Category Archives: Free

Farewell Mr. Chiba

Isao Chiba, the energetic and dauntless record keeper for Japan’s Pacific League passed away of a brain hemorrhage Wednesday morning in Tokyo. He was 85.

Chiba-san was fascinated by records and the stories behind them and always sought to broaden peoples’ understanding of not just the numbers but how they told stories. For 56 years starting in 1961, Chiba-san authored 2,897 “Stats notebook” columns for the weekly magazine “Shukan Baseball.”

We first met after my original English language analytic guide to Japanese pro baseball was published in 1994, and whenever I could escape to Ginza for a few hours, I would stop into the league offices in the days before they were assimilated into the NPB commissioner’s office.

An annual feature of my guides was explaining differences between Japan’s scorekeeping and records and those in the majors, and Chiba-san was the ultimate guide. Through him and through his colleagues in the two league offices, it became easy for me to get information about how things worked and why.

Thinking back, it suddenly occurs to me that Chiba-san was in some ways like Hall of Fame catcher and manager Katsuya Nomura, who passed away last year. They both loved the game so much and absolutely beamed when asked to recount stories and explain hidden details, but also couldn’t abide those who took baseball for granted.

When the PL adopted its playoff system in 2004, he was outraged, calling it “the stupidest idea ever.”

Because his wife was a passionate fan of things Egyptian, their home looked like two traveling exhibits, one from Cooperstown and one from the Egyptian wing of the British Museum had to be housed in the same building. One entered through an Egyptian themed space, but he wasn’t happy until you reached the center, his study, where one wall (then) had every box score from every NPB game pasted into scrap books.

The first time, I visited, about 25 years ago, Chiba-san took me aside and said, “The instant you hear of my death, you have to rush to my home and take all of these.

I said I would but now the thought of fulfilling that promise fills me with sadness.

One day, Chiba-san called at my office to tell me how the two of us had been the driving force behind making NPB’s save rule identical to that in the majors. After my first guide went out in 1994, I asked him why the rules were different.

For roughly 30 years after Japan introduced its save rule in 1975, a reliever entering with the bases loaded in the final inning, could get a save if his team held a six-run lead. Chiba-san explained that to me, but then went digging into why it was so. He found that Japan’s rule had originally been mistranslated and petitioned the rules committee to change it.

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Tanaka likely returning to Japan: Report

Free agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka may be closer to moving back to Japan for the 2021 season than previously expected, Sponichi Annex reported Wednesday citing a source with knowledge of the matter.

Eagles General Manager Kazuhisa Ishii confirmed according to Kyodo News (Japanese) that talks have been proceeding but that nothing official has been offered. However, the Sponichi Annex story reports the team has already offered Tanaka a one-year contract, and that further details, including additional years, are now being hammered out and that there is a strong possibility he will sign with his first pro team this week.

Tanaka turned pro with the Eagles out of high school. He won 28-straight regular season decisions from 2012 through the end of the 2013 season. After Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish had each attracted $50-million posting of fees, Tanaka was poised to earn the Eagles a windfall of perhaps twice that much until MLB backed out of the posting agreement and capped the Eagles’ fee at $20 million.

Tanaka, stung by that, suggested he contribute to the team financially for which he was rebuked by MLB for a potential violation of the posting agreement terms. Since he moved to the New York Yankees in 2014, he has trained each winter at the Eagles’ facility.

When the pandemic shut down MLB’s training camps last March, Tanaka remained in Florida with his family, but returned abruptly to Japan, suggesting only that the move was out of concern for his family’s safety — both from the virus and other issues.

With spring training due to start in Japan’ on Feb. 1, a concrete offer from the Eagles would dramatically change the dynamic of Tanaka’s negotiations with prospective MLB suitors.

Should Tanaka return to Sendai, he will be in store for some of the added pressure that dogged the Eagles in 2011, after much of the region was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left over 15,000 dead and triggered a nuclear disaster.

The story was first reported by Sankei Sports, which said that team president Yozo Tachibana had been involved.

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Eagles GM confirms Tanaka Talks

Rakuten Eagles General Manager Kazuhisa Ishii confirmed Wednesday that his team has been talking with 32-year-old free-agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka about a return to the Pacific League club, Kyodo News (Japanese) reported.

Ishii, who will also manage the club based in the northeastern Japanese city of Sendai, said that the sides had not arrived at precise figures for discussion.

“We don’t know what he will decide, but we are communicating with him and whatever way he wants to go, we support that,” Ishii told Japanese media.

Tanaka turned pro with the Eagles out of high school. He won 28-straight regular season decisions from 2012 through the end of the 2013 season. After Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish had each attracted $50-million posting of fees, Tanaka was poised to earn the Eagles a windfall of perhaps twice that much until MLB backed out of the posting agreement and capped the Eagles’ fee at $20 million.

Tanaka, stung by that, suggested he contribute to the team financially for which he was rebuked by MLB for a potential violation of the posting agreement terms. Since he moved to the New York Yankees in 2014, he has trained each winter at the Eagles’ facility.

When the pandemic shut down MLB’s training camps last March, Tanaka remained in Florida with his family, but returned abruptly to Japan, suggesting only that the move was out of concern for his family’s safety — both from the virus and other issues.

With spring training due to start in Japan’ on Feb. 1, a concrete offer from the Eagles would dramatically change the dynamic of Tanaka’s negotiations with prospective MLB suitors.

Should Tanaka return to Sendai, he will be in store for some of the added pressure that dogged the Eagles in 2011, after much of the region was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left over 15,000 dead and triggered a nuclear disaster.

The story was first reported by Sankei Sports, which said that team president Yozo Tachibana had been involved.

