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)(_)
1951(P) Hiroshi Oshita (26)(_)(.383)
1952(C) Michiro Nishizawa (_)(98)(.353)
1953(C) Fumio Fujimura (27)(98)(_)
1953(P) Futoshi Nakanishi (36)(86)(_)
1955(C) Tetsuharu Kawakami (_)(79)(.338)
1955(P) Futoshi Nakanishi (35)(_)(.332)
1956(P) Futoshi Nakanishi (29)(95)(_)
1958(C) Shigeo Nagashima (29)(92)(_)
1958(P) Futoshi Nakanishi (23)(_)(.314)
1959(C) Toru Mori (31)(87)(_)
1960(C) Katsumi Fujimoto (22)(76)(_)
1960(P) Kazuhiro Yamauchi (32)(103)(_)
1961(C) Shigeo Nagashima (28)(_)(.358)
1962(C) Sadaharu Oh (38)(85)(_)
1962(P) Katsuya Nomura (44)(104)(_)
1963(C) Shigeo Nagashima (_)(112)(.341)
1963(P) Katsuya Nomura (52)(135)(_)
1964(C) Sadaharu Oh (55)(119)(_)
1964(P) Katsuya Nomura (41)(115)(_)

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):

Noboru Aota
Tetsuharu Kawakami
Futushi Nakanishi
Fujio Fujimura
Shigeo Nagashima
Koji Yamamoto
Kazuhiro Yamauchi
Nobohiko Matsunaka
Michihiro Ogasawara

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

May have spoken too soon about the curse- read Deanna's blurb about what needs to be done....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A new post is coming soon-1948!-, but I thought I would share the news: The Curse of the Colonel has been lifted!
Email Address:

Powered by Feed My Inbox