FAMOUS JAPANESE BASEBALL PLAYERS
Oh and Nagashima as managers In the first win by Japanese players over American Major Leaguers in the 1930s the star was Kotaru Moriyama. He later pitched a shut out against the same American team and was a national hero. It was said "To be hit by Moriyama's fastball is an honor exceeded only by being crushed under the wheels of the Imperial carriage."
The greatest professional baseball players have set records that rival the U.S. Major Leagues. Best known is Oh Sadaharu, who played as an infielder for the Yomiuri Giants. During his 22-year career, Oh hit a total of 868 home runs, surpassing Babe Ruth’s 714 and the 755 of U.S. Major League record holder Hank Aaron. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]
“The greatest pitcher in postwar professional baseball is almost certainly Kaneda Masaichi, a left-hander with pinpoint control and dazzling speed, who won 400 games during his career. Another player to achieve great distinction in the sport is Kinugasa Sachio of the Hiroshima Carp. An “Iron Man” who appeared in 2,215 consecutive games, Kinugasa surpassed the U.S. Major League record of 2,130, formerly held by Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees. [Ibid]
“Probably the most popular player in baseball’s modern history is Nagashima Shigeo, formerly a star player with Rikkyo University, who spent his career as an infielder with the Yomiuri Giants. Known as baseball’s “Mr. Giants,” Nagashima led his team to nine consecutive national championships between 1965 and 1973. [Ibid]
Tetsuharu Kawakami (1920- ) was a player and manager who led the Giants to nine consecutive Japan Series. He played with Giants from 1938 to 1958 and ended his career with a .313 batting average. Known as "The God Of Batting," Kawakami won the Central League’s batting championship five times between 1951 and 1958 and was a team mate of Yonamine. As a coach of the Giants he helped guide the team to numerous league championships and Japan Series titles. Kawakami was known for being the fervent nationalist as a player and coach. He never got along with Yonamine (See Below) . As a coach he his biggest star was Oh, whom he always treated as a lesser player than his fully-Japanese team-mate, Shigeo Nagashima.
The equivalent of the Cy Young award in Japan is the Sawanura award. It is named after Eiji Sawamura, who had a legendary fastball and died in World War II when the ship that carrying him was torpedoed and sunk near Taiwan. Yutaka Fukumoto holds Japan’s stolen base record with 1,065.
Kinugasa Yozo Nagafuchi, a player for the Kintensu Buffaloes and Nippon Ham Fighters who played from 1968 to 1979, was the inspiration for popular manga called Abu-san about a hard-drinking baseball named Kageura that ran for 30 years. Nagfuchi was a leading hitter in the Pacific League and a heavy drinker. He told Kyodo, “I used to drink every night. I drank whether I batted well or not. I drank whether the team won or lost. I probably consumed about a [1.8-liter] bottle of sake a night in my 20s...I got over the effects of what I drank before the start of a game because I was young and my eye sparkled when I played,” Nagafuchi said. “In the end, I batted well when I had a hangover.”
Several of Japan's greatest baseball players were ethnic Koreans. They include Isao Harimoto, who holds the record for most lifetime hits, and Masaichi Kaneda, who has the lifetime win record (400) for a pitcher. The son of a Korean father and Japanese mother, Harimoto was once rushed to a clinic with a severely burned hand but was refused treatment because he was Korean. When he played baseball, Japanese fans often shouted "go home" and "stinks like kimchi."
Katsuya Nomura is a well known baseball figure in Japan. As of 2010, when he was 75 years old, he had managed for 24 years, and was known as an astute baseball mind but is also associated with outdated ideas such as distracting opposing players by yelling through a megaphone and arguing against announcing starting pitchers in advance because it eliminates guesswork for opponents. [Source: Brad Lefton, New York Times, August 24, 2010]
Ochiai Hiromitsi was a great batter and a three time winner of the batting Triple Crown in 1982, 1985 and 1986. He was not well liked though. He was considered cold and too sarcastic. He is now coach of the Chunichi Dragons.
See Major League Players, for information on those players when they played in Japan.
