Hiroshi Gondo is famous in Japan for a number of things, including being one of only two men to manage NPB’s Taiyo-Yokohama-DeNA franchise to a pennant. But most of all, he’s famous for his historic 1961 season, when the 22-year-old Chunichi Dragons rookie led Japan’s Central League in wins and strikeouts and won the Sawamura Award, as the CL’s most impressive pitcher, and the Rookie of the Year Award.
Considering that season, one who is used to today’s game where NPB starters typically throw two bullpens during their six days between starts, how often Gondo went to the pen to freshen up.
“Never,” he said Wednesday at Tokyo Dome. “I pitched every day!”
OK. That’s not exactly true, as you can see here: Gondo 1961 game log This is a look at what a 429-1/3 inning season looks like. Sorry for the Japanese characters in the team names. The column “G order” indicates his appearance order for his team’s pitchers in that game.
“If I was in the bullpen and my fastball had great life, I don’t want to waste it there. I wanted that for a game.”
He was pitching in an era when managers didn’t hesitate to summon a reliever to the mound without having him go to the bullpen to warmup.
“That happened sometimes. The skipper would say, ‘Gon-chan, get in the game.’ And I’d throw my seven pitches on the mound and that was that. I had been an infielder until my second year in high school and it didn’t take me that long to get warm. Even if I was in the bullpen for a game, I’d throw five or six pitches, then seven on the mound and let’s go. But bullpens between starts? No. What was the point?”
He led the CL in wins the following season, but his career was largely done after 1961. When did he know there was a problem?
“My mistake was in resting and not moving my arm after that (1961) season. After a month or so, I tried to throw and my shoulder was frozen. Lifting it was painful. It hurt all the time.”
Japan’s pitching coach Hiroshi Gondo was once the hardest-working pitcher in baseball