Tuesday, March 16, 2010

For the Giants/Against the Giants

Between 1950 and 1979, everyone in the Central League who won the MVP ended up in the Hall of Fame. Everyone, that is, except for Takumi Otomo (left). Otomo pitched brilliantly for the Giants from 1951 to 1956, teaming with Tekehiko Bessho, Hideo Fujimoto, Hiroshi Nakao and so many other greats that only the Yomiuri Giants could attract.

In those years, when the Giants won the pennant every season except for in '54, Otomo and Bessho were the aces of the staff, each having 30 win seasons, dominating the competition and winning a gaggle of MVP's- Otomo's came in '53, while Bessho earned two, in '52 and '56.

And while Bessho had his no-hitter before the war, it was in 1952 that Takumi Otomo pitched his, contributing to what may have been the best team in the history of baseball in Japan. Kawakami, Aota, Chiba, Yonamine, Hirai, Minamimura, Fujimoto, Nakao, Bessho and Otomo. The Giants led the league in almost every hitting and pitching category, finished three and a half games ahaed of the Tigers in the Central League, and breezed by the Hawks to win the Japan Series. And on July 26 of that year, Otomo no-hit the Robins in the most lopsided no-hitter in the history of Japanese Baseball- a 17 to 0 romp that no doubt showcased the immense hitting talent of the '52 Giants.

From '53-'56, his numbers were astounding:

27-6 1.85

21-15 1.68

30-6 1.75

12-7 1.63

1953 proved to be Otomo's most glorious season. He was the finest pitcher on the Giants staff, leading them in every pitching category and to the Japan Series, where he won the seventh game and was named 'Outstanding Pitcher'. At season's end he was named to the Best 9 and voted MVP. However, his most outstanding performance came against the NY Giants in a post season exhibition series where he pitched a complete game victory and compiled 15 strike outs in 25 innings. He was so impressive that, according to Rob Fitts, New York tried to acquire him (an attempt that, had it succeeded, would have made Otomo the first Japanese to play in the MLB, ten years before Masonori Murakami). However, Yomiuri demanded too much in return, and the Giant-to-Giant trade never materialized.

He had similar success against the Dodgers in '56, as well as against teams in Mexico, Panama and Colombia during the Giants tour through Latin America (see Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball for more on that tour).

It was in 1956 that, according to Japan Baseball Daily, he was hit on the thumb by a pitch from Mitsuo Osaki that effectively ended his dominance. From then on, he could not get the right grip on the ball and faded quickly. His last great appearance came in relief at the end of the first game of the 1958 Japan Series, where he picked up the win- however, the scattered innings that followed only cemented his position as being a pitcher past his prime.

He lost a year, and returned in 1960, where he pitched 20 innings with Kinetetsu (managed by [and named after] his former Yomiuri teammate Shigeru "Formidable Buffalo" Chiba) in what appears to be a comeback attempt. But he was unable to muster much in the fifteen games he pitched for the last place Buffalos. He finished his career 130-57, with a 2.11 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP- numbers that make at least some case for a HOF bid that will place him along with his fellow Central League MVP's.

The 1958 Japan Series was a disapointment, for the Giants as well as Otomo, but it signaled the changing of the guard. The star, despite being on the losing team, was the rookie, Shigeo Nagashima- his brilliant play would usher in a new era of greatness in Japanese baseball. But following that series, the greats of the 50's played one last exhibition series against MLB stars. They didn't have the master- Otomo- yet the team fared well. Stay tuned for an analysis of the 1958 St. Louis Cardinals visit to Japan, and some of the forgotten All Stars who played against them...

No comments:

Email Address:

Powered by Feed My Inbox