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources: Time Magazine on Sadaharu Oh time.com/time/asia ; Wikipedia article on Sadaharu Oh Wikipedia ; Sadaharu Oh to Copperstown baseballguru.com and baseballguru.com ; Baseball Reference Article on Shigeo Nagashima baseball-reference.com ; Wikipedia article on Shigeo Nagashima Wikipedia ;Baseball Reference Article on Shigeo Nagashima baseball-reference.com ; Unofficial Yu Darvish Site yudarvish.com ; Wikipedia article on Yu Darvish Wikipedia
Links in this Website: SPORTS IN JAPAN (Click Sports, Recreation, Pets ) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE BASEBALL Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE BASEBALL RULES, CUSTOMS AND FANS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE BASEBALL TEAMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE BASEBALL PLAYERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ICHIRO SUZUKI Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Good Websites and Sources on Baseball: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Pro Yakyu Now japanesebaseball.com ; Japan Baseball Daily japanbaseballdaily.com ; BaseballGuru baseballguru.com ; Japan Times Baseball Page japantimes.co.jp ; PBS Documentary on Japanese Baseball wbgu.org/community ; Japan Visitor japanvisitor.com ; Links and Baseball Cards robsjapanesecards.com ; Japan orama japanorama.com ; Wikipedia article Baseball in Japan Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Professional Baseball in Japan Wikipedia ; Pro Yakyu Forum, with Blogs and Discussions on Japanese Baseball japanesebaseball.com ; Sites That are a Little Old and Outdated But Still Have Good Info Jim Allen’s Japanese Baseball Page (old site) gol.com/users/jallen/jimball ; japanball.com ; Nisei Baseball niseibaseball.com ; Books: The Mining of Ichiro (2004), You Gotta Have Wa (1989) and The Chrysanthemum and the Bat (1977) by Robert Whiting.
Articles on Japanese Baseball: Negative Impact of Japanese Success in the Major Leagues time.com/time/world/ ; World Baseball Classic worldbaseballclassic.com ; Early Days of Japanese Baseball international-baseball.suite101.com ; New York Times article om Japanese Fans travel.nytimes.com ; Baseball Hall of Fame Timeline on History of Japanese Baseball english.baseball-museum.or.jp ; Academic Paper on Japanese Baseball /www.economics.hawaii.edu
Japanese Baseball Teams: Yomiuri Giants Official Site (Japanese Language) giants.jp ; Wikipedia article on the Yomiuri Giants Wikipedia ; Hanshin Tigers Page www2.gol.com/users/michaelo/Tigers ; Hanshin Tigers Official Site (Japanese Language) hanshintigers.jp ;Hanshin Tigers Fan Page wallpaperman.tripod.com/Hanshin_Tigers_page ; Hanshin Tiger Blog tigerdude.com/japan/tigers ;
Sadaharu Oh is one of Japan's most famous player and is the best known Japanese player in the United States. As first baseman for the Yomiuri Giants he hit 868 home runs in his 22 year career (1958-80), more than anyone else including Babe Ruth (with 714 home runs), Barry Bonds (with 762) and Hank Aaron (with 755). Oh won the home run titles every year from 1962 to 1977, except for one season,st the single season home run record (55), and was on the Giants team that won nine consecutive Japan Series from 1965 to 1973. Overall Oh won 14 Central League pennants and 11 Japan Series titles as a player.
Oh signs his autographs with the word doryoku (effort). Regarded as a nice guy who is unfailingly polite even with the hostile media, he once said the key to his success was the fact he didn't view opposing pitches as the enemy but rather as partners who gave him the opportunity to hit another home run. He and Hank Aaron funded the World Children’s Baseball Fair, which has brought children from five continents together for 17 years for baseball clinics and cross-cultural exchanges.
When Oh retired as a player in at1980 at the age of 40 a big deal was about it. Afterwards he took some time off. Later he said, “I was away from baseball for six years, but I was bored, I traveled, visited Russia, Canada, Italy. But I never got the satisfaction I did with baseball. I enjoy the fascination of the games. Nothing can replace this.” Later Oh returned as
When he retired from baseball as a manager in 2008, the great Japanese batter Ichiro Suzuki said, “Mr. Oh is one pf the few elder statesmen of baseball who I respect, not only for his record, but also for his character, dignity and big heart.” His former manager at the Giants Tetsuharu Kawakami said, “Oh and Nagashima made professional baseball so popular. His achievement will never fade.”
Sadaharu Oh’s Life
Oh was born in Yahiro in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, where his father ran a Chinese restaurant . He began playing baseball in primary school and led his high school, Waseda Jitsugyo High School, to victory in the spring national high school championship in 1957, He joined he Yomiuri Giants in 1959.
Born to a Chinese father and Japanese mother, Oh has never been a Japanese citizen. His father was imprisoned by Japanese authorities during World War II. As a teenager his mix parentage prevented him from playing in the national youth baseball tournament because he wasn’t “pure Japanese.” He still carries a Taiwanese passport today. His official name is Wang Chenchih.
