Friday, January 10, 2014


     Hiroshi Arakawa is making his debut on the Expert Division ballot this year as a candidate for the Hall of Fame in Japan.  Though known to most as the influential Yomiuri Giants coach who taught Sadaharu Oh a "zen way of baseball", Arakawa was a player, coach, manager and announcer in Japanese baseball for over 40 years.
     Born in the Taito Ward of Tokyo, Hiroshi Arakawa attended Waseda Jitsugyo High School, or Sojitsu, the future school of Oh and a feeder school for Waseda University. He played on the baseball team there that appeared in the 1948 Koshien Tournament, but the team did not advance far.  After playing several seasons with Waseda University in which he hit .280 in 289 at bats, Arakawa moved across town to join the great Karao Betto in the outfield of Korakuen stadium as a member of the Mainichi Orions.  Number 22 (above) was voted to the All-Star team in his rookie year, but had his best season in '54, hitting .270 while making not a single error in the field.  The Orions never made it to the postseason during Arakawa's tenure, but they were still an exciting team, with future hall of famers Betto, Shosei Go, and Atsushi Aramaki.  Later, they were joined by slugger Kihachi Enomoto, who, as a rookie in 1955 would become Arakawa's first pupil, an endeavor that would lead to Enomoto earning rookie of the year honors before embarking on a stellar 18 year career in which he hit 246 home runs, made 9 Best Nine teams, and smacked 2314 hits for a .298 average.  Enomoto joins Arakawa on the Expert Division ballot this year.
     Sadaharu Oh described Arakawa as "a purebred city dweller....down to earth, sophisticated, nasty, sweet, cunning, simple, puzzling - and educated", and ruminated on how a friend once "mistook him, in his plain black trenchcoat, for a sickly Catholic priest".  He had spent his whole life in Tokyo, from the Taito ward where he was born, to Waseda, to the Orions and his apartment in Toshima ward, less than two miles from his birthplace.  And then, again, to the Yomiuri Giants, in the heart of Tokyo, where he became the hitting coach when, in 1962, Tetsuharu Kawakami, the God of Batting, took the managerial reins from Shigeru Mizuhara. He got the job, in part, thanks to the work he did with Enomoto.  His first job was to improve Oh, who had been recruited by Yomiuri as a pitcher one year after "Mr. Baseball", Shigeo Nagashima, had been simarly recruited, but who had failed to meet the expectations of fans and front office to compliment the great Nagashima.
      The strange, city dwelling Arakawa, devotee of Zen and a teacher more than a ballplayer, took Oh under his wing and set about instructing him spiritually, mentally, and physically.
      Though some claim that Oh's offensive surge, that began in 1964, was aided by a concave-top,  compressed taro wood bat "Special Order made for Mr. Oh" (the same wood preferred by Ichiro, and a bat coveted by major leaguers like Lou Brock but outlawed by the MLB and, now, the NPB), it was Arakawa's guidance and zen approach to hitting that transformed a binge-drinking, nightlife-craving disappointment into the greatest hitter in the game.  They worked together every day for two years, utilizing both traditional baseball techniques as well as those found in the martial arts including samurai swordsmanship, demonstrated famously by Oh learning to control his wrists by slicing a dangling strip of paper with a sword. Oh would go on to set almost every hitting record in Japanese baseball.
Arakawa remained a hitting coach with Yomiuri throughout most of the V-9 years, a period in which the Giants won 9 straight titles, due in no small part to the contribution of his famous pupil.  He worked with others as well, and was not above throwing himself in harms way for the team, as he did in 1968 against a towering Gene Bacque.
     After the 1970 season Arakawa moved on from the Giants to a quasi private life, most likely due in part to an incident involving the beating of his adopted son, himself a star of Waseda's baseball team, over his refusal to accept the outcome of the 1969 draft. Takeshi Arakawa was drafted by the Whales, but, when he deferred to the Giants or Atoms (later the Swallows), he was attacked in the street - an incident which must have shaken the elder Arakawa.  However, the allure of both baseball and teaching was too much for him to stay away, and he signed on as hitting coach for the Swallows (for whom, by then, Takeshi was playing) in 1973. 
     By '74 he was the manager (left, with Katsuo Osugi), and though his teams never finished higher than 3rd, he groomed a crop of young talent including Tsutomu Wakamatsu, Akihiko Oya, and Hiromu Matsuoka, as well as bringing over talented veteran sluggers such as Roger Repoz and future hall of famer Katsuo Osugi. When he resigned mid-season in 1976, he was replaced by fellow Waseda alum and former V-9 Yomiuri sparkplug Tatsuro Hirooka, who took the talent Arakawa had fostered, and, along with the additions of Dave Hilton and Charlie Manuel, led the Swallows to their first ever championship in 1978.
     He continued on in baseball as a commentator for Fuji television, as well as stints advising the Giants in a variety of capacities. He also continues to teach and practice zen, and would be an excellent addition to the Hall of Fame.

No comments:

Email Address:

Powered by Feed My Inbox