dragons offensive charge, creating 60 to 70 runs per season while catching around 100 games per season. His offensive prowess led to his being named to the Best Nine as backstop for two years running- 1951 to 1952. Part of it was his ability to get to 2nd base- he led all catchers in doubles during his time with the Dragons, a skill which undoubtedly assisted his ability to create runs. However, he lost the contest for the first Best Nine award in the newly split Central League.
In 1950, the league split into two, and instead of one set of Best Nine's, there were two- one for the Pacific League and one for the Central League. As covered in the last post, the first Pacific League catcher to be honored on the Best Nine was Doigaki. The first in the Central League was Shoji Arakawa- Noguchi would win in '51. Below are the stats for the starting catchers for each of the eight teams in the CL in 1950:
Masato Monzen (Whales): .280 25HR 110RBI
Akira Noguchi (Dragons): .271 18HR 73RBI
Takeshi Hibino (Pirates): .287 10HR 47RBI
Hiroshi Tsujii (Carp): .294 5HR 67RBI
Shoji Arakawa (Robins): .268 3HR 51RBI
Kazuo Usami (Swallows): .284 5HR 33RBI
Shinichiro Inoue (Swallows): .233 2HR 16RBI
Shigeru Tokuami (Tigers): .251 2HR 69RBI
Tetsunosuke Fujiwara (Giants): .244 1HR 21RBI
The best offensive catcher, by far, was Monzen, breaking the 100RBI mark (the first catcher to do so) and finishing in the top ten in home runs in a season where only Hall of Famers made both of the lists. But Monzen did not win the Best Nine, Arakawa did, and the most likely reason can be represented in the number 12- as in 12 triples, the all time record for triples in a season by a catcher.
Shoji Arakawa (left) not only had 64 runs created, but also handled the best pitching staff in the league, with three 20 game winners (including one 39 game winner). He was part of a Robins team that beat out the rest of the league to win the first Central League pennant, and play in the first Japan Series. He led the Robins with 9 hits and during the series, stole two bases and was one of only three to hit a triple. Though he handled a losing pitching staff, his batting eye was second to none, walking four times to only one strikeout, a ratio that mirrored his short career totals of 366 walks to 209 K's.
Arakawa began with the Robins in 1947 as a utility man, displaying his speed and power immediately with 8 triples that season, only three behind the league leaders. After Masumi Isekawa left for the Stars in '48, Shoji began to fill in as catcher while also playing both infield and outfield, and once again put on a show with his speed. According to Japan Baseball Daily, he had a 10th inning, 'sayonara steal' of home in a game against the Dragons, and, while he slammed only one triple, displayed his great eye and control with a 44-11 walk-to-strikeout ration, the best rate in the league that season.
He played with the Robins until 1951, the year after making the first Central League Best 9, and moved to the Whales in 1952, where he was the starting catcher for one more season. During the years 1950-1952, he averaged 24 stolen bases while slamming 23 triples, all the time catching 100 games per season, hitting .391 in the Japan Series after making Best 9 in his best season. However, by '53, he had already slowed down, catching fewer games and spending more time in the field, though he did manage to steal 12 bases and drive in 20 runs. He was joined that year by Noboru Aota, fresh from his stay with the Giants, where he had played side by side with Tetsunosuki Fujiwara, who caught one of the premier pitching staffs of the post war era with Yomiuri between 1949 and 1951.
Fujiwara (right & at the top of this post) was the primary catcher for the Giants in '49 and '50. In 1949, the Giants were one of the best teams ever- outhit by the Tigers, but had such good pitching that the ran away with the league. They had the lowest ERA, and especially the lowest WHIP for any team, attributed to Fujiwara's handling of three HOF Pitchers- Bessho, Fujimoto and Nakao. In 1950, he was quick, second among catchers (behind Arakawa) with 17 stolen bases, but it was his finesse behind the plate that made him valuable.
Fujiwara began his career before the war with the Dragons. His best offensive season was in '46 after the war with the Dragons, catching a poor pitching staff with only one above-.500 pitcher. After a one year stint with the Flyers (where he caught Kuroo and Shiraki, two great pitchers who will be covered in an upcoming post), he moved to the Giants, where for three seasons he helped one of the best pitching staffs ever to two championships- though he did not make it to the Series, losing the job to Kusunoki by the start of game 1. With the Carp, beginning in 1952, he served in a backup capacity for several more years.
In discussing Giants catchers, it is important to include Fukuzu Tada, the Giants back-up catcher/pitcher/utility infielder for a decade surrounding the war. Tada (left) recorded over 1000 at bats as well as over 1000 innings on the mound, and in 1950, with Fujiwara behind the plate, he went 14-9 while also hitting 3 HR in 100 plate appearances, and also filled in at first base. There is no doubt that the Giants were stocked with talent, and Tada is a perfect example- he could still catch, and did so once he left Yomiuri for the Pearls, there being no room behind the plate with Fujiwara, Toshiyaki Takemiya, Yasuo Kusunoki, Tomatsu Uchibori, and, eventually, Jyun Hirota.
The starting catcher for the Giants in the 1951 Japan Series, Kusunoki, had been with the Giants before the war, mostly as a utility player, but came back in '51 to take over the starting catcher duties. Unfortunately for him, the success of Wally Yonemine would bring over several Nisai players to join him, including a catcher who had played with Wally in Hawaii- Jyun Hirota.
With Fujiwara gone to the Carp, Hirota quickly edged his way in to the starting catching position, and by the time Yomiuri was battling the Hawks in the '52 Japan Series, Jyun caught in all six games, driving in 3 runs while batting .353. Though an offensive threat during his time with the Giants, Hirota's real contribution to the game was his defensive innovation, at least in the context of baseball up to that point in Japan. Read Rob Fitts' books, including Wally Yonemine and Remembering Japanese Baseball- he covers much of Hirota's career with the Giants, and the perception of his contributions. According to many of his contemporaries, Jyun changed the way catchers approach each pitch, throwing from a crouch both on regular throws back to the pitcher as well as runners on base.
Hirota (above, with Yonamine and Andy Miyamoto) was also a four time all-star, whose solid offense was not only consistent, but aggressive in a way, similar to his Hawaiian teammates, that would influence all play in Japan and help the Giants to the pennant every year of his tenure except 1954. His strength and toughness were legendary, influencing a whole new generation of catchers, especially those who would go on to replace him on the Best 9 lists for decades to come.
Hirota's three straight Best 9 awards began a trend for Giant catchers- with the exception of 1960, a Yomiuri catcher would be on the Best 9 every season until 1968. His replacement behind the plate, Shigeo Fujio, carried on his streak beginning in 1956 and went on to win 4, leading to his selection by Jim Albright as the best catcher of the Central League in the 1950's. Fujio (right) helped the Giants to as many pennants as Hirota, but did not experience a Series win until 1961, by which time he had been replaced as starting catcher. He played from '53 to '64, just missing the V-9 run, but slugged .400 lifetime and lost his catching job to no one less than Hall of Fame catcher Masaaki Mori- the same Mori who would go on to make the Best 9 team from 1961 to 1968, giving the Giants a good run at the Best 9 for catchers.
Back to the beginning of the Central League and 1950, Masoto Monzen. He was one of the first catchers in the professional ranks, starting with the Fall season in 1936. According to Japan Baseball Daily, Monzen was the first player drafted by the Tigers, and that first season played backup behind former Keio star Toshiyasu Ogawa. Ogawa was unfortunately called up to military service and never made it back to the Tigers, losing his life in the war, supposedly in China. Had he been able to stay, or come back, Ogawa might have gone on to a HOF career- more on him in a later post. Monzen was with the Tigers, with the exception of the 40-41 seasons during which he was at war, until the league was finally halted in 1944. Offensively, he was consitent at driving the ball and getting bases- in 1937 he set the record (that has since been tied by several players) for double in one game with 4, and went on to lead the league with 15. During that time he caught almost all of the Tigers games, reaching his peak in '39 with team leading .401 slugging percentage and a league leading (for catchers) 53 rbi.