“I don’t have bitter memories,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “I heard my father was put in prison camp, but I don’t remember it all. I actually have god memories of the postwar period because the Japanese were a defeated nation and my father was from a country that was on the winning side. So we were provided with plenty of food and candies.” Oh faced constant discrimination because of his Chinese ancestry. His coach for many years, Tesuharu Kawakamai, a fervent nationalist, always treated Oh as a lesser player than his fully-Japanese team-mate, Shigeo Nagashima.
Oh spent hours playing baseball as a boy in Kinshikoen park, in front of JR Kinshicho Station, where people enjoy an excellent view of the Tokyo Skytree today. His childhood home, which housed his father's Chinese restaurant, Gojuban, was about 150 meters southeast of the tower. In 2009, Oh was made an honorary citizen of Sumida Ward in Tokyo.
Sadaharu Oh’s Baseball Career
In 1957, Oh made a big impression at the high school baseball tournament winning four games in four days while hiding a blistered hand from his team mates. As a pro it took him a while to find his rhythm. In his first three seasons he was known mainly for his hard partying habits and being easy to strike out.
Oh developed into a star under the guidance of mentor and hitting coach Hiroshi Arakawa. Arakawa determined that Oh needed a pause in his swing and helped the batter develop his unusual “flamingo-like” batting stance. Images from the 1960s show Oh rising on one foot and slashing at pitches with his bat before releasing it under full strength in the strike zone.
Arakawa gave Oh the idea of aiming for Ruth’s record. “I had never though about it all,” Oh told the Los Angeles Times. I was looking at hitting 100 or 200 home rues, but he set the bar higher. He told me the number. And from then on it was printed in a corner of my brain.”
Oh said he would have liked to have had the chance to play in the Major Leagues. “It was impossible during my time,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “but sure I would like to have tried it if I had the chance. It’s natural that one wants to climb a higher mountain if it’s there.” He figures he could have hit 30 home runs a year in the Majors.
Sadaharu Oh on Hitting
Oh was not a big muscle-bound man. He liked to say, “I can’t even do one pull up.” On hitting Oh said, “It’s all about bat speed and how sharply you swing. Bigger players tend to put more emphasis on power instead of technique. But for smaller players the ball flies as long if you hit the sweet spot.”
Oh doesn’t see himself as being the world’s greatest home run hitter, “I am the one who hit the most home runs---in Japan,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “The Japanese media wants to describe me as the true record holder. Not Hank Aaron. But I never considered myself that way.”
On comparing his greatness with others he told the Los Angeles Times, “You can’t compare unless you are playing in the same conditions. The best measure of how much a gap you can create between people in the same period.” By that standard he argues that Babe Ruth was the true home run king. “What was so great about Babe Ruth is that he hit so many home runs at a time when other players hit so few.”
On Barry Band Oh said, “Yes I feel sorry for him.” In the 1990s during the him run derby years people in baseball turned blind eye to steroids. A lot of people used them. “Of course they’re not good thing, and young players should be told they’re bad. [Bonds] made a mistake, and he has to accept that steroids will follow him for the rest of his life. But I suppose he’s not using them now, and he’s still hitting home runs at what age, 43, 44.”
Three times Oh’s single season home run record of 55 was threatened by foreign players. See Bass, Rhodes.
Sadaharu Oh as a Coach
In 1994, Oh signed a $10 million, 5-year managing contract with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. In 1999, the year the Hawks won the Japan Series, he was selected as person with the best smile.
Oh has won the Matsutaro Shoriki Award for best player or manager in Japanese baseball four times. He generally shows up at games four hours before the first pitch to advise his players during batting practice.
But overall Oho wasn’t nearly as successful as manager as he was as a player. Oh coached for three season before he took over as Giants manager in 1984. He won the league once in 1987, but his team lost in the Japan series. In 1988, after his team finished 12 games behind first place Chunichi he left the Giants as manager.
In 1995, Oh was asked to be manager of the Daiei Hawks, then the worst team in the Pacific League. In his first year with the Hawks the club finished in forth, 26 ½ games out of first place. In the next two years the Hawks finished sixth and forth. In this period angry Hawks fans pelted the team bus with eggs. The club steadily improved after that. In 1998 the Hawks finished third. In 1999 they won the league and the Japan Series. By 2003 they had won the league three times and the Series twice. In 2004 and 2005 the Hawks won the regular season only to loss on the play-offs.
In 2006, Oh coached Japan to victory in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. A new museum honoring Oh opened at the Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome in 2010
Troubles for Sadaharu Oh
In 2001, Oh was almost banned from baseball for life after three members of his team were implicated in a sign stealing scandal. The players were accused of stealing catcher signs by watching the clubhouse television and relaying messages to hitters with the help of someone in the stands. Under Japanese rules the players can be punished for such an offense with a lifetime suspension as can the manager even if he didn't know about the offense.
