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.

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