Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hall of Fame, Banzai Babe Ruth, and Mayday Malone

In January, the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will be announcing the class of 2012. Once again on the list for the expert group (those players retired for 21 years or more as well as managers, coaches and umpires) is Masayaki Dobashi (right), who we profiled a few years back. Also on the ballot is Isao Shibata, Koji Akiyama, and Shinjo- you can find the announcement and the complete ballot in Japanese here.

Also, Banzai Babe Ruth, the new book by Rob Fitts, author of the wonderful Wally Yonemine biography as well as several other books on the history of Japanese baseball, will be out early next year. You can pre-order the book here- go get one right now!

And finally, our friends at the Infinite Baseball Card Set, who have designed a number of beautiful baseball cards featuring Japanese and Gaijin players, released in October a great card that, though somewhat out of the scope of this blog, is too brilliant not to share. Sam 'Mayday' Malone, pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and later owner of famous bar in Boston, never had his own card. The Infinite Baseball Card provides one, as well as an extensive biography- check it out!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wally Yonamine 1925-2011

Wally Yonamine's 1958 season was not as productive as the seven previous years with the Giants, but for Wally that still meant a spot on the Best 9 and a trip to the Japan Series where he would hit a home run in game 5 off of Kazuhizu Inao. And he was still a main feature of the Japanese All-Star squad that faced the St. Louis Cardinals. Though he only ended up having 13 at bats during the series, he was featured in the Mainichi paper's official promotion of the tour: "A veteran from Hawaii, his experience in minor league baseball in the U.S. has stood him in good stead. Today he is regarded as the representative outfielder of his league, a sure batter and heady player. Average: .295, lower than usual since he almost always hits over .300"

He died this past Monday at the age of 85.

His first game in a Yomiuri uniform was almost sixty years ago, on June 19, 1951. Noboru Aota hit a home run in that game, and Wally's brief appearance signaled a change in the order. Soon Aota would be off to the Whales and Wally would share the spotlight with Tetsuharu Kawakami and, by 1958, rookie superstar Shigeo Nagashima as the top draw for the Giants. Though he did not have enough at bats during that 1951 season, he hit a home run in the deciding game of the Series that year, helping his team win, and he would repeat the feat the following year, being honored as Leading Hitter at the end of a second victorious effort against the Nankai Hawks. He would return again to the Series in 1953 and earn the Home Run King title after helping his team beat the Hawks for the third straight season.

Wally ended his career with 5 Japan Series home runs, and added to that accomplishment one more title as manager of the Chunichi Dragons. For more on his life and amazing career, check out Rob Fitts' amazing book. He was a Japan Series hero to multiple generations of fans and an athlete of true class who will be missed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ochiai and Minagawa in the HOF

Election to the Hall of Fame for both Hiromitsu Ochiai and Mutsuo Minagawa is long overdue. The reasons behind Ochiai's slow journey to the Hall are more obvious- he was a rebel and free thinker in a game that did not respect either trait. For Minagawa, the reasons are less clear- possibly because he never won a Sawamura award. Either way, they both more than deserve the honor.

Hiromitsu Ochiai (left) is the only player to win the triple crown three times (yes, three times), and his 510 career dingers rates among the top 6 all time. Add to that a .311 average and 1564 RBI, and you have one of the best of all time. His resistance to tradition, including a view of training that differed greatly from that of most in Japanese baseball at the time, did not make him many friends. But his stubbornness, and his success despite it, helped to usher in a new age in Pro Yakyu that saw many changes to the game. Won two MVP's, but never hit a Japan Series HR in a handful at bats, though he did hit over .300 and scored a handful of runs.

Mutsuo Minagawa (below, with Futoshi Nakanishi, who, according to Japan Baseball Daily, Minagawa 'owned') was the last man to win 30 games, going 31-10 in 1968, helping his Hawks get within one game of the pennant winning Braves. That season he pitched 27 complete games and still finished out the season with a 1.61 ERA! His 221 wins puts him at #15 on the all time list, and his 2.42 lifetime ERA puts him at #12. However, despite making it into a half dozen Japan Series games, he pitched poorly and never picked up a win. Nonetheless, though he doesn't have the awards to show for it, he was a dominant pitcher for a long period of time, and definitely deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Just as the election of these two greats to the Hall is overdue, so is the concluding part on the 1958 tour of Japan by the St. Louis Cardinals. Fear not, it is on the way, so stay tuned...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Congratulations Ochiai & Minagawa

Congrats to Hiromitsu Ochiai and Mutsuo Minagawa on their election to the Hall of Fame!
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