In 2006, soon after winning the World Baseball Classic, Oh was diagnosed with stomach cancer and had his entire stomach removed in July 2006. Oh returned to field as Softbank manager in February 2007, looking noticeably thinner and weaker. Occasionally he disappeared from the dugout to get an IV. “I know I’ll never fully recover,” he said, “My brain remembers what it’s like to have an appetite. But I can only eat little by little.” In 2001, Oh’s wife Kyoko died of stomach cancer. Her ashes were mysteriously stolen a year later and never returned.
Oh coached his last game in October 2008. The Hawks lost the game to a 12th inning sayonara single and the Hawks finished in last place in the Pacific League, not a very fitting end for arguably the best player in Japanese baseball history. Oh said, “Its time for new people to take over and begin a new cycle of success...For 50 years, I have had a really wonderful life. To think I’ve been able to walk this same path beyond my 68th birthday fills me with joy.”
Yomiuri Giant third baseman Shigeo Nagashima is most loved and admired baseball player in Japan, in same sort of way that Joe Dimaggio was in the United States. In his career he was batting champ in the Central League six times, home run king twice and RBI leader five times. Nagashima and Oh were on the Giants teams that won the league pennants and Japan Series titles nine consecutive seasons from 1965 to 1973.
Nagashima retired in 1974. On the final day of the regular season he gave a farewell speech reminiscent of the one given by Lou Gehrig. Much of the nation tuned in television to watch the speech. When he said "The Yomiuri Giants are forever" it is said even players on the opposing team wept.
Nagashima coached of the Yomiuri Giants for several years, and is one the most visible people on Japanese television. Even today fans can buy key chains, dolls, flags, wristbands and uniform shirts with Nagashima's likeness and number 33. "In Japan everybody respects Sadaharu Oh," said one sportswriter, "but everybody loves Nagashima."
Nagashima spent his entire career with the Giants, from 1958 to 1974. He managed the Giants from 1975 to 1980 and again from 1993 to 2001, leading the Giants to Japan Series titles in 1994 and 2000. Nagashima was slated to be the coach of the 2004 Japan Olympic baseball team my suffered a stoke several months before the event and was unable to accompany the team to Athens. There was a great national outpouring of grief for his ailment. The stroke left is right arm immobilized.
Wally Yonamine (1926-2011) is the only American inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. A Japanese-American who was a running back with the San Francisco 49ers, he arrived in Japan in 1951 and played for 12 seasons there, including 10 with the Yomiuri Giants. He was a three-time batting champion and member of several Japan-Series-winning teams. Known for his intense physical style, hard slides and aggressive play, he finished his career with a batting average of .311, eighth on Japan’s all time list.
Yonamine faced his share of racism and discrimination in Japan. As an American Nisei he was scorned because some Japanese thought his parents had turned their back on their homeland. Yonamine received death threats, had rocks thrown at him, and experienced isolation from some of his team-mates, particularly the Giants' biggest star, the fervent nationalist Tetsuharu Kawakami. As one of the first foreigner to play baseball in the Japanese Major Leagues, he was referred to as the "Japanese Jackie Robinson", after the black star who integrated American baseball, and faced a similar onslaught of racial abuse and harsh treatment. Yonamine was also the target of racism in the United States. In 1947, when he joined the 49ers, he became the first Japanese-American to play in the NFL. He faced considerable resentment resulting from the recently-ended war against Japan.
The Independent reported: But over all Yonamine's successs hung the shadow of Kawakami, who remained the team's star even when Wally outplayed him. When Kawakami was named manager in 1960 he immediately cut Yonamine, who signed with the Chunichi Dragons. He played two more seasons before moving into coaching, eventually becoming Japanese baseball's first foreign manager. In 1974 he led the Dragons to a Japan Series title, defeating Kawakami's Giants.
In April 2006, at the age of 38, Tomoaki Kanemoto broke Cal Ripken’s streak of 903 consecutive complete games played. Later in the season he played in his 1,000th consecutive game. In 2005, he was voted Central league’s MVP. That season he had 120 runs and 125 RBIs. In December 2006, Kanemoto signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Tigers, making him the highest paid player in Japanese baseball. In 2008, when he was 40, he was still the highest paid player, with a salary of ¥550 million with incentives and bonuses. Sachio Kinugasa set the Japanese League record of playing in 2,215 consecutive games (more than Lou Gehrig but less than Cal Ripken). Kanemoto’s streak a playing every inning in 1,492 consecutive games from July 1999 to April 2010 ended when the 42-year-old outfielder asked to be left out of the line up because a sore shoulder and appeared only as a pinch hitter. Cal Ripkin who holds the Major League consecutive game record played every inning in 903 consecutive games.