By 1948, Monzen was back in the league with the Stars (left) for a season, leaving in '49 for the Tigers for a short season (where Doigaki showed no signs of giving up the starting spot) before landing with the expansion Whales for the 1950 season. This would lead to his greatest season, leading all catchers in offensive production and becoming the first catcher to drive in 100 runs. But after a lackluster year in '51, he went to Hiroshima, where he was the regular catcher for the Carp for several more seasons before finally retiring (after 21 years in the league). Though he played in only 1200 games in those 21 years, it is important to remember that short seasons and war dominated the first decade of his career, and that between 1950 and his retirement, he caught on average 100 games a season, despite being in the latter part of his career and having served several years in WWII!
When Monzen had left Hanshin for the Whales in 1950, Takeshi Doigaki left as well, leaving an open spot behind the plate. Enter Shigeru Tokuami- 1950 was his rookie season, but ended up as the Tigers starting catcher, replacing Doigaki who had moved on to the Orions along with a gaggle of other Tiger's stars. Until the mid 50's, while occasionally sharing duties with Hiromi Tanida, he was the Tigers' starting catcher, though his offensive output never again matched that of his rookie season.
Tetsuya Yamamoto replaced Tokuami as the primary backstop for the Tigers, in time for the emergence of the Tigers all-star late 50's pitching staff. Beginning his career at the tail end of the post-war era, he was a two time all star who played in the Central League shadow of the Best 9 winning catching staff of Yomiuri. Yamamoto (right) was a Tiger lifer, playing 11 seasons for Hanshin and starting all 6 games of the '62 Japan Series and 1 for the '64 pennant winners. However, he was instrumental in the most famous game in Japanese Baseball history, the demarcation point between the 50's and the 60's, between the first golden era and the second: the Emperor's Game. According to Japan Baseball Daily, Yamamoto was behind the plate for the Tigers on that June evening in 1959, catching Minoru Murayama in his moment of failure. Rookie Sadaharu Oh's game tying home run, as well as Nagashima's famous Sayonara Home Run, marked the beginning of the new era of Japanese Baseball, of the O-N Cannon and V-9 and a time beyond the post-war period.
Part 2 of this post concluded with a list of the catchers who, in the post war era, played every game of their career as a catcher. Below is the completion of that list- every other player who played at least one game at catcher between 1946 and 1955 (in descending order of games played):
Among the players on this list were several 'Moonlight Grahams', catchers who played only one inning, or one game behind the plate:
Kawai, Shizuo- 1 game 1955 Chiunichi
Kitamura, Shuichi- 1 game 1950 Hawks
Taki, Hideo- 1 game 1955 Tigers
Takiguchi, Toyohiro- 1 game 1949 Stars
Yamamoto, Fumiya- 1 game 1955 Dragons
The story of Graham, and those with stories similar to his, are fascinating because of the work involved in getting to the professional level- that first game is the pinnacle of a decade or more work on various aspects of the game, of . Even those players who go on to Hall of Fame careers still remember their first game as moving to that top level. There is no higher league to advance to, and those that get the chance are heroes, legends to anyone in their lives, no matter how successful they are at that level, there is something special about them, something special that surrounds them. For those that could only make it for one game, there is a romantic aspect added to that special aura, a romantic aspect that equals that of the Hall of Famer. So what separates the two? What is it that makes Fred Exley jump up and down at the New Parrot Lounge while watching the game, or kids in a small town ask a one time major leaguer for their autograph? More about the Hall of Fame and what it takes make it there, as well as some recommendations for the next election, in the upcomming posts....
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Shinji Hamasaki was not only the smallest player to ever play the game (5'1", 110 pounds), but was also the oldest pitcher to ever win a game- in 1950, with the Braves. He was born in December of 1901, and when the Braves began the 1950 season, he was a 48 year old player-manager as well as pitcher who had compiled a 4-3 record over the previous two seasons. During that first season in the newly formed Pacific League, Hamasaki pitched in 28 innings over 9 games, enough to earn him one victory and two losses for a Braves team he would lead to an eventual 4th place finish. On top of that, the 48 year-old managed to accumulate 12 plate appearances, and even hit a triple!
He had come to Hankyu after World War II in 1947, and before the war had played in the Industrial Leagues with the South Manchurian Railroad team and, before that, Keio University. After a few stints as manager of some of the more terrible teams in Japanese baseball history (including the 1955 Tombo Unions, who finished with 98 losses in only 141 games, and whose best hitter, catcher Sal Recca, did not do too much better at the plate than Victor Starfin, in the final season of his HOF career), he retired and was voted to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978. Now, the focus of A Noboru Aota Fan's Notes has always been on those who have gone outside the notice of the Hall, so there must be a special reason to be talking about Shinji:
Click on the above image to check out some of the content from the upcoming book, which looks to be a fascinating examination of not only the game from an American and Japanese perspective, but a detailed analysis of the politics and culture of Japan in the years before World War II. Check it out!
Stay tuned for the third installment of the Miricles post, for more on catchers in the post war era as well as discussion on the meaning of enshrinement in any Hall of Fame- coming soon!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
taken by Deanna on her recent visit to the Hall- Thanks Deanna!
Tune in shortly for more info on the catchers of the post war period, and check out the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame site for more info on the inductees and a lot of other great data and exhibits.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
June 12, 2009 was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Tokyo- just as all of 2009 is the 50th anniversary of Noboru Aota's 1959 farewell- his final goodbye to his slugging days.
Sorry for the second interruption to this post, but its important to point out that the middle of 2009 is, along with the 50th anniversary of so many things, also the start of Aota's eternal residence in the HOF.
On July 24, Noboru Aota was inducted into the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame in a ceremony on the field of the Sapporo Dome. Accepting the honor was his widow, Michiko, along with his grandson, and they can be seen here on the English version of the Japan HOF website. Keep watch on that site- on September 28, the English translations of the new Hall of Famer's plaques (including Aota's) will go live. I was fortunate enough to participate in the translation process and assist Mr. Ryuichi Suzuki (who is in charge of International Public Relations for the Hall of Fame) with the final edits of the text that will not only appear on the site, but hang in the Hall of Fame gallary under the actual plaques. Please check out Mr. Suzuki's hard work here on Sept. 28. And now, the intermissionagain- 1959, fifty years ago this fall, was the end of Noboru Aota's final season as a player, retiring as the all time leader in home runs and number three all time in rbi; fifty years ago...
George Will recently wrote an article disputing the idea that any date, any year, can truly be seen as "changing everything", in which he highlighted the year 1959 as an arguably pivotal year in American history- that is, he argues, if you can consider any year (or decade, for that matter) more pivotal than any other. In 1959, Will points out, Miles Davis recorded the defining record in the evolution of Jazz, the first Americans were slain in Vietnam, the birth control pill was approved by the government, and Lady Chatterley's lover was published. Monumental steps in the development of our cultural and political history, but steps no larger or smaller than those before or after. It was in this year, 1959, Sadaharu Oh's rookie year, the middle of an era, the beginning and the end.
It was, then, in the Spring of 1959, that Noboru Aota began his final year as a player, and prepared for the transition to the coaches bench. Though he hit .270 in 64 games, only three of his hits were home runs- the third, coming most likely sometime in mid July just before manager and ally Fujimoto was fired- it being number 265, a record that would stand for the next five years. He had already cemented his lead in the all time HR category in 1956- by June 24 of that year he had hit the 222nd dinger of his career, and only a few games after that hit his 225th, putting him ahead of Fumio Fujimura as all time leader. He would hit 40 more in his career, but would remain number one for the rest of his career and long after, finally being overtaken in 1963. After a lackluster 1958 (though, not dissimilar to his first season with the Whales), he landed back with the team that had given him a spot after the war, way back in '46- the Hankyu Braves (see image above). Hankyu (who evolved, eventually, into the Orix Blue Wave, and now the Buffaloes), coming off of a third place season, may have been looking for a power boost- their leading slugger in 1958 had 12 hr and less than 60 rbi. It may have just been a homecoming- manager Satayoshi Fujimoto, who had been at the healm of the Giants way back in '42 and had given Noboru his first chance in pro baseball as well as with Yomiuri, providing a comfortable slot in which Aota could finish out his career. In the end, he did not add much pop to the lineup, but more than likely some veteran leadership- either way, the Braves sank to fifth, 40 games out of first. He did, though, lead the team in batting, despite less than 200 plate appearances, and his experience providing an extra coach for the team struggling to climb to a pennant. However, with the July 26th firing of Fujimoto, playing time and innings were few and far between.
