This is the second part in a series about players on the ballot for the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame’s next induction class in January 2019.
A year ago, the No. 2 candidate who failed to make the grade this past year was reliever Shingo Takatsu, who was named on 45.9 percent of the ballots in just his third year of eligibility.
So far, only two relievers have made it to the Hall oF Fame, Kazuhiro Sasaki, who finished with 381 saves between NPB and the big leagues, and Tsunemi Tsuda — who had 90.
Tsuda is Japan’s Thurman Munson equivalent. He was an inspirational player with the Hiroshima Carp who died young. The right-hander was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at the age of 30, and died less than three years later in 1993. Unlike Munson, Tsuda’s election took a long time, and he wasn’t enshrined until 2012.
Tsuda’s was one of the better relief pitchers of his time, but he’s an outlier. Since voters have failed to elect any other relievers with records remotely similar to Tsuda, it appears his untimely death was a big factor.
That doesn’t help us out with Takatsu, however. The affable side-armer wasn’t as dominant as Sasaki, but he was a quality reliever for a long time — and the two were durable — something few relievers had been before them.
Takatsu is going to be an interesting test to see where the voters want to draw the lines on relievers, because he Sasaki and recently retired Hitoki Iwase are going to the be the front end of a wave as teams refine their bullpen tactics and extend closers longevity.