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!