Aota shared the outfield on the next-to-last place Braves with Seizo Furukawa (right), also in the twilight of his career. When he retired, Furukawa was fourth on the all time stolen base leader list, and, along with Tokuji Iida, was the only player to amass more than 50 HR and 300 SB in a career, and his 55 triples put him in the top 15. He is still number 10 on the all time stolen bases list.
Like Aota, Furukawa had begun his career in the lean years before the war, coming up with the Dragons as a catcher. He quickly developed into a powerhouse, leading the league in homers in both '42 and '43. After three seasons behind the plate, Furukawa moved to the outfield upon his post-war return to Nagoya. In 1947, he tied Aota for third in the league in HR, but was still traded the next season to the Braves, where he remained for the rest of his career.
There, he quietly combined power and speed for the hapless Braves- though he regularly scored 60-70 runs per season, the Braves never placed higher than second in the Pacific league. During that lone winning year, 1952, he was teamed with Larry Raines, who led the league in runs scored. Over the years Furukawa was teamed with several speedsters, including Raines and Chico Barbon, who pushed him while at the same time overshadowing, season by season, his accomplishments. However, Furukawa (below) was consistant, and his 796 career runs scored rank with the top five run scorers of the post war period. Added to that are his 617 rbi, 370 sb and 2071 total bases- contributions to the Braves that definitely mark him as their MVP position player of the 50's.
Springtime 1959- Sadaharu Oh played his first game on April 11, launching a remarkable career, but April 11 also marked the end of his pitching career when he strode out to first base, a pitching career that had first brought him to fame. It marked the end of one golden age, the beginning of another golden age of baseball in Japan, yet it was just a continuation, another great season for some and a bittersweet transition for others. The end for so many of Aota's former teammates as it was the end for Aota, just as it was a transition for so many of them, including Aota, to the bench. For Aota, that meant joining forces with his old mentor Fujimoto, who had, by 1962, moved over to the Tigers, bringing along Noboru to begin a coaching career that would last another two decades. By the end of his coaching career in 1980, he was alongside Oh once again as he finished out his career; far from his start, in 1942, a teammate of Victor Starffin, in the thick of the Second World War...
Soon, the final installment of the miracles post and the continuation of the review of catchers in the post-war era.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Fred Exley knew that getting off the couch was a miracle- that relativity was in play at the most complex functions of physics as well as the most commonplace actions of each and every human. The real miracle is in not just being; and the real heroes are just those that hold on to "that awful dream of fame". Hard work and consistency make for lasting fame, for those strange-but-true gods of the diamond, but it's the fans that hold on to the awful dreams
There is no miracle in baseball that even comes close to immortilization in the Hall of Fame. Two grand slams in a game is slightly beyond reason, but it is only for one game, consistancy for a brief period, but not for the long haul- Babe Ruth never hit two grand slams in a game, and neither did Sadaharu Oh.
The odds of a player making it through the lower levels, staying healthy and focused enough, and then waiting for the luck it takes to actually be noticed. Once noticed, the miracle is in the timing- lucking onto a team that has the right opening at the right time. If Wally Yonemine doesn't give up first base, do the Giants give a chance to the failed pitcher Sadaharu Oh? One would guess with a talent like Oh's, there would be no problem; but what about those that had to fight, like Hoyt Wilhelm or Motoshi Fujita, who did not make it to the majors until their late 20's and still put together HOF careers?
Between 1937, when the MVP was first awarded to Eiji Sawamura, and 1980, only one catcher, Katsuya Nomura, was so honored as Most Valuable Player. His first award came in 1961, suggesting that no catcher dominated the league to that point. In addition to having no MVP catchers, the post-war era failed to produce a hall of fame catcher, and, in fact, only one pre-war professional catcher, Masahaki Yoshihara, has been elected to the Hall.
Of the one hundred and fifty five players (see list below as well as in post no. 3) who caught at least one professional game in Japan between 1946 and 1955, only two of them, Nomura and Masaaki Mori, made the Hall, and their rookie seasons were at the end of that period. Do any of the others deserve the honor? Or even just the recognition of greatness that membership in the Hall of Fame confers? The first place to look is the Best Nine award.
Read Jim Albright 's excellent statistical analysis of the best players of each decade, and Takeshi Doigaki stands out- the best catcher of the post war period. The numbers don't lie. Like the MVP award, the Best Nine awards were not awarded annually until after the war. The winners for Best Nine were first named in 1947, and the first three for catcher (in the one league system, only one player for each position was so honored) were awarded to Takeshi Doigaki.
Doigaki (right, along with Tiger pitcher Tadayoshi Kajioka) played for three years before the war starting in 1940, and led the Tigers in runs scored in '42, splitting catching and infield duties with the few remaining men not yet on the front lines. When everyone returned in 1946, Doigaki took over as primary catcher for the Tigers, catching in 87 games and finishing the season in the top three in batting, hits and at bats, and in the top ten in almost every other offensive category.
It was not until the next year, though, that the first Best Nine's were awarded since 1940, and Doigaki won the first of six straight as a catcher. Despite hitting .259, he was in the top 15 in the league, once again, in most offensive categories, and, along with Masumi Isekawa, was the best hitting catcher in the league. Looking at the starting catcher for each team in '47, here is a list in order of runs created that season:
Tigers- Takeshi Doigaki- 52.25
Robins- Masumi Isekawa- 41.20
Flyers- Keiichiro Suzuki- 28.90
Giants- Tetsunosuke Fujiwara- 28.87
Braves- Takeshi Hibino- 24.83
Hawks- Keizo Tsutsui- 16.70
Giants- Tamatsu Uchibori- 16.34(for more on Uchibori, see here)
Stars- Isao Tsuji- 11.84
His 52 runs created compared to teamates Fumio Fujimura's and Shosei Go's 59 and 55, respectively, and trailing only Tigers leader Masayasu Kaneda's 68, on par with Hiroshi Oshita's 89 runs created, Tetsuharu Kawakami's 79 runs created, and Kazuto Tsuruoka's 69 runs created. In addition, he handled the best pitching staff in the league, with Bozo Wakabayashi, Tadayoshi Kajioka and Takao Misonoo winning 26, 22, and 18 games (respectively), and only one pitcher with a losing record (1-2) to bring Hanshin the pennant for last time in the one-league era.
After a stellar 1948, he dominated in '49- with a .328 average, fourth in the league, 86 rbi and 16 home runs.
In 1950, the new Pacific League included several newly formed teams, including the Orions, tucked away in Chiba City and soon to be stocked with stars. Kaoru Betto jumped from the Tigers to the Orions along with a streak of his teammates, including Shosei Go, Bozo Wakabayashi, Yasuya Hondo, and Takeshi Doigaki (at left, with new hat). Doigaki did not skip a beat, and won the first three Best Nine awards for a catcher offered in the Pacific League, leaving him with 6 straight awards, a feat topped only by Kastsuya Nomora and Masahiko Mori (the only two post-war catchers in the HOF).
The first Japan Series at the end of that season found the two best catchers from the Pacific and Central Leagues squaring off against each other. Shoji Arakawa, the Best Nine winner for the Robins, out-hit Doigaki (and, incedently, out-hit the rest of his team as well), but did not control his pitching staff as well. Doigaki caught all six games and led the Orions to the first Japan series win. He was never quite as productive in his last few seasons, with the Flyers and Braves, but finished out his career leading all catchers in most lifetime batting categories.
