Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dobashi, Doigaki and Fujii for the Hall of Fame

Next week the vote for the Hall of Fame class of 2010 will be announced, and the competition is fierce. A number of sure-bet first-rounders (see above, who, nevertheless, did not make it in during their first year) are back, along with some first time entries and players/coaches/managers in the experts group.

The 300 electors in the Players division, 50 electors in the Experts division, and 14 electors of the Special Selection Committee have their choice of a number of stellar players to choose from- too many, almost. From the player group, Ochiai, Akiyama, Hara, Boomer Wells, Kitabeppu, and Arai have our endorsement as players who, if not voted in this year, will eventually (or should eventually) make it into the Hall. Those on the fringes from that group all played in an era that falls outside of the scope of this blog.

In the expert group, only Minagawa and Dobashi began their careers in an era that falls in the outer limits of our scope- Minagawa joins Eto, Tabuchi and Shibata as four who (like the players above) should make it in with no argument. That leaves Masayuki Dobashi (1956-1967) as the player to argue for- the player who, along with Takeshi Doigaki (1940-1957) and Isamu Fujii (1936-1958) (two players who are unfortunately not on the ballot), will be officially endorsed by this blog.

To start with, the argument for Doigaki (right) was made in the previous post on catchers and miracles- his performance in the post war era brought him the first 6 best nine awards ever awarded, and his handling of multiple all-star pitching staff's is a testament to his defensive ability. He even made both the One-League Era All-Decade team as well as the 1950's All Decade team in Jim Albright's rating system. A more detailed analysis of his defensive prowess will be covered soon in an upcoming post.

Masayuki Dobashi is listed in the Experts division as the manager of the 1993 Nippon Ham Fighters- his final post as a manager that included a stint in 1973 with the same team, and three years in the mid-eighties as manager of the Swallows. Overall, it was an unproductive tenure. He finished with a winning percentage below .500 and never placed above 5th. The one bright spot was when he nurtured a young Satoshi Niimi ( in '73 when the Fighters were still the Flyers), who would come in third in the strikeout race that year and was voted Rookie of the Year. One reason for that rookie's success could have been the expertise Dobashi brought in terms of pitching- for seven years in the late 50's and early 60's, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball, and for that reason he should be in the Hall of Fame.

Because he played second fiddle to Kazuhisa Inao in the Pacific League for most of his career, his lack of awards overshadow numbers that justify his enshrinement in the Hall. His career WHIP of 1.06 comes close to Inao's (0.99), and compares to other HOF'ers of the era (Fujita- 1.13; Fujimoto-1.01; Sugishita-1.08). During those seven years mentioned above, he won 20 or more games 5 times, including a 30 win season in '61 (in which he also struck out 298- numbers, however, overshadowed by Inao's 42 wins and 353 K's).

With the addition of Shigeru Mizuhara (who replaced fellow HOFer Yoshiyuki Iwamoto as manager of the Flyers in 1961), Dobashi's stellar pitching finally began to contribute to winning teams, and Toei won the pennant in '62, despite his "off" record of 17-14. He made up for it in the Series against the Tigers, getting shut out in game 2, but winning his final two appearances. It was a wild Series, going the full 7 games, four of which went into extra innings, including games 5 and 7. Dobashi (left) won both, dueling 11 innings with Masaaki Koyama in game 5 before going 12 in the final and deciding contest against Minoru Murayama (who pitched in at least 4 of the contests, including games 6 and 7), winning the game 2-1, and the Series. Though HOF'er Isao Harimoto won Outstanding Technique, and HOF'er Yoshio Yoshida Fighting Spirit, it was Dobashi who (along with fellow Flyer Masayuki Tanemo) was named MVP of the Series.

He finished his career 162-135 with 1562 strike outs, and his 2.659 ERA put him in the top 13 all time at the time of his retirement. His 1961 season is one of the top 25 of all time in terms of wins and strike outs, and he is still tied with Takao Kajimoto as the only two pitchers to strike out 9 consecutive batters.

While Dobashi is on the ballot this year, not included is Isamu Fujii, one of the original Tigers who was on the roster for their first game in the Spring tournament of '36. In the April of 1950, 14 years after that first spring, Fujii suited up for the expansion Whales alongside Masato Monzen, who played at his side with the Tigers in '36. Soon, they would share a record, set by Monzen in 1937 and tied in '51 by Fujii, for the most doubles in a game with four. Isamu Fujii would finish his career with 254, among the career leaders at his retirement, even though he played half of his career during a shortened-season & war-torn era.

Most of his numbers are distorted by that fact- up until 1949, though missing 5 seasons (spread over two tours of duty) due to war, Fujii had still put together some decent numbers, including one very important number- 1. As in, the first home run in Japanese Professional Baseball History, which he slammed (according to Japan Baseball Daily, inside the park) on May 4, 1936. When he put on the Whales uniform in 1950, he put behind him some decent post-war seasons in which he would occasionally come in third in doubles, or in the top 10 in hits- one would expect that his age and trials would prevent him from taking advantage of the thinned pitching and the surge in hitting stats that season. However, with the Whales in '50 he put together a 34/122/.327 line, with a .597 slugging percentage aided by 36 doubles and 68 walks- his 122 rbi performance is still one of the top thirteen seasons ever. Having slammed the first homer in history, Fujii was still in the top 10 all-time of home run hitters at the end of that 1950 season, despite having missed the '39, '40, '41, '43 and '44 seasons. He ended his career with 146, which left him at #10 on the all time list, and, add to that more walks than strikeouts combined with a .423 lifetime slugging percentage, and you have a valuable run creator who played for 22 years.

As an outfielder, Fujii (right) was sound- take his 1950 season. While he had an average amount of assists for an outfielder that season, he committed the fewest errors of all the outfielders on the team, with a total that was down with the lowest in the league. However, first an foremost, Fujii scored runs- he was the leading run scorer in the first three short seasons of pro ball in Japan, and, one would guess, could have continued if he hadn't gone to Mongolia in 1939. It was, in that statistically-challenged era, the dominance needed by any HOF candidate. His career total of 689 is the result of a rate of a run scored every 2.1 games, similar to Kawakami's rate of 1 run every 1.9 games, and Oshita's 1 in 2.0- and Oshita finished with 763 runs, just behind Fujimura's (who also started his career in the spring of '36) 871 runs.

And though his productivity never again matched the levels he reached in 1950, he continued to contribute to the Whales, tieing for 8th in the league in runs scored in '52, and coming in the top ten in most offensive categories- his 15 home runs in '53 were tied for 5th in the league and led the Whales. That 1953 season he was joined on the Whales (or Robins, at that point) by Noboru Aota, and for the next two seasons they led their lackluster team in offense as Aota was by far the come back player of the year in '54.

At the end of the 1958 season, 22 years after his debut (as well as the debut of professional baseball in Japan) Fujio finished his career with a .275 batting average and 1482 hits- another decieving stat, in that of all the players to finish their career before 1960, only Tetsuharu Kawakami finished with over 2000.

These could be the longshots, but their credentials are strong, and one can only hope to see them up on the wall with Ochiai and the rest of them.

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