Friday, January 11, 2013

Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame announced the class of 2013 today, and, unlike the Hall in Cooperstown, three new members were elected: Yoshiro Sotokoba, Yutaka Ohno, and Kazuo Fukushima.  It is interesting to note that, similar to last year's election, the only two former pro players to be elected were members of the Hiroshima Carp teams of the 1970's and 80's.

Also of note is the fact that both Koji Akiyama and Randy Bass were not elected.  Both have ties to Sadaharu Oh (above right).  Akiyama was a superstar who compiled 400+ home runs and 2000+ hits, and took over the helm of the Hawks after Oh retired as their manager.  Bass, while known for his role in the 1985 Hanshin Tiger Championship and the Curse of the Colonel, is better known in the US for his attempt at the NPB single season home run record that was supposedly thwarted by the Oh managed Giants in 1985.  Both Bass and Akiyama were strong personalities, a feature that may have, and may still, hinder their hall of fame chances, highlighting a similarity to the 'character clause' that has caused much consternation in this year's US Hall of Fame election.

Sadaharu Oh had a lot less trouble making the Hall - not only due to his hitting prowess, but to his ubiquitous presence in Japanese popular culture in the 1960's, 70's and 80's.  The images above and to the left are from a Meiji Milk advertisement from the mid 60's, showing Oh in his 'flamingo stance' surrounded by Meiji products, as well as a cartoon Oh showing a young child the full farm-to-market dairy process.

According to their corporate site, Kyokuto Condensed Milk Co. the predecessor of Meiji Dairies, was established by Meiji Sugar and started manufacturing condensed milk and other products. 1924 Meiji Sugar Co.,Ltd. established Meiji Shoji and launched "Milk Chocolate." In 1928 “Meiji Milk” was introduced, and in 1940 Kyokuto Condensed Milk Co., Ltd. changed its name to Meiji Dairies Corporation and, along with Meiji Seika, launched caramel, chocolate, cream, and almond snacks, that became extremely popular.  It was during the 1960's that many of the Meiji brands began advertising with baseball stars, creating baseball cards and premiums like the example above.

Another star passed over in this year's election was Atsuya Furuta.  If he is eventually elected, Furuta would be only the 6th catcher in the Hall - five of those played in the pre-war college leagues, and the only modern catcher is none other than Katsuya Nomora.  A ways back, I wrote a few pieces about post-war catchers, in particular the dearth of them in the Hall of Fame. I mentioned Toshiyasu Ogawa (right) as a potential Hall of Fame catcher, had he not been killed in action during the second World War.  Thanks to Mr. Ryuichi Suzuki at the Hall of Fame in Japan, I was able to piece together a sketch of Ogawa's baseball life.... In 1930, he graduated from Kyoryo Middle School and entered Keio University.  A star already, he joined the baseball team and became their catcher, making his first appearance in the Tokyo Big 6 University Baseball League on April 14, 1930.  However, he missed his first Waseda vs. Keio game, a tradition similar to the Army/Navy game, due to an illness. He caught for the Keio Nine until 1934, playing with future Hall of Famers Saburo Miyatake and Shigeru Mizuhara. 

In his 3rd year at Keio, Ogawa was behind the plate for the infamous "Apple Incident", a brawl that occurred during the October 22, 1933 Keio vs. Waseda game In the bottom of the eighth inning, Oka, of Keio University, tried to steal second base. At first, the umpire judged that he was safe, but then overturned his decision after a protest from the shortstop Takasu of Waseda. Shigeru Mizuhara, the Keio third base coach, edged up to the base umpire and made a fierce but fruitless argument.  With Waseda now ahead by one run at the middle of the eighth, the score 8-7, the Keio fans were riled by an umpire’s wavering judgement as much as the Waseda fans were riled by Mizuhara's actions.  By the ninth inning, both the Waseda and Keio cheering sections were so excited that the slightest thing could set them off.  

As Mizuhara made his way to the third base coaching box in the bottom of the ninth, an apple core was thrown at him from the more and more excited Waseda cheering section. When Mizuhara picked it up and threw it back, the section almost burst. Soon afterwards, Ogawa got on base as part of a rally that eventually led to a come-from-behind victory, with Keio beating Waseda 9-8.  This was all the Waseda cheering party needed, and they burst onto the field as well as the Keio bench and cheering section. A number of scuffles broke out between the both cheering parties that turned brutal enough to warrant police intervention to subdue the trouble.  A settlement was reached that led to the resignation of the director of Waseda University Baseball Club a month later, and a ban on their participating in the Big 6 Baseball League the following season.

In 1936, Ogawa joined the Hanshin Tigers as a regular catcher during the first season of professional baseball in Japan. He shared catching duties during the Spring, 1936, season with Masato Monzen, though he was far superior at the plate. He caught almost all of the games in the Fall season, but, unfortunately, was subsequently drafted into the army to meet a fate that many of his contemporaries met as well.  Though his career never had the chance to take off, he is depicted as an able catcher and a distinguished leader of the early Hanshin teams in "The History of Hanshin Tigers in the Showa Era" (1991), and, unusual for the first year of pro baseball, had large following of female fans.

On a final note in US Hall of Fame news, it is interesting to see that Hideo Nomo will be on the 2014 ballot, making him the first Japanese born player to appear on a Hall of Fame ballot.

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