Doigaki again narrowly edged out Masumi Isekawa (below) in 1950 for Best Nine- Isekawa slugged 13 homers along with his .296 average for the third place Stars. Though a consistent slugger for a catcher, Isekawa would always be overshadowed, making only one All-Star team (along with Matsui and Tsutsui in '53) and never making it to a Japan Series.
Charlie Lewis (or Charlie Luis- see March 21, 2007 post here) took over the catching reins for the Hawks when Doigaki moved on to the Flyers in 1954, and proceded to win back to back Best 9's. However, his 22 errors in 1954 (a Pacific League record according to Japan Baseball Daily) demonstrate the focus of the award on hitting prowess over fielding percentage. Charlie left Japan after the 54 season, most likely going back to Hawaii or the West Coast of the US, and leaving the Best Nine to Katsuya Nomura, who took over the next season as the premier catcher in the Pacific League, overshadowing Doigaki's legacy as the best catcher, and the best hitting catcher, of the post war era.
Overshadowed by Doigaki, Luis and Nomura was Keizo Tsutsui, who, as the steady catcher for the Nankai Hawks during the first decade after the end of the war caught in more games than any other catcher of the era without playing any other position. From '46 to '49, he was the primary catcher for the Hawks, handling pitchers like Takehiko Bessho, Nobuo Nakatani, Susumu Yuki and Shisho Takesue.
He hit only .236 lifetime, but this is a testament to his defensive prowess, as he was not only the starting catcher for the Hawks for the first 5 years after the war, but also split duties with his protoge, Jun Matsui, Best 9 catcher in the gap year between the end of Doigaki's rein and the Luis/Nomura years, for the first five years of the 50's. (In fact, they split the catching duties in several Japan Series, including 1953, when Matsui, who hit only .083 to Tsutsui's .375, slammed a home run in game seven, a solo shot that almost put the Hawks up enough to win the game, and the Series). On top of that, Tsutsui was voted to two All-Star teams ('53 & '55) at the end of his decade-long run with the team, during which he played in 4 Japan Series (including being present for Noboru Aota's only Japan Series home run in game 2 of the '51 series) as the crew chief for the Hawks' million dollar infield.
Below is a list of catchers who played their entire career behind the plate without ever moving to another position; and, as this post focuses solely on the post-war era, it includes only those who played at least one game in the decade following the war (1946-1955)- Mori and Yamashita both played the majority of their careers after this period (though Yamashita did start in 1950, playing 532 of those in the post war period), leaving Tsutsui (below right) at the top:
Mori, Masahiko 1884
Yamashita, Ken 1232
Tsutsui, Keizo 1052
Yamamoto, Tetsuya 854
Tokuami, Shigeru 782
Matsui, Jun 679
Kawahara, Masakazu 497
Kiori, Takeyoshi 452
Hara, Katsuhiko 418
Kanbayashi, Shigejiro 323
Kamiichi, Akio 298
Yoshimura, Iwao 285
Yamada, Seizaburo 274
Inoue, Shinichiro 234
Tsuji, Isao 218
Recca, Sal 190
Nemoto, Rikuo 186
Ai, Toshiharu 147
Kotani, Nobuo 101
Higashiguchi, Kiyomi 97
Kotsuji, Hideo 66
Hasebe, Minoru 64
Onodera, Katsuo 62
Okamoto, Mitsuo 54
Munesue, Susumu 53
Wanaka, Michio 53
Arai, Kuzuhiro 48
Atsui, Kiyoshi 48
Kinoshita, Ikuhiko 44
Matsuhashi, Yoshiki 41
Murokawa, Mitsuo 41
Etoh, Daisuke 36
Goto, Hiroyuki 36
Goto, Jinjiro 30
Matsumoto, Isamu 28
Ikehata, Tadao 18
Itoh, Haruo 18
Matsunaga, Eiichi 18
Kawague, Kameiji 17
Ezaki, Masayoshi 16
Hasebe, Eiichi 16
Ichiyanagi, Tadano 16
Kawakami, Michiro 15
Inagawa, Goichi 14
Takahashi, Kazuo 12
Katsuta, Ko 10
Mimura, Tadashi 10
Ogawa, Hideo 9
Taniguchi, Kineji 6
Harada, Yasuaki 4
Nakashizu, Tadahachi 4
Sugiyama, Tetsuo 4
Nakamura, Kunio 3
Sakurai, Sadao 3
Kawase, Hiroyuki 2
Nagai, Yojiro 2
Sakurai, Taro 2
Tohno, Mayumi 2
Kawai, Shizuo 1
Kitamura, Shuichi 1
Taki, Hideo 1
Takiguchi, Toyohiro 1
Yamamoto, Fumiya 1
The rest of this post, including the Central League catchers and the 'Moonlight Graham"'s, will be covered in part 3, which is almost done and will be up as soon as the couch allows....
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Preparations for pt. 2 of the Miracles post has taken longer than expected, so here is a short piece on another great player from the 1950's in Japan. Most well known to American fans of Japanese baseball are the former major league players who have made their way to NPB for one reason or another, guys like Davy Johnson, Dave Hilton, , even Cecil Fielder. They have generally stayed a few years before trying to make an MLB comeback or hanging up their spikes. Even Hall of Famer Larry Doby played 72 games for the Dragons in 1962, hitting 10 home runs in 268 plate attempts. But it was not the former MLB players that forged the path for foreign players in Japan- it was the Nisei scrappers in the 1950's, the Wally Yonemine's, the Dick Kashiwaida's, and the Fibber Hirayama's.
Fibber (Satoshi) Hirayama (above) was born in California, not Hawaii, like many of the other Nisei stars, and played a season for the Stockton (CA) Ports, a team in the St. Louis Browns farm system, before making his way to Japan. After getting out of the army, Wally Yonemine and Kenichi Zenimura put him in contact with the Hiroshima Carp, a team only five years old playing in a town just ten years past the devastation of atomic warfare. According to the excellent Through a Diamond: 100 Years of Japanese American Baseball, Fibber had been playing baseball in a Japanese Internment Camp in Arizona at the time the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. Following a stint in the Army and his time with the Ports, Hirayama arrived in Hiroshima less than a decade after that bomb had redefined the terms of war and changed the city forever, and the Carp seemed to be the only bright spot in the lives of the people that still inhabited the coastal town. Much has been written about Fibber, the finest being an article by Marc Harris (who wrote the novel Bang the Drum Slowly) for Sports Illustrated in 1958- it covers the 10,000 fan greeting Fibber received upon his arrival in Hiroshima, and the wave of excitement he inspired. The Carp were coming off their best season yet, thanks to their young pitcher Ryohei Hasegawa and the arrival of Makoto Kozuru, and, though they would love their team whether or not they won a single game, the prospect of a winning season seemed to arrive with the young American.
Two teammates helped him feel more at home. One was Kenshi Zenimura, also from Fresno, son of Kenichi Zenimura, one of the most influential Nisei in American Baseball who led the charge to organize teams in the Japanese internment camps set up by the US government during WWII like the teams Fibber played on. The other was Jiro Kaneyama (see Feb. 20 post in this blog), who had arrived with Kozuru and shared the speed and aggressive style of play that Fibber excelled at. In his first season with the Carp, the rookie Hirayama stole 25 bases, third on the Carp behind Kanayama and Kozuru, and scored 46 runs and played the outfield with a strong and aggressive throwing arm. According to Harris, Kaneyama also raved about Fibber's leadership qualities, taking charge on a team that had not yet found its center. The result was the best Carp team yet, winning 58 games and finishing 4th in the Central League, bolstered by Ryohei Hasegawa's 30 wins. Unfortunately, though Fibber would improve in the years to come, this would be the highest placing the Carp would be able to achieve during his stay.