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Moore no longer in talks with for Hawks return

Lefty Matt Moore, who bounced back from injury in a respectable 2021 season for the SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League, has ended talks with the four-time defending Japan Series champs, according to a Tokyo Sports report on Wednesday.

Moore, who will be 32 on June 18, had one of Japan’s more effective changeups and did well to miss bats over 78 innings in his first NPB season. According to Delta Graphs, Moore was seventh in swinging strike percentage among the 53 pitchers with 70-plus innings.

He completed his season with seven hitless innings en route to the win in Game 3 of the Japan Series, which the Hawks swept for the second year in a row.

Moore, whose 2020 season with the Tigers was wiped out by an early injury missed two months after suffering a left calf muscle injury in July. He was non-tendered in December although the Hawks were keen to keep him and had been trying to bring him back. The Tokyo Sports report said the pitchers’ agent had suspended talks and that he would seek a major league deal for 2021.

Tokyo Sports is probably Japan’s least reputable outlet, but that is largely because it is the No. 1 forum for former players wishing to dump on active managers in encourage job openings in uniform for guys now sitting in press boxes.

This report, however, has the ring of truth to it, with Hawks officials telling local media that bringing back Moore was one of their offseason priorities.

The Hawks are now only the second Japanese team in history to win four Japan Series in a row, following the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, who won the national title nine straight years from 1965 to 1973.

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Oh praises Aaron

Japan’s home run king, Softbank Hawks chairman Sadaharu Oh, on Saturday paid tribute to his longtime friend Hank Aaron following the Hall of Fame slugger’s death in the United States at the age of 86.

Oh, who holds Japan’s home run record of 868, and Aaron, who long held Major League Baseball’s career home run record with 755, built a long friendship that helped drive the founding of the World Children’s Baseball Foundation and its annual baseball week in Japan.

The two competed in a home run derby at Tokyo’s Korakuen Stadium on Nov. 2, 1974, and three years later, on Sept. 3, 1977, Oh surpassed Aaron’s career total with his 756th home run in Nippon Professional Baseball.

Oh’s remarks were released in a Japanese language statement released by the club:

“He set the world record of 755 at that time and compiled an amazing number of home runs hits, and RBIs. He had a long career and was a tremendous gentleman and the epitome of a major league baseball player.

“Then we started to promote the sport of baseball through the WBCF, he in America and me in Japan. While he was still able to get around, he would come every year and contribute to children getting into baseball. In recent years, he often wasn’t able to come, but he always kept us in his heart. I believe he had a spectacular life in baseball.”

“I thank you for so many things and pray for your soul.”

Sadaharu Oh

Oh and Aaron in 1991 at the second WBCF baseball week in Japan.

Read the Kyodo News English story.

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Life’s unfair

Wednesday’s news from NPB was about the format of the upcoming season, and updates about what players might be delayed due to coronavirus travel restrictions. One manager, however, said some teams were being unfairly treated because new players were unable to travel.

Rakuten Eagles General Manager Kazuhisa Ishii, who this year will also manage the Pacific League club on the field, said he asked what was up with new players according to Sankei Sports.

New work visas are not being issued and only players holding residence cards are being allowed back into Japan at the moment.

The Eagles non-tendered productive outfielders Stefen Romero and Jabari Blash, and relievers J.T. Chargois and D.J. Johnson, and have since signed lefty Adam Conley and infielder Brandon Dixon. While returning relievers Sung Chia-hao and Allan Busenitz are able to return, the new signings are not.

“If we had known it was going to be like this we would have been better off keeping more of the players who were already here,” Ishii said.

Players arriving now, such as the Yomiuri Giants’ Angel Sanchez, who came Thursday, will have to quarantine for two weeks, and will mean missing the start of spring training on Feb. 1, one of the dates the media treats like life-or-death deadlines.

Big days

When it appeared Daisuke Matsuzaka would be unable to return to Japan from his offseason training base in the States, the stories were “Matsuzaka to miss the start of camp!” only to be followed by next day’s news that he was already in country and sports editors the length of the country must have imagined that the nation was going to breath a collective sigh of relief.

Managers and coaches put a lot of effort into the training programs for camp, which essentially lasts three to four weeks and is not to be confused with the preseason exhibition season or “open games” which begin in the final days of February.

The other life-or-death day of course is Opening Day, and this used to be treated by most teams as if they got extra credit for opening the season with a win. Years ago at the Yomiuri, John E. Gibson and I were instructed to translate the Japanese paper’s copy ahead of the Mariners and Oakland A’s Opening series at Tokyo Dome.

One of the Yomiuri Shimbun stories had the line: “Ichiro will try hard to have a good game on Opening Day, since how a player does on Opening Day is a barometer of how his season will go.”

This is probably a little extreme but it pretty typical of the mindless drivel written about Opening Day in the Japanese press. Managers used to parrot it, too, but recently have bowed to logic, that it’s nice to be ready on Day 1, but that one game is still just one game.

Then again, maybe it’s not just Japan. Maybe hyperbola is in baseball’s DNA. But the start of camp is also a respite from the news about who and how players will be arriving in camp.

The middle of January is filled with news about which players will be in first-team spring training camp and who will be reporting to the minor league camp on Feb. 1.

Two of last year’s most highly touted young pitchers, Roki Sasaki of the Marines and Yasunobu Okugawa of the Swallows will report to first-team camp, while young Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami will be with the first team after a bout with coronavirus although on a separate training menu.

It’s enough to make one long for stories about how many balls in a player’s first BP go over the fence.

Lions reach agreement with Dermody

The PL’s Seibu Lions announced Thursday that 30-year-old former Chicago Cub lefty Matt Dermody has agreed to sign a contract, although nothing was announced other than that he’ll wear No. 98.

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