The following letter was distributed to media in Japan from Josh Stanka, whose grandfather Joe won 100 games in Nippon Professional Baseball, an MVP award and a Japan Series MVP award in 1964. His longtime Nankai Hawks batterymate, Hall of Fame player and manager Katsuya Nomura, died at the age of 84 on Tuesday.
Forevermore the term “catcher” will be synonymous with the name Katsuya Nomura. Over the coming days and weeks much will be written about his prodigious stats (his 1965 Triple Crown comes to mind), his unmatched longevity and his encyclopedic knowledge of the game that he loved, lived and breathed.
But to those fortunate enough to be his teammates, his players, his friends and most importantly his family; attempting to use mere numbers to describe Nomura-san would be like trying to describe Mount Fuji simply by its height and dimensions. Because the true greatness of Nomura-san lay not just in his ability to smash home runs or manage multiple teams to championships or tutor numerous generations of pitchers and catchers in the art of yakyu.
The true greatness of Katsuya Nomura was something intangible. A work ethic and a passion for the game that few possess and that cannot be taught. A living testament to the truism that no matter how humble a persons beginnings may be, with enough desire and hard work and moxie there are no limits to how high a person may rise. In many ways his story is a microcosm of the attributes of the Japanese people themselves in the post-war years who exhibited the same irrepressible drive to succeed and rebuild a whole new society that became the economic marvel of the twentieth century.
When our family arrived in Japan for the first time in 1960 Nomura-san welcomed us warmly.
When our family was struck by tragedy in 1965 in our family’s darkest hours Nomura-san was a kind and supportive friend.
And in the interim he and my grandfather played games of pitch and catch in legendary stadiums just as they had played games of pitch and catch with their schoolmates when they were boys growing up 7,000 miles apart in Mineyama, Japan, and Hammon, Oklahoma.
With apologies to Hanshin Tigers fans they played a couple of truly memorable games of catch in Koshien Stadium in 1964 the likes of which may never be equaled.
Nomura-san once said of my grandfather that he was an American with the soul of a Japanese.
My grandfather once said of Nomura-san that he never met anybody so determined to win.
Perhaps the one constant Japan and America have shared through all the years has been baseball.
Baseball has marked the time. It has been a constant reminder of a love that our countries share.
Because when my grandfather would take the mound to throw to Katsuya Nomura, they ceased to be American or Japanese. They became partners, willing to do whatever it took to achieve victory.
So as the Stanka family with heavy hearts mourn the loss of our dear friend Katsuya Nomura we offer our condolences to the entire nation of Japan but most especially the Nomura family with whom we will always share a deep and meaningful bond.
And disregarding momentarily his trophies and records and accolades, our family offers in tribute to Nomura-san perhaps the highest compliment that can be given in this game we all love and share.
Katsuya Nomura was a baseball player.