1956 would be his most productive year, though the Carp finished the season 37 games behind Central League champs Giants. Fibber drove in 46 runs while scoring 52, and stole 34 bases, second in the league behind Yoshio Yoshida. He led the Carp in almost every batting category except HR, and his 10 were second, making him one of the few in the Central League that season to make it into double digits with home runs- the league leader that year with 25 was Noboru Aota of the Whales.
With the Carp until 1964, Fibber was consistently productive, continually creating 50 or so runs per year with his speed and aggressive play (and most likely a lot more with his excellent defensive skills) while helping Hiroshima break the .500 mark for the first time in their history in 1960 and making the '56 and '58 All-Star Teams along the way. Since Gold Glove awards were not issued until the early 1970's, he was never so honored, but the anecdotal evidence suggests he deserved quite a few. In the field he gave his all until the end of his career, and ended up staying in Hiroshima as a coach, scout and community member.
In addition to being a great, hustling ballplayer, Fibber was also one of the few bespectacled players in post-war Japanese Baseball, along with my favorite Shissho Takesue (to be covered in a later post) and many others. Below is an attempt to compile a list of all bespectacled players from that era- this is an incomplete list, so please, if you have names to add, include them in a comment and they will be added:
There are still a bunch missing, so please write in if you have any names to add. The second part of Miricles should be done soon, so stay tuned....
Monday, May 11, 2009
Miracles (pt. 1)
The other night I witnessed, first hand, something miraculous. Chris Richard of the Durham Bulls hit 2 grand slams in the same game, the first player to accomplish the feat in the league since 1957.
In 1936, Tony Lazzeri became the first player to hit two grand slams in one game- not home runs, but grand slams- and only eleven players have done it since in the majors (including Fernando Tatis hitting two in the same inning). In the roughly 300,000 games played since the turn of the 20th Century, only 12 players have done it. In the roughly 50,000 games played in the history of professional baseball in Japan, only one man has done it. Shigeya Iijima.
After the war, Iijima joined the Senators, who would become the Flyers the following year. During the 1946 season, his rookie season, he finished the season seventh in batting with a .312 average and second in home runs with 12, 8 behind fellow rookie and teammate HOF'er Hiroshi Oshita. He also led the Senators in runs, hits, doubles and walks to give him a league leading .426 OBP. All this while splitting fielding duties between first and third base. The following two seasons, the bespectacled Iijima's performance slowly declined, and by the middle of the 1948 season he was only hitting .206 and splitting first base duties with five other players. The presence of three future Hall of Famers, compounded by his age (born in 1918, he had been a 28 year old rookie in '46 and was now looking to be an old 30) most likely led the Flyers to believe that his poor numbers were not going to ever rebound- he was expendable. The following season he found himself, along with Makoto Kozuru (another future HOF teammate from the Flyers in '48), on the Stars of Daiei- leading them to a third place finish, five and a half games ahead of the Flyers. The pair led the Stars in almost every category, and the 31 year old Iijima finished the season with a .548 slugging percentage and 25 home runs, as well as 67 walks, all within the top five in the league.
The following season, several teams were added and two leagues were formed, and Iijima and the Stars took up shop in the new Pacific League. Even with the dramatic rise in stats that resulted from the influx of new players and new stadiums, Iijima still placed third in the PL in home runs and slugging percentage, and won his first of three Best Nine awards for the outfield. With the departure of Kozuru to the Robins, Iijima became the power-center of the Stars, leading them in almost every offensive category (though it is important to point out that Victor Starrfin, while pitching 35 games for the Stars, filled in a number of times at first base, compiling 114 at bats with at .333 batting average, 18 rbi and a .468 slugging percentage). During that four year span ('49-'52) Iijima's slugging percentage never dipped below .500, and he was the premiere run producer for his team (though the Stars never placed higher than third).
His least productive year during that span was 1951, yet it was in October of that year that he hit his two grand slams (off of a fairly terrible Braves pitching staff that had only one pitcher [4-3] with a record over .500). How was it that Iijima came to perform such a feat- a very good hitter at the tail end of a "dead ball" era, though certainly not at the top of the power-hitting elite in the league? Was his performance that October a fluke, or the rest of his career just unlucky enough to fall at the wrong time? Why has no one else done this- and why Iijima? How much does chaos and randomness affect the performan, and legacy, of a player- how does it ensure his place in any "hall of fame"? More on this in part II of this post.
A .282 career hitter, his 115 home runs were enough to place him at 11 on the all time home run list when he retired in 1955. Though he did not play long enough to compile the stats one might associate with a Hall of Famer, he packed a lot of power into a career that essentially began when he was 30 because of the war. What was more impressive was his eye, as in his batting eye. For every strikeout in his career, he drew 1.52 walks- only Kawakami, the God of Batting, had a higher percentage, with a 1.92 walk to strikeout ratio. Here is a list of the top eleven home run hitters of all time at the end of the 1955 season, along with their walk to strikeout ratio:
Tetsuharu Kawakami 1.92
Shigeya Iijima 1.52
Fujio Fujimura 1.48
Karao Betto 1.25
Yoshiyuki Iwamoto 1.16
Tokuji Iida 1.06
Michio Nishizawa 1.04
Makoto Kozuru 1.02
Hiroshi Oshita 0.87
Noboru Aota 0.74
Satoru Sugiyama 0.47
Just for comparison, here are the ratios for Bonds, Ruth and Aaron, respectively: 1.66, 1.55, 1.01. Some may say that the role of a power hitter is not to walk, but to hit the ball hard- but the name of the game is scoring runs, and if a power hitter can also get on base, they are a double threat.
During Iijima's last season with the Stars, he hit only 10 home runs, but he was still in the top 25 hitters in the league, drove in 60 runs and made the all-star team. Despite being, by far, the best player on the Stars that year, he found himself the following year, 1955, on the best team in the league- the Hawks. He provided depth for the Hawks, who went on to almost beat the Giants that year in a thrilling seven game Japan Series, but hit a disappointing .180 in 73 games and retired at the end of the season.
In the next post, look for more miracles- an analysis of a group under-represented in the Hall of Fame, and how random luck and fate plays a role in their legacies.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The 1936 season, split into a tournament style competition in the Spring and a more conventional schedule in the Fall, kicked off professional baseball in Japan. Everything was new, and no player exceeded 150 at bats. The home run leader that Fall slugged 2, and the stolen base leader, Hisonori Karita, ended up with 16. Number four on that SB list, and in the top ten in batting and rbi, was Seiichi (or Kiyokazu) Hayashi, patrolling the outfield for the Kyojin in both the Spring and Fall seasons. In the Spring tournament he, along with Harayasu Nakajima, led the Giants with 1 home run, and in the Fall he led the new-born Giants in batting, rbi, stolen bases and hits. The Giants, the premiere team in 1936, a team that had already been playing professionally longer than any other team, won the first championship that year despite going 18-9 to the Tigers 24-6 due to their dominance in the tournaments played earlier in the season. One reason for that dominance was their ace, Eiji Sawamura, who outpitched everyone and went 13 and 2 in 15 games, winning almost twice as many games as his nearest competitor.
Unfortunately for both Hayashi and the Giants, he was drafted into the military in January of 1937 (according to Japan Baseball Daily), and would not return to a Giants uniform until 1940, after which he was never very affective and ultimately retired at the end of the 1947 season, another casualty of the long Pacific War.
During that mythic 1936 season, Hayashi patrolled the pre-Korakuen outfield with a sometime pitcher, sometime infielder, jack-of-all-trades named Hachiro Maekawa. While not providing pitching support to the Hall-of-Fame aces of the early Giants pitching staff, he filled gaps and supported every aspect of the team from 1936 through 1938. Though he played some in the industrial leagues, his true calling was in coaching young ballplayers. Born in Hyogo Prefecture, he returned to manage the Takigawa Middle School team, where, in the early 1940's, he taught the finer points of the game to a young Noboru Aota (below).