In September 2012, Tomoaki Kanemoto of the Hanshin Tigers announced his retirement at age 44. "I've reached my limit," said the man known as "Big Brother" because of his knack for coming through in big situations, and the "Iron Man" for playing in a record 1,492 consecutive complete games. Reduced to mostly pinch-hitting appearances and spot starts this season, he said, "I couldn't hold my head high" with the lack of production. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 14, 2012]
The 2005 Central League MVP is hitting .258 with four home runs and 26 RBIs in 110 games this season after clubbing at least 20 homers in 14 of his 20-plus years. "I have regrets and at the same time, I feel sad, but mostly what I feel is relieved," said Kanemoto, who added, "I've had a wonderful life in baseball." Kanemoto made an appearance as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Yakult and lined out to right-center field. [Ibid]
Colorful Japanese Baseball Players
Kazuhiro Kiyohara is a popular player who played for many years with the Seibu Lions and joined the Yomiuri Giants in 1996 and finished his career with Orix. Known as one of the hardest hitters in Japan, he was a muscle-bound player who looked like a superhero and was famous for his epic battles against pitcher Hideo Nomo when he played in Japan. Kiyohara hit his 500th home rune in 2005 in his 20th season as a pro. He retired in 2008 with 525 homes runs and 2,121 career hits and struck out over 2,000 times.
Sports writer Jim Allen wrote: “Like him or not, Kazuhiro Kiyohara was an icon. He went from a schoolboy hero whose legend was larger than life, to a young pro whose promise was larger than life, to a caricature of player whose body was larger than life. At a skinny 18 he was named Rookie of the Year when he hit .304 and had 31 hom runs and 78 RBI in 126 games. At 23 he hit a career high 37 home runs. His career began to slide when he embarked on body building campaign that left him prone to injuries. He was a big game player who came through when the pressure was on.
Masumi Kuwata is a California-educated right-handed Yomiuru Giant pitcher, who has show up at games drunk, drives around Tokyo in a Mercedes Benz with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and eats no meat three days before a start.
Good Japanese Players in Recent Years
Noteworthy players in recent years include Norihiro Nakamura, who hit .340 with 33 homes runs and 94 RBIs in 2001 with the Kintensi Buffaloes but was unsuccessful in his attempt to make the Dodgers team; Yakult Swallows outfielder Norichika Aoki who in 2005 became only the second player after Ichiro to hit more than 200 hits in a single season.
Outfilder Kazuhiro Wada of the Chunichi Dragon was voted the Central League’s MVP in 2010. He played in all 144 games and had 37 home runs and 94 runs scored. Yakult Swallows outfielders Norichaka Aoki was the top vote-getter in fan balloting for the 2011 All-Star series. He was the Central league’s batting champion three times.
When Michihiro Ogasawara was with the Nippon Ham Fighters he was selected the MVP of the Pacific league in 2006. The first baseman led the Pacific League in homers with 32 and tied the league in RBIs with 100. In his 10 seasons with Nippon Ham he batted .320 with 239 homes runs and an on base percentage of .403. A few weeks after being chosen be announced he was leaving the Fighter to sign with the Yomiuri Giants in four-year, ¥1.52 billion deal. As a Giant Ogasawara was the MVP in the Central League 2007. He played third base and hit .313 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs even though he had a bum knee.
Shinnosuke Abe Central League MVP in 2012
Jason Coskrey wrote in the Japan Times, “In a year that will be remembered for the huge triumphs by the Giants of both NPB and MLB, Yomiuri catcher Shinnosuke Abe finally won the big prize. Abe's spectacular 2012 campaign was capped when he was named the Central League MVP for the first time prior to the 2012 NPB convention."I'd attended conventions in the past and always looked up to those who won," Abe said. "I never thought I'd win one." [Source: Jason Coskrey, Japan Times, November 22, 2012]
Abe flirted with the Triple Crown this season, leading all of Japan with a .340 batting average and 104 RBIs. His 27 home runs were second only to the 31 hit by the Tokyo Yakult Swallows' Wladimir Balentien. "It's a shame I didn't win it," Abe said of the home run title. "At least I had a chance. I don't know how much longer I can play, but hopefully I'll have won one before the end of my career."
