Thursday, January 26, 2012

1950 Kokutetsu Swallows

According to Japan Baseball Daily, today marks the 62nd anniversary of the birth of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, then known as the Kokutetsu Swallows. They were originally established by what is today the Japan Railways, and, under manager Norio Nishigaki, they shared space with the Giants in Korakuen stadium before moving to their current home in Meiji Jingu Stadium in 1964. During that time they were one of the losing-est teams in NPB history, posting only one winning record in 25 years.

A game and a half from the absolute cellar, the 1950 expansion Kokutetsu Swallows were the worst hitting (they left the fewest men on base in the league, only because their OBP was also the lowest in the league), and almost (next only to the Carp) the worst pitching team in the Central League. They led the league in walks, balks and wild pitches, and had the fewest hit batsmen- in other words, a pitching staff that was wild yet un-intimidating. They weren't the worst fielding team in the league, but their defense (who committed the second most errors in the Central League) didn't help their otherwise lackluster performance.

The only bright spot was a young rookie named Masaichi Kaneda (right). There was no All Star game in 1950, but the following year only one member of the team would make it, and that was Kaneda. The free-wheeling Kaneda (see photo at top of page) would go on to set all-time Japan records for wins, losses, and strikeouts, become one of the first major stars to jump teams and embrace 'free agency', and found the Meikyukai, or Golden Players Club, a sort-of alternate to the Hall of Fame, that honors players not on votes, but automatic enshrinement upon the achievement of 2000 hits, 200 wins, or 250 saves. The 17 year old Kaneda out-pitched the rest of his staff during the '50 season, winning only 8 and losing 12 but posting the lowest ERA and striking out the second most batters.

Despite the fact that their best player was also their youngest, there were a few standout performances of that lackluster season:

First baseman Ryohei Moriya (below) led the team with a .288 batting average and 21 home runs.
While not the best fielding first baseman in the league (that honor would have to go to Kiyoshi Ozawa), his 910 putouts against 11 errors demonstrate his competence at the position, and, combined with his prowess at the plate, establish him as the Swallows most valuable player in 1950, and he was fittingly their captain. Moriya would go on to play a few more seasons with the Swallows, retiring at the end of the '53 season with a .266 average in exactly 1500 plate attempts.

While Kaneda was second on the team with 143 K's, Akira Takahashi (left) edged him out with 147. And, while he wasn't the teams ace, he won their first game ever, on March 11 of that year. He would pitch 6 more years with the Swallows, never posting a winning record and walking more batters than he struck out.

Outfielder Shigeru Enomoto (below) was more representative of the team, appearing mostly in a pinch-hitter role while playing only 5 games in the outfield and committing one error. The two hits he collected during that season would turn out to be the only two hits of his career- after 1950 he vanished, most likely into the industrial leagues or maybe as a coach for some local clubs.
Enomoto found himself lumped in with a class of athlete to whom success was a double edged sword, a gift and a curse; a group with many members on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and beyond: As with new teams and most expansion seasons, the Swallows were packed with those players, like Enomoto, who would never have had a chance to play at the top level, but now find themselves with a few scattered innings of memory, a footnote or two in the statistical record that can prove to be a personal achievement or a bitter taste of what could have been.

In 1964 the Swallows moved to the storied Meiji Jingu Stadium, home to the college baseball and once the host of U.S. superstars. They would go through many owners and even a name change (they were the Atoms for a short period in the late sixties), and continue their losing ways until finally winning a championship in 1978.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Japan Baseball Daily

Japan Baseball Daily, an invaluable source of Japanese baseball data, will be closing in the next year or two. Please visit the site and check out all of the amazing statistics, biographical data, videos, opinions, etc.

Also, check out the stats from the 2011 season at the NPB English site.

And stay tuned for more posts soon on the Cardinals tour of 1958 and the birth of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Darvish, Kitabeppu and the Babe...

Banzai Babe Ruth is now available on ebay- check it out and pick up a copy today!

And congratulations to the new members of the Hall of Fame: Manubu Kitabeppu, Tsunemi Tsuda, Kiro Osafune, and Osamu Ohmoto!

Also, as news of the Yu Darvish signing makes the rounds, the buzz over new card sets from BBM does as well- take a look at Japanese Baseball Cards for more info.
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