In 1946, with all of the weary soldiers returning from the war, Aota found himself on the Braves with an old friend and teacher in the bullpen- Maekawa. He pitched well, winning three and losing three while providing veteran leadership to a young pitching staff and easing young Aota back into the league that he would soon dominate.
The benefit Aota gained from not only learning the game early from a member of the original professional team in Japan, but also having the chance to then share the clubhouse and bench with that same teacher, cannot be measured. No doubt he received more intimate coaching and feedback than his teamates, and it is no wonder that he honed his skills so quickly and was back with the Giants within 2 years, setting records as a superstar.
Up Next: Miracles!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Kazuo Kasahara was robbed- not until the two league system formed in 1950 was an award given to the rookie of the year. Maybe it's fitting that Kasahara had his phenomenal 1948 season before the award existed- stats like those deserved a rookie of the decade award.
In right field for the Hawks in 1948, sharing the outfield with Toshio Kawanishi and Kazuo Horii, the rookie Kasahara became the first player in the history of professional baseball in Japan to hit 40 doubles. At the same time, he became the first player to score 100 runs in a season, no doubt aided by Hall of Famer Tokuji Iida's 92 rbi (though his 72 rbi placed him second on the Hawks, four ahead of manager/infielder/HOF star and 1948 MVP Tsuruoka). This combination of talent brought the Nankai team the first of several championships they would win over the next decade.
With Takahiso Bessho and Susumi Yumi on the mound, and fellow rookie Chisuke Kizuka already tearing up the basepaths, Kasahara and the Hawks won the second to last championship of the one-league system, edging out Aota, Kawasaki and the powerful Giants by 5 games. This was the beginning of a dynasty that would capture four of the first six Pacific League Championships.
A key factor in that dynasty would join the Hawks two years later, and win the 1951 Rookie of the Year while sharing first names with Kasahara (too bad they could not share the ROY award).
Sharing the infield duties up the middle with Chusuke Kizuka, as well as at the hot corner, Kazuo Kageyama (right) blazed into the Hawks line-up in the first year of the Pacific league and set the record for triples in a season (only to be broken the following season by Masayasu Kaneda- see below). While Kizuka was setting the mark for stolen bases in a season, Kageyama's triples helped the powerless Hawks (they were perennially at the bottom of the home run list) establish themselves as one of, if not the top team in the Pacific League. This combination of speed and golden gloves (the Hawks were at the bottom of the errors list each season as well) helped Kageyama, Kizuka, the veterans Tsuruoka, Kasahara and Iida, win and win- beating out the Lions, their nearest competitor in 1951, by 18 and a half games.
The Million Dollar Infield of Kageyama, Kizuka, Tsuruoka, Iida and Okamoto won the Best Nine (that is, a Hawk won the Best Nine for each infield position) in both 1951 and 1952, a feat that would not be accomplished again until the 1968 Giants, who also added catcher Masahiko Mori to the Best Nine trophy case - the Hawks would have accomplished it twice more, in 1953 and 1955, if not for the stellar play of Futushi Nakanishi at third base for the Lions.
In that 1951 season, Kageyama led the league in triples for the second season in a row (including becoming the first player after the war to hit three triples in a game, still a record tied with six others), while also leading in runs scored and coming in second in batting (behind Oshita, by an amazing .068!- .383 to .315). His 42 stolen bases ranked third (Kizuka was, once again, first), and his .403 on base percentage was second on the Hawks to fellow Kazuo, Kasahara's .418. That season, Kasahara (the other Kazuo, rookie of the 40's) also led the Hawks with a .507 slugging percentage, and provided the veteran leadership the Hawks needed- two years later, however, he was shipped off to the Unions.
Kazuo Kageyama, however, stayed with the Hawks until 1959 (when, after winning five of the first ten Pacific League pennants, the Hawks finally won their first Japan Series), but his productivity took a nose dive after the 1954 season. He led the league in triples almost every season until then, was the Pacific League's leader in triples for the 50's, and he is in the top 15 all time.
"The real trouble with war (modern war) is that it gives no one a chance to kill the right people." Ezra Pound said that in an epilogue to his tribute to Gaudier-Brzeska, the young sculptor who, days before being killed in an attack on Neuville St. Vaast, carved the Virgin Mary from the discarded butt of a rifle- an enthusiastic participant in the defense of France during the first World War- and at the same time a man of sensitive yet blinding artistic vision.
The image of Japanese ballplayers off to war is much like that of Gaudier-Brzeska, instead carving bats from the discarded rifles before charging out of the trench to their destiny. Even star players were thrust into glorious, yet terrifying roles that resulted in kamikaze missions and POW camps. The 1946 season, statistically at least, shows the weariness of that war- and the toll it took on all of the players who returned. Masayasu Kaneda, however, seems to have escaped that weariness. He came back with energy- in 1946 he not only led the league in batting, but set a new record for hits. A career Hanshin Tiger, and the popular captain of the team in the 50's, Kaneda played three lackluster seasons before the war, but returned to hit .347 while collecting 200 total bases for the first of 5 seasons. His true talent was in his combination of speed and power- a talent that led him to be the premier triples hitter in the 1950's.
The following season, in 1947, this talent, along with the blinding speed of Shosei Go and the power of the human locomotive, Fumio Fujimura, led the Tigers to their last championship for decades. Kaneda's 11 triples tied for the league lead, and his .311 average led the Tigers (who, as a team, led all teams in batting average by 25 points) and landed him second in batting in the league. He was also third in the league in runs scored, and carried a .419 slugging percentage.
1948- though he had a decent year (.280 average with 20 stolen bases and 75 runs scored), he was edged out of the limelight by the stars mentioned above- but he returned in 1949 to have his best season. That season he became one of only five players, along with Tokumitsu Harada in 1950, Yoshinori Hirose in 1965, Kenjiro Tamiya in 1956, and Kazuo Matsui in 2000, to hit at least 10 triples and 10 home runs while also stealing at least 20 bases and hitting 30 doubles (a 10, 10, 20, 30). (Yutaka Fukumoto came close in 1973 with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 13 home runs and 95 stolen bases, as did Toshio Naka several times in the 1960s, Shoichi Busujima in 1962, Shigeo Nagashima in 1960, Yasumitsu Toyoda in 1956, and Karao Betto in 1952.) This all around speed and power helped Kaneda score 108 runs and carry a .464 slugging percentage in that last year of the one league system.
After an off year in 1950, Kaneda had a career year in 1951- setting the all time mark for triples in a season (18), while hitting .322 and slugging .511. His 58 rbi and 81 runs scored kept up his eight year average of at least 50 rbi and 70 runs (1946-1953, though in two seasons he dipped one or two runs/rbis below average). Though the Tigers finished third, 20 games behind the powerful Giants, they were in close competition with the second place Dragons thanks to Kaneda's year. Along with Noboru Aota and Yoshiyuki Iwamoto, he was elected to the Best Nine- Outfield for the second of three times in his career.
By the end of his record setting season, he had accumulated 74 career triples (a total that would reach 103 by the time he retired in 1957), putting him one ahead of Shosei Go on the all time list, a position he would hold until 1970 when Shoichi Busujima (who had ended the 1969 season tied with Kaneda at 103, and who will be covered in a later post) surpassed him for the number one spot. Only Kaneda, Busujima and Hall of Famer Yutaka Fukumoto have over 100 lifetime triples- of those three Kaneda accomplished the feat in the fewest amount of at bats (5354ab to 7148 and 8745 ab, respectively). In addition, he hit more than 10 triples in a season six times, a feat no one has matched. And every season that he led the league in triples, he also led the league in doubles. His ability to consistently put himself into scoring position helped him to score 881 times, placing him at number three on the all time list when he retired in 1957- behind only Kawakami and Makoto Kozuru- as one of the premier run producers of the 1950's.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
1948! (pt. 1)
The year 1948 was the first power year in Japanese professional baseball. It was the first season in which any players reached the 100run, 100rbi, 25 home run, 40 double plateaus, and it was also the season in which records would be set in almost every major hitting category only to be immediately broken the following two seasons. It was the first season that Noboru Aota was back on the team to which his spirit was tethered - the Giants- and he declared his jubilation with power.
