Monday, January 18, 2016

Hall of Fame Class of 2016

     The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Tokyo today announced that Masaki Saitoh, Kimayasu Kudoh, Takizo Matsumoto, Masatake Yamanaka, and Kihachi Enomoto have been elected as the 2016 Hall of Fame Class.
     Enomoto (left) led the last year's expert ballot of non-electees with 66 votes, but his election is long overdue.  It's possible that Enomoto, a private man who, before his death in 2012, refused to participate with the Meikyuki despite his 2000 career hit qualifications, was snubbed by voters for being an outsider. Groomed by Sadaharu Oh's famed teacher Hiroshi Arakawa, Enomoto was the Rookie of the Year in 1955, an award he cherished, possibly because of Arakawa's guidance. For most of his career, Enomoto hit in the 3-hole, setting up cleanup hitter, and fellow Hall of Famer, Kazuhiro Yamauchi. Not content to support his teammate with a great average and OBP, Enomoto also led the league in Hit By Pitch in three seasons.
     Yamauchi and Enomoto would go on to play together as members of the All Star team that faced the St. Louis Cardinals before leading the Orions to the pennant in 1960.  That year Enomoto won the first of his two batting crowns.  Like Oh (pictured in the upper left corner of the card on the right, diagonal from Enomoto, standing on the steps), Enomoto was blessed with both talent and strong work ethic, building his own batting cage at home after a year long slump and returning to win another crown in 1966 with a .351 average.
     No slouch in the field, he won 9 First Nines and 12 All Star selections as a first baseman, setting a record for fielding percentage in 1968.  That year he also continued a two season errorless streak at First. He retired with 2314 hits, 246 home runs and a .298 career average.
     Both Jim Allen and Japanese Baseball Cards have great posts on Enomoto that are worth reading.

     Kudoh (left, with the Gians), with 76.6 percent of the vote, was only the fourth first-ballot Hall of Famer (after Victor Starffin, Sadaharu Oh, and Hideo Nomo).  Saitoh (below), a former MVP and three time Sawamura Award winner, was just shy of election last year, but was elected by a comfortable margin, However, no other candidates were within nearly 75 votes.
     Takizo Matsumoto will be enshrined due to his administrative work with all levels of baseball, including the 1949 San Francisco Seals tour of Japan, while Masatake Yamanaka's career in University and Industrial baseball earned him a plaque.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hall of Fame 2016 Ballot

     The ballot for the 2016 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame election was released on December 1, and it includes nine new candidates for the Player division, as well as four new candidates for the Expert division.  Along with the returning candidates, the new names on the Expert ballot include Ise Takao, Akio Saito, Takeshi Yamaguchi, and Akinobu Okada (right).
     Okada may be best known as the former pennant winning manager of the Hanshin Tigers, but his playing career included a Koshien Tournament, Rookie of the Year award and Japan Series title.  A star in the Tokyo Big Six with Waseda, he was drafted in the first round by the Tigers, where his skill with bat and glove caused new manager Don Blasingham trouble when he didn't immediately start the star rookie.  Blasingham and fellow Gaijin Dave Hilton were let go, and Okada fulfilled expectations, fielding well at 2nd base while hitting 18 homers.  He was part of the miracle 1985 Tigers team that took the Series for the first time in franchise history, playing alongside fellow 2016 candidate Randy Bass, whose presence contributed to the Curse of the Colonel.  After several successful seasons with Hanshin, Okada finished out his career playing alongside Ichiro during his breakout season in 1994 on the Blue Wave, where he would eventually coach, then manage.  First, however, he would return to the Tigers to lead them into the post season several times, including nearly winning it all in the 2005 Nippon Series.
     The new Players division candidates include Naoyuki Omura, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Makoto Kosaka, Kazumi Saito, Shingo Takatsu, Koichi Hori, Arihito Murmatsu, Akihiro Yano, and Keeichi Yabu.
     Kimiyau Kudo (left), a member of the Meikyukai as a pitcher, won it all last year in his first season as manager of the Softbank Hawks.  After pitching a no-hitter in his only Koshien appearance, Kudoh signed with the Lions as a sixth round pick instead of his first choice, which was to play in the industrial leagues.  Though not much of a hitter, Kudoh was a pro pitcher from 1982 through 2009, finishing his career 7th all time in strike outs, and becoming the first pitcher since Bozo Wakabayashi to win at least 20 games after his 41st birthday.  However, in 27 pro seasons he never won a Sawamura Award.  He pitched on 11 Series champions, earning MVP honors twice.
     Shingo Takatsu (right) pitched two seasons in MLB for the White Sox and Mets, but earned his reputation as a reliever for Yakult.  There are conflicting reports that he was called "Mr. Zero", but what is known is that he was the best closer of his era, setting a new all time saves record that was only eclipsed in 2011, and appearing in 11 games without surrendering a run in Japan Series play.  Takatsu even faced Ichiro once as a pinch hitter - when Ichiro took the mound in the 1996 All-Star game.  Also played professionally in China and Korea before retiring in 2010.
     Yakyu Baka's post on the ballot announcement includes the number of votes each candidate received last year.   On the Players ballot last year, only Masaki Saito came close to election, with Kazuyoshi Tatsunami a distant runner up.  Kihachi Enomoto and Masaji Hiramatsu led the Expert ballot for most votes without election.  ANAFN favorite Masayuki Dobashi took a dip last year, with only 19 votes.
     The ballot results will be announced on Monday, January 18th, 2016.

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