Just as the Yomiuri Giants and San Francisco Giants each won their respective league title, Abe's win means the starting catcher for each team was named his league's MVP. San Francisco's Buster Posey was named National League MVP earlier this month. Among Japanese players, Abe is the fourth catcher to win the CL MVP and first since Swallows great Atsuya Furuta won his second in 1997. He's also the first left-handed hitting catcher to win the award. [Ibid]
The Yomiuri captain was the driving force behind the Giants' run to the Japan Series, where they defeated the Fighters in six games. "We had our backs against the wall both during the season and in the Climax Series," Abe said. "But we reached the Japan Series, so it was really special." Abe said the next goal will be to help guide the Kyojin back to the top. "As a team, winning the Japan Series is our goal every single year," he said. "It never changes."
Abe, who had never hit better than .303 in his 11 previous seasons, capped the regular season by winning his first batting title with a .340 average. The 33-year-old, who also had the league's best on-base percentage at .429, was four longballs shy of Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien's 31 for the home run crown. Abe had 23 more RBIs than second-place Balentien, who became the first player since 1950 to win back-to-back home run crowns without enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. [Source: Daily Yomiuri, October 11, 2012]
Nippon Pro Baseball changed to a low-impact ball in both leagues last year, and Abe still hit .292 in a 2011 season that saw decreased run production. His adjustment this year was making a concerted effort not to swing at sweeping shoot pitches, on which he routinely grounded out on last season. "I decided to lay off of those as much as possible," he said. Abe also didn't focus so much on "hitting the ball hard as much as hitting the ball effectively" in terms of improving the team's chances to score runs. The result was a career-best 69 walks and a dominating performance as the cleanup hitter that helped carry the Giants to the CL crown. [Ibid]
Abe Becomes Top-paid Japanese Player While Ogasawara Takes $4.4 Million Pay Cut
In December 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Shinnosuke Abe was amply rewarded for an MVP season that led the Yomiuri Giants to their first Central League and Japan Series titles in three years. Abe signed a 570 million yen ($7 million) contract Wednesday--an increase of 170 million yen--that makes him the highest-paid Japanese player in Japan next season. The eye-popping figure is also the third-highest for a Japanese player in Japan pro baseball history, after the 650 million yen earned by Yokohama BayStars closer Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2004 and 2005 and the 610 million yen that Yomiuri Giants outfielder Hideki Matsui received in 2002. [Source: Jiji Press, December 20, 2012]
"[The team] valued me 120 percent," Abe said at a press conference in Tokyo. "Now I feel an added layer of responsibility." This past season, his 12th, the 33-year-old team captain and catcher led the CL in batting (.340) and RBIs (104) in 138 games, his first offensive titles and earning him the MVP award for the first time. Abe's next mission will be to help Japan win a third straight World Baseball Classic, which gets under way next March. "I have the WBC and then the season ahead of me," Abe said. "I want to have a memorable year.” [Ibid]
A few weeks earlier AFP reported: “Japanese baseball star Michihiro Ogasawara has been handed a $4.4 million pay cut, smashing the previous salary slashing record just over half that amount. Ogasawara had been on a two-year deal with the top-ranking Yomiuri Giants worth a whopping 430 million yen ($5.2 million) per season, the joint highest pay cheque in the league. But after a dismal few months in the infield, during which he was twice relegated to the club's farm team after suffering injuries, Ogasawara declared himself happy with a meagre 70 million yen. [Source: AFP, December 5, 2012]
"I feel contented that I was allowed to sign a contract after all," 39-year-old Ogasawara told Japanese media. "I am all determined to work hard next season. It's like starting from zero." He played in 34 games for the Giants this year, his fewest since his rookie season in 1997, batting .152 and scoring four runs-batted-in with no home-run. Ogasawara won the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player Award with the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2006 and moved to the Giants in 2007 to win the Central League's MVP in the same year. [Ibid]
Seiichi Uchikawa Pacific League MVP in 2011
Seiichi Uchikawa capped a dream season with the Japan Series-winning Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks by being selected as the Pacific League MVP. John E. Gibson wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Uchikawa, who joined Shinichi Eto as just the second player in Nippon Professional Baseball history to win batting titles in both leagues, hit .338 in 114 games and got the nod with the back-to-back PL-winning Hawks. He garnered 120 first-place votes, while Tanaka received 43 and Nakamura 21. [Source: John E. Gibson, Daily Yomiuri, December 2, 2011]