The first real season after the war- the season opening less than three years after the final bombs dropped on Tokyo, after THE bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of the players in the league were former soldiers, and some of their former teammates were still in POW camps in Siberia and Northern China. Even the superstars, like Hiroshi Oshita, had been in line as Kamakazi pilots, prepared to give their lives for the Emperer. All of Japan was hungry and food was scarce- see the Kurosawa film “One Wonderful Sunday” to see the kids playing baseball in the middle of a dusty street, in a Tokyo that looks more like an old village than a bustling metropolis.
Between the two of them, Aota and Tetsuharu Kawakami (the "God of Hitting") hit 50 hr, more than any other team (besides the Tigers, who matched the pair with exactly 50) hit during the course of the first long (140game) season in the league's history. Records were set- Aota set the single season record for hits with 174, hr with 25, and missed by one to become one of the first three to break the 100 rbi plateau (the other two were Fujimura and teamate Kawakami). Kazuo Kasahara would become the first player to post 100 runs and 40 doubles in a season (more on him in pt. 2 of this post), and it was the first season since 1938 (aside from the war shortened '44 season) that at least one pitcher did not win 30 or more games).
It was not until he returned to the Giants that he was voted to the best 9 for outfielders, along with Kaoru Betto and Michinori Tsubouchi, with 19 stolen bases on top of 25 home runs and 99 rbi. and a .306 avg- the first of five times in his career. He led the Giants in AB, Hits, Runs, Total Bases and caught stealing.
He was second in the league in slugging with a .499 avg, trailing Kawakami by .023, and was second on the Giants in SB. Aota's 52 strike outs led the Giants, but trailed league leader Satoshi Sugiyama’s 86 by more than a few. This was just a warm up for his spectacular 1950 season in which his 134 rbi (still in the top 10 for rbi's in a season all-time) were matched by 29 stolen bases and a .332 avg.
But first- in 1948 Aota, his first season back with the Giants, came close to winning the triple crown, with a legue leading .306 average and 25 home runs, something not done since his teammate, Harayasu Nakajima (the Roger Connor of Japan, if you can swallow that type of analogy) had won it in 1938. No one would win a triple crown until 1965, though many came close: here is a list of players who led in two of the three TC categories (hr)(rbi)(avg) in a season between 1939-1964:
(C)=Central League, (P)=Pacific League
1939 Tetsuharu Kawakami (_)(75)(.338)
1941 Tetsuharu Kawakami (_)(57)(.310)
1947 Hiroshi Oshita (17)(_)(.315)
1948 Noboru Aota (25)(_)(.306)
1950(C) Makoto Kozuru (51)(161)(_)
1950(P) Karao Betto (43)(105)(_)
1951(C) Noboru Aota (32)(105)(_)
Though the list makes the feat seem easy, it is important to note that only four succeeded in leading the league in both Home Runs and Batting in the same season: Aota, Oshita (twice), Nakanishi and Nagashima.
Several players during this time led in two of the three catagories more than once, but only five of those players led in each category at least once:
Aota, Nakanishi and Nagashima, Kawakami and Fujimura- Oshita was never able to lead in rbi in a season. Only Kawakami accomplished it all in the one league system, and Aota was the only to cross over, leading the league in batting and home runs in the one league system, but leading in rbi in the two league system.
Gabriel Schechter recently wrote a great article for the HOF web site about career Triple Crown winners in MLB, highlighting the 9 players who led the league in each of the triple crown categories at least once in their career. So here is a list of all NPB players who led the league in each of the triple crown categories at least once (leaving out the triple crown winners: Nakajima, Oh, Nomura, Bass, Ochiai, and Wells):
In 1948, the Giants had a winning percentage over .600 but still lost out to the Hawks by 4 games. Though the Giants hit twice as many home runs as the Hawks that season, the Hawks stole almost 90 more bases than Yomiuri, and outpaced them in runs, hits, doubles and triples. Though future Giants star Takehiko Bessho won 26 games for the Hawks, their pitching did not compare to the Giants. Yomiuri had two 27 game winners- hall of famer Hiroshi Nakao, who posted a 1.84 era and 187 strike outs (leading the league), and Tokuji Kawasaki:
In 1948 Kawasaki posted a 2.32 era and 82 K's along with a 27-15 record. But it was his 12 shutouts in 25 complete games (still in the top 5 all time for a season), leading the Giants and the league, that belied his true talent. It was said that his shuuto was excellent (see Remembering Japanese Baseball for more), and he possessed a wide range of pitches that focused on style instead of overpowering hitters. Despite his ability to shut down opponents in complete game shutouts, when he did give up runs, he gave them up frequently, allowing over 20 home runs in both the 1949 and 1950 seasons.
He began his career before the war with the Hawks, showing potential but losing more games than he won (perhaps due to poor run support?). After the war he joined the Giants and excelled, winning 24, 27 and 19 games in three seasons. His 24 wins in 1947 came in 32 complete games, with a 2.14 era. Despite this stellar record, he was dealt to the Lions (formed the previous November to help populate the new Pacific League) in 1950.
Though he was an All Star in three seasons, he would not regain his 1948 form until the 1953 season. That season, Kawasaki would have faced several future hall of famers, all in the twilight of their careers- the best hitters in the league were all on his team. 1953 was his most prolific season, on a team that would rival the 49 Giants for greatness- though they were only at the early stages. Though the Lions finished in fourth, and under .500, the 1953 team was the germ that would become a contender: Futoshi Nakanishi, in his second year, led the league in home runs, just ahead of his teamate, rookie of the year Yasumitsu Toyoda, and trailed by Seiji Sekiguchi, a left fielder at the start of a great career (more on him in a later post). All three were following the lead of vetern star Hiroshi Oshita, who had been traded to the Lions two seasons before (immediatly after a season in which he set the single season record for batting, which would stand for almost 40 years). These stars would form the nucleus of a lineup that would drive one of the greatest teams in Japanese baseball history.
The addition of aces Sadaaki Nishimura, Kazuhisa Inao, and others would propel the Lions to greatness. Unfortunately, 1953 was Kawasaki's last season as the ace- soon he would be replaced by Inao and the aces of the future. However, his effectiveness as a reliever would help Nishitetsu to the Japan Series in '54, '56 and '57.
He pitched in two Japan Series with the Lions, proving far more effective in the 1954 series, picking up one win and posting a miniscule 0.60 era in 14 innings over 4 games, though the Lions eventually lost. Remarkably, he gave up 8 hits and 5 runs in only 2 innings work, posting a terrible 11.57 era in the Lions first Series victory in 1956. However, the miraculous pitching of rookie of the year Inao covered any poor performance by Kawasaki. His role in the 1957 series seems to have been strictly an advisory on, as he did not appear in any games.
For his career: when he retired in 1957 he was among the top 10 in wins, losses, k’s, shutouts and era. He is still in the top 25 in many of those categories.
Coming soon- 1948! pt. 2...
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Kizuka & Kanayama- Theft Champs of the 1950's
Chusuke Kizuka and Jiro Kanayama are number 4 and 6 on the all time stolen base list, respectively, and are the only players from the immediate post-war era to steal more than 400 bases.
From the beginning of professional baseball in Japan, the inside game has always reigned- speed had always been more popular than power. Read Rob Fitts' book on Wally Yonamine- though the style of base running has changed, the stolen base has been consistently popular throughout- NPB teams averaged 109 sb per season in 1946, 104 for PL in 52, 99 for the CL in 1963, 99 in PL in 1980, 52 by CL in 1993, 67 in PL in 2008. A slight decline, but still enough
From 1956, three years before his retirement, to 1970, Chusuke Kizuka (above right) was the all time stolen base record holder- like Aota, his achievement has been lost to time and the overwhelming achievments of his successors, including Yutaka Fukumoto and his record shattering 1065.
