Thursday, May 20, 2010


Friendship and Loss
Yasushi Kodama and Toshitake Nakayama (above) were both good pitchers for the always-a-bridesmaid Dragons teams of the late 50's, and, apparently, not enemies. The greatest of winners are not always the greatest of friends, and vice versa- but, for a short time, they had both it seems. Both Kodama and Nakayama had at least one twenty win season, but in 1959, the luck tipped in one direction.

According to Japan Baseball Daily, after Yasushi Kodama (or Soratani, as it has been spelled/translated as well [above, right]) won it all in the Koshien tournament, a bidding war broke out amongst the pro teams. He went to Dragons, which is not the usual outcome (most of these things end up with the Yomiuri Giants coming out on top), and pitched without pizazz in 28 games for Chunichi in 1954. He did, though, help them in some way make it to the Japan Series that year, and wound up getting on the mound for 1 inning (he struck out 2 of the 3 batters he faced).

The following year he was joined by Nakayama (also a Koshien winner [above, left]), who would find success much sooner than Kodama- after a rocky rookie season, he had two consecutive 20 win seasons. In those years ('56 and '57) he struck out 496 batters (combined) and had WHIP's of 1.05 and 0.99, respectively. However, the 570 or so innings he pitched wore down his arm (a bi-product of the overall pitching philosophy of that time), and by the next season he was losing more than he was winning, with an inflated ERA and WHIP.

By the time Kodama found his groove in 1959, the two time All-Star Nakayama was completely burned out. The friends that year shared the number 20- Kodama would win that many for the only time in his career, and Nakayama would lose the same, with a sad record of 9-20.

Despite his friends success that season, Nakayama joined an elite club of 20 game losers in the history of Japanese professional baseball (sixty-two overall) that, while not matching or mirroring the losers of the American Major Leagues, illustrates the common bond between winners and losers in baseball.

There have been 482 MLB twenty-loss seasons but only one since 1980 (Mike Maroth lost 21 in 2003 for the Tigers), as well as fifty 30 or more loss seasons, none of which was in the 20th cent. The record for the 20th cent. belongs to Vic Willis with 29, though the more modern records belong to Paul Derringer (with 27 in 1933) & Roger Craig (with 24 for the '62 Mets).

No NPB players have 30 losses in a season, but 62 have put together 92 twenty-loss seasons. All of those seasons with 26 or more losses occurred between 1940 and 1957- a trend that shows how much later teams in Japan continued to "get the most out of" their pitchers (though this also most likely a bi-product of the late founding of professional baseball in Japan- a full 60 years after MLB).

The first to lose 20 games was Toshihide Hatafuku in 1938, and the last was Osamu Higashio in 1977 (he is also the most recent pitcher to be inducted to the Hall). In fact, the most consistent 20-game losers are some of the greatest in the history of the game. Only four pitchers have lost 20 or more in at least four seasons (and one, Masaichi Kaneda, did it six times- though he is the all time leader in both wins and losses), and all but one are Hall of Famers (Yasuo Yonekawa being the lone exception).

Yasuo Yonekawa (left) can boast of three 20 win seasons to counter his losses, and his 132-142 lifetime record overshadows his excellence as a pitcher. His 2.81 ERA was the 9th best of all time at the time of his retirement, and he was a 4 time all-star with 1346 K's (enough to put him in the top 10 at the time of retirement as well). He is a step or two away from being on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame, but his career success is much more impressive than his .481 winning percentage.

These figures says a lot about the history of the game- for decades pitchers were used and abused, arms were destroyed and innings racked up. Top that off with few relievers and not a lot of run support. Speaking of the '58 All-Japan team (see the April 25 post on this blog), it was Inao who won the (first) of two games, after a season during which he pitched 373 innings, notched the second of three straight 30-win seasons, and single-handedly corralled the Japan series by winning the last four games while working 47 series innings. They did call him the Iron Man, but that mentality was not outside the norm.

Loss is something we all fear at some point, and it occasionally provides the imputus for seeking out friendships. But loss is just a part of winning, as we see here, and friendship, and everything else.

Otomo Update

A Noboru Aota Fan's Notes recently featured a short piece on Takumi Otomo in a larger article on . He was the key man in the rotation for Shigeru Mizuhara's Yomiuri juggernaut of the mid-50's. While perusing Jim Albright's excellent analysis of baseball in Japan, we came across more support for the Otomo-for-the-Hall argument.

Otomo is listed as the number six best player in the Central League during the 50's, but more impressive is Albright's application of Fibonacci win points to Otomo's career. He comes out as the number 22 pitcher of all time, surrounded by Yutaka Enatsu, Choji Murata and Juzo Sanada.

Though Albright does not provide and outright endorsement for his Hall candidacy (one argument- his career is too short), but, at least, it shows that Otomo needs to be in the conversation more than he has.

Kim Young Joong

Coming soon is part II of our coverage of the 1958 tour of Japan by the St. Louis Cardinals. Part II will feature not only the stars of the Central League who made the cut for the All-Japan team that took on the Cards, but also a series of articles written by Jim Brosnan for the St. Louis Post Dispatch about the tour. Though the majority of that tour took place in Japan, it began in Hawaii and quickly moved through South-Eastern Asia before landing in the Land of the Rising Sun.

One such stop was in Seoul, South Korea (after making a brief appearance in Japan)- Brosnan comments on the poverty that greeted them and guilt felt by some of the players for passing through in their grandeur (modest, of course, by today's ballplayers means). He also points out a story of heroics equal to that of Eiji Sawamura in the story of Kim Young Joong. Described only as a "Korean major", Joong struck out the great Stan Musial to the roar of the crowd. According to Brosnan, "he caused Synghman Rhee, the Korean president, to leave the park. That little pitcher could have run for mayor."

Does anyone know any more on Joong, or if he ever went on to pitch professionally? If there is any info on Joong out there please contact and enlighten us!

Coming soon, more on the tour and the articles in the Post Dispatch (see below- a welcome to the Cards from a Japanese paper, clipped and sent by a young guide to the team [Kazuyooi Aoki] and published in the Post Dispatch).
Special Thanks to the St. Louis Public Library Special Collections for their excellent help in finding this material and making it available.!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ken Burns and Ichiro

Inning 10 of Ken Burns' Baseball will debut on PBS at the end of the 2010 mlb season. It will include a sit-down interview with Ichiro- read more on Kieth Olbermann's blog here.

Coming soon- more coverage of the 1958 Cardinals tour of Japan...
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