Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bonzai Babe Ruth!

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:

One of the primary reasons for his inclusion in the HOF is his participation on the 1934 All Japan team that battled the American All-Star team that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Moe Berg and a gaggle of stars- NPB & MLB HOFer's. Hamasaki, #22, joined a pitching staff that included Masao Date, Eiji Sawamura, and his future Unions player Starfin- a pitching staff that consisted of the best of all Japan, and that would go on to form the foundation of the professional leagues. Rob Fitts, the author of several great books on the history of Japanese Baseball, including his latest Wally Yonemine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball , is working on a new book about the 1934 tour:

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!
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