Here is a list of the all-time stolen base leader at the end of each season (2nd place in parentheses)
1936 (S&F)- 27 Karita, Hisanori (17 Matsuki, Kenjiro; Hiramasu, Toshio)
1937 (S&F)- 56 Karita, Hisanori (49 Yamaguchi, Masanobu)
1938 (S&F)- 71 Karita, Hisanori (66 Yamaguchi, Masanobu)
1939- 98 Karita, Hisanori (78 Matsuki, Kenjiro; Shima, Hidenosuke)
1940- 116 Karita, Hisanori (85 Ishida, Masayoshi)
1941- 123 Karita, Hisanori (100 Tsubouchi, Michinori)
1942- 144 Tsubouchi, Michinori (126 Karita, Hisanori)
1943- 180 Tsubouchi, Michinori (154 Go, Shosei)
1944- 196 Tsubouchi, Michinori (173 Go, Shosei)
1946- 222 Tsubouchi, Michinori (200 Yamada, Den)
1947- 243 Tsubouchi, Michinori (238 Go, Shosei)
1948- 273 Go, Shosei (279 Tsubouchi, Michinori)
1949- 287 Go, Shosei (279 Tsubouchi, Michinori)
1950- 316 Go, Shosei (307 Tsubouchi, Michinori)
1951- 344 Tsubouchi, Michinori (316 Go, Shosei)
1952- 344 Tsubouchi, Michinori (316 Go, Shosei)
1953- 344 Tsubouchi, Michinori (341 Kanayama, Jiro)
1954- 374 Kanayama, Jiro (362 Kizuka, Chusuke)
1955- 415 Kanayama, Jiro (400 Kizuka, Chusuke)
1956- 434 Kizuka, Chusuke (433 Kanayama, Jiro)
1957- 464 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1958- 478 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1959- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1960- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1961- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1962- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1963- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1964- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1965- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1966- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1967- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1968- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (456 Kanayama, Jiro)
1969- 479 Kizuka, Chusuke (467 Hirose, Yoshinori)
1970- 495 Hirose, Yoshinori (479 Kizuka, Chusuke)
1971- 531 Hirose, Yoshinori (479 Kizuka, Chusuke)
1972- 573 Hirose, Yoshinori (479 Kizuka, Chusuke)
1973- 577 Hirose, Yoshinori (479 Kizuka, Chusuke)
1974- 583 Hirose, Yoshinori (479 Kizuka, Chusuke)
1975- 593 Hirose, Yoshinori (504 Fukumoto, Yutaka)
1976- 595 Hirose, Yoshinori (566 Fukumoto, Yutaka)
1977- 627 Fukumoto, Yutaka (596 Hirose, Yoshinori)
1988- 1065 Fukumoto, Yutaka (596 Hirose, Yoshinori)
He was voted to the best nine (similar to being an all star, but selected at the end of the season- one for each position including pitcher) as shortstop for the last two years of the one-league system (48 and 49) and as shortstop in the first 3 years of the Pacific League. After one year off he was again voted to the Best 9 as a shortstop in 1955. His best seasons corresponded to the best years of the Hawks, beginning in 1948 when his best-9 performance (assisted by Kazuo Kasahara, who will be discussed in another post soon) at shortstop helped his team capture the championship from the newly invigorated Giants, the only time in Kizuka's career that his Hawks would best the powerful Yomiuri team.
In 1949, Kizuka came close to breaking the single season record for stolen bases, set the year before at 66 by Toshio Kawanishi, and then broke it the following season. That 1950 season was the first following the expansion of the NPB into two leagues, Cental and Pacific. Almost all previous records were broken during that 1950 season, due perhaps to the addition of 7 teams that spread the talent thin. Stolen bases were not immune: Kizuka and Jiro Kanayama set the standard (while shattering Kizuka's previous record) with 78 and 74, respectively. This mark stood until 1956, when it was broken by Akiteru Kono, and then set for good in 1972 by all time stolen base champ and Hall of Famer Yutaka Fukumoto at 106.
Jiro Kanayama (above) began his career in 1943 with the Chunichi Dragons, then known under their war-time moniker of Nagoya, but was used primarily in pinch hit situations as a sacrifice. In '44, however, he led the league in home runs, albeit with 3 in only 35 games. Like Kizuka, he was a middle infielder, and, for most of his career, he was paired with Hall of Famer Makoto Kozoru. They made a good pair in the field as well as at the plate, a fact that is most evident in the 1950 season. While Kozuru led the league in home runs and rbi for the Central League champion Robins, Kanayama led the league in at bats and stolen bases (setting the pace along with Kizuka in the Pacific League) while scoring 104 runs and hitting .311 (and supported by Shoji Arakawa, who led the league in triples and scored 88 runs as well).
Kanayama and Kozuru first played together on Dragons in the inagural season after the war, and helped the last place team in '46 move to 2nd place in '47. The 1947 Dragons were aided by slugger Seizo Furukawa (who will be covered in a later post), whose 11 home runs tied Noboru Aota of the Braves for 3rd on league leaders list. Kozuru and Kanayama moved together to the Flyers in '48, and then together to the Stars in '49, but did not do too much in helping Hiroshi Oshita ('48 HR leader and Flyers star) or Victor Starffin ('49 wins leader and Stars ace) out of the cellar. It was not until they moved (again, together) to the Robins in 1950 that they both hit their stride.
For the next 6 seasons, Kanayama averaged 52 thefts per season, and 68 runs per season, aided by Kozuru's slugging. He led the Cental League, or came in 2nd, in stolen bases every year between 1950 and 1952, but the Robins slid quickly, from champs in '50 to last place in '52. So, in '53, both he and Kozuru moved again, this time to the Hiroshima Carp. There they both wound down their career in Hiroshima [alongside Ryohei Hasegawa, the only hall of fame pitcher with a losing record thanks to the hapless Carp and Fibber Hirayama, who, upon his arrival from California received a huge welcoming parade in Hiroshima], helping the lowly Carp avoid the bottom of the Central league, but never helping them to achieve a .500 mark.
A news magazine recently quoted director Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir) citing his mother as saying "there were no superheroes except for Federico Fellini". Fellini has said that we all have a bit of circus dust in the salty tang of our blood (though Fellini may have been more interested in the clowns than the superheros)- the nature of hero as entertainer as well as warrior- in Japan as well as Rome as well as Israel. Few things in baseball are as entertaining as a stolen base, the air of anticipation, the speed and grace and dramatic meeting of the ball and baserunner. Jackie Robinson steeling home is one of the most culturally significant contributions baseball has made to American culture: think of Jesse Jacksons famous eulogy in which he said that Jackie stole home, and he's safe. Aota, though a warrrior, was entertainer as well, strong as an ox and blasting home runs, fast on the basepaths and the only postwar player to have 250 hr and 150 sb; in addition he is one of only a handful (including Fujimura and most likely a few others) to have over 200hr and 150sb- though the 200/150 club does not have much of a ring to it. A five tool player, as described in the excellent new book by Rob Fitts, was rarely appreciated before Wally Yonemine, and so the 200/150 club members are remembered only for the 200- the heroics of power once again overshadowing the heroics of grace.
Back to the timeline:
Noboru Aota began his career with the Giants in 1942 and 43, but when he returned from the war, he spent two seasons with the Hankyu Braves:
It was with the Braves that he honed the skills that would bring him back to the team most connected with his spirit, the Giants. 1947 saw him tie for 3rd in home runs with Furukawa, and steal 20 or more bases for the second season in a row. The Braves of 46-47 were no powerhouse team, though they had some stars including Den Yamada, the Noguchi brothers (Akira and his Hall of Fame brother Jiro), Rentaro Imanishi, who won 20 games in 47, and Fujio Ueda, who left the Braves the following season to become an umpire. The following season his power and speed would catapult him to the top of the league, and his return to the Giants would help usher in a second golden age for the team.
Next Post: 1948!