Saturday, December 26, 2009
Yoshio Tenpo, Yoshio Tenpo
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.