"I'm surprised, but at the same time I've very happy," said Uchikawa, who tied Seibu's Hiroyuki Nakajima for the PL lead in game-winning hits with 16. "Our team has very strong pitching and the fact that they were able to keep the lead after we scored boosted the value of my RBIs. "But from my teammates to the coaches and the entire team, everyone made me feel at home when I came here [last offseason] and made it a very easy environment in which to play," said Uchikawa, who won his first batting title with Yokohama in 2008. Nakamura and Tanaka came up short. A career year by the Lions' cleanupman, who alone outhomered the Chiba Lotte Marines 48-46 in the first season with the new low-impact Mizuno ball, was not enough to sway the voters in a year when offense shrunk exponentially. Nakamura hit nearly half of his team's 103 homers and drove in 116 of the club's 482 runs, while playing in all 144 games for the third-place Lions. [Ibid]
Good Japanese Pitchers in Recent Years
Hisashi Iwakuma of the Rakutan Eagles was named the Pacific League MVP and won the Sawamura Award---the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award---in 2008. In 2008 he went 21-4 with a team that finished second to last. He gave up only three home run in 201 2/3 innings
Kazumi Saito of the Softbank Hawks won the Sawamura Award twice in 2003 when he went 20-3 for the season and 2006 when he was 18-5. Masahiro “Ma-kun” Tanaka is a pitcher withe Rakuten Eagles. A star from the high school baseball tournament, he as the leading vote-getter for starting pitcher for the 2007 All-stars game despite having a 2-2 record and a 4.71 ERA. In 2008, Kazuhisa became the Pacific League’s highest paid pincher when he agreed to a one year deal worth ¥280 million with Seibu for the 2009 season even though he only went 11-10 with a 4.32 ERA and was 31-27 since 2006.
In June 2010, Hitoki Iwase of the Chunichi Dragons set the all-time save record (287). At that time he had appeared in 50 games or more in 12 straight seasons and chalked up 40 or more saves every year between 2005 and 2010 except 2008 when he earned 36 saves. He began playing in 2008 and was used mostly in middle relief until 2003.
Rakuten pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma announced his intention to play in the Major League with great media attention in 2010. He was offered a four-year $15.25 million deal from the Oakland A’s but turned it down, his agent said, because the A’s were disrespectful and weren’t willing to pay Iwakuma what he deserved. Iwakumi ended up going back to Rakuten. Oakland got back the $19.1 million it paid for the exclusive right to negotiate with Iwakumi under the Japanese posting system.
Pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada of the Softbank Dragons was voted the Pacific League’s MVP in 2010. He rebounded from a 4-5 start and finished the year 17-8, helping his team win its first pennant since 2003. Kenta Maeda of the Hiroshima Carp was given the Sawamura Award for best pitcher in 2010. He lead the Central league with 15 wins, six complete games, 215 innings, 174 strikeouts and a 2.21 ERA
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Tetsuya Yamaguchi was amply rewarded for being the best middle reliever in the Central League, as the left-hander had his salary doubled by the Yomiuri Giants. Yamaguchi, who posted an 0.84 earned run average in 72 appearances last season, signed a one-year contract Monday for 240 million yen. That is not only twice what he made last season, but marks a 100-time increase over what he made in his first season seven years ago. When Yamaguchi joined the Giants as a development player in 2006, he had a starting salary of 2.4 million yen "It was a very satisfying year," Yamaguchi said. "I hope I have this feeling again next year when it's time [to negotiate] again." Yamaguchi, in helping the Giants win their first Central League pennant and Japan Series title since 2009, compiled a 3-2 record with five saves and 44 holds. He appeared in more than 60 games for the fifth straight season. He has a career record of 38-9 with 18 saves and a 2.01 ERA. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 12, 2012]
Masahiro Tanaka wins 2011 Sawamura Award
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka won his first Sawamura Award, the accolade given annually to the best pitcher in Japan. Tanaka led the Pacific League with 19 wins, a 1.27 ERA and a .792 winning percentage in the fifth season of his career. "I'm very happy," Tanaka said. "It's the most honorable award for a pitcher. This is going to be a significant confidence boost. "I was in good shape all season. My best outing in 2011 was the game in which I struck out 18 (on Aug. 27 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks). My team finished in a disappointing fifth place, but I hoped to raise the spirit of the people affected by the March 11 earthquake." [Source: Kyodo, Nov. 15, 2011]
Tanaka struck out 241 batters over 2261/3 innings in 27 starts, 14 of them complete games, meeting the selection criteria in all seven categories---15 wins, a 2.50 ERA, 200 innings pitched, 10 complete games, 150 strikeouts, 25 appearances and a .600 winning percentage. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Yu Darvish, an 18-game winner with a 1.44 ERA and a baseball-leading 276 strikeouts, also cleared them all, making a five-man selection committee consider presenting the award to both Tanaka and Darvish. But the committee ended up taking a vote, and three of its five members picked Tanaka. [Ibid]
"ERA is the best stat to evaluate pitchers," said selection committee chief Masayuki Dobashi. "Tanaka's ERA was a little better than that of Darvish. Tanaka also had more complete games than Darvish." Tanaka, who turned 23 on Nov. 1, said "I only had better numbers than him (Darvish). As a pitcher, I'm nowhere near his caliber."
Mitsuo Yoshikawa Pacific League MVP in 2012
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Mitsuo Yoshikawa was the Pacific League MVP in 2012. Jason Coskrey wrote in the Japan Times: “Yoshikawa captured his first MVP award after finishing 14-5 with an NPB-best 1.71 ERA, carrying the load for the Fighters in their first season without ace pitcher Yu Darvish. "Obviously only one player can win per year, so it's an extreme honor," Yoshikawa said. "I'm not sure if it's really OK that I'm the one who won." [Source: Jason Coskrey, Japan Times, November 22, 2012]
The 24-year-old Yoshikawa is the youngest left-hander to win the award and the first non-rookie hurler to be named PL MVP after finishing the previous year with no wins. "I was able to have this outcome because of the support of our manager (Hideki Kuriyama)," Yoshikawa said. "He kept his faith in me and kept using me throughout the year. He's the one I owe most."
Takuya Asao Central League MVP in 2011
John E. Gibson wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Chunichi Dragons set-up man Takuya Asao was rewarded by Central League voters for his incredible numbers. Asao became the first set-up man to win an MVP award when he was named the CL's top performer. In the Pacific League, Uchikawa beat out Tohoku Rakuten Eagles ace Masahiro Tanaka and Saitama Seibu Lions slugger Takeya Nakamura for the PL MVP in his first year with SoftBank after moving over from the lowly Yokohama BayStars. [Source: John E. Gibson, Daily Yomiuri, December 2, 2011]
Asao topped teammate Kazuki Yoshimi--who led the CL in ERA at 1.65 and won a CL-best-tying 18 games--for his first MVP award. The fifth-year righty earned 1,019 points from 170 first-place votes, while Yoshimi pulled in 825 points with 70 first-place votes. Asao's selection made it two straight MVP awards for the back-to-back CL-winning Dragons, whose Kazuhiro Wada won the honor last year. "This is an award I never thought I'd be in the running for, so my feelings of surprise exceed my feelings of joy," Asao said at a press conference. [Ibid]
The voters acknowledged Asao's impact on Chunichi's 75 wins. He worked in 79 games, extending his club record for appearances by seven, and finished with a microscopic 0.41 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in 87-1/3 innings. The righty was 7-2, had 10 saves and led Japan with 52 holds, all without allowing a home run. "I tried to work hard as a middle reliever every day of the season and I feel like this is the reward. I really didn't think it was possible to win it as a middle reliever so I'm very happy. "This is proof that middle relievers can also win the MVP."
Nomura, Masuda Win Rookie of Year Awards in 2012
Starter Yusuke Nomura of the Hiroshima Carp and Chiba Lotte Marines reliever Naoya Masuda were named the top rookies of their respective leagues on Tuesday. The 23-year-old Nomura won the Central League honor after going 9-11 in 27 games for the fourth-place Carp. The Meiji University product and Hiroshima's first pick in last year's draft was second behind teammate Kenta Maeda in the CL in ERA at 1.98. He won the voting in a landslide, garnering 200 of the 261 valid ballots cast by Japan pro baseball reporters to become the first rookie of the year from Hiroshima since infielder Eishin Soyogi won in 2006. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 21, 2012]
Nomura is the first rookie in the CL since Tsuneo Horiuchi of the Yomiuri Giants in 1966 to have an ERA below 2.00 with enough innings to qualify for the award. Nomura threw 172-2/2 innings, striking out 103 and walking 52. His WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was 1.13.
Masuda, also 23, was Chiba's fourth pick in last year's draft. The right-hander earned the Pacific League honor after setting league records for number of holds (41) and appearances (72) by a first-year pitcher. Masuda, a Wakayama Prefecture native out of Kansai University of International Studies, was 2-2 with one save, while posting a 1.67 ERA and a WHIP of 1.06 over 75-1/3 innings. Masuda is the first Marines player to earn the top rookie honor since pitcher Yasu-tomo Kubo--now with the Hanshin Tigers--won it in 2005. He received 116 of the 210 valid votes. [Ibid]
Image Sources: Japan Zone
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2013