RIP Futoshi Nakanishi

Being off from work yesterday, I missed Thursday’s news that Hall of Fame slugger Futoshi Nakanishi had died on May 11 at the age of 90.

Nakanishi’s career as player and manager was like the opening of a Tale of Two Cities. Before injury

In his first seven years, the Nishitetsu Lions third baseman led the Pacific League in home runs five times, doubles once, runs once, RBIs three times, slugging average five times, on-base percentage once and batting average twice.

His swing was ruined by tendonitis in his left wrist in 1960, and was a shadow of his former self for the remaining 11 seasons of his career.

His growth paralleled that of the Lions under Hall of Fame skipper Osamu Mihara, as they became the Pacific League’s second dynasty and the chief rivals to the Osaka-based Nankai Hawks.

Mihara, whose eldest daughter Nakanishi married, parted company with the Lions after the 1959 season, and from 1962, Nakanishi took over the reins in Fukuoka. He won the pennant in 1963 in the last big season from the club’s ace, Kazuhisa Inao, whose overworked “iron arm” began to fail.

In 1969, the Lions became ground zero for a nationwide match-fixing scandal in baseball and automobile racing, and Nakanishi stepped down. It was a hit from which Nishitetsu never recovered. In 1973, Nishitetsu had sold the club’s naming rights to Taiheiyo Club, and in 1977 to Crown Lighter, before Seibu railroads tycoon Yoshiaki Tsutsumi swooped in and moved the team to a hilltop along the border between Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture.

By that time, Nakanishi, a student of batting and a huge name, had moved on. In 1971 he began his second life as a coach with the Swallows, and in 1974 he became the first manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters, after Nittaku Home found its one-year ownership of the Flyers franchise to be more trouble than it was worth.

Nakanishi finished his managing career with the Tigers in 1980 and 1981, but as a coach, he was ubiquitous. He coached or managed with every PL franchise and three in the CL.

After he gave up coaching, he was a regular at Jingu Stadium, where he would observe hitters in the indoor batting facility and advise them if they wanted it. One day, he cornered BayStars slugger Shuichi Murata to convey a message to his teammate.

“Tell (Yuki) Yoshimura that if he keeps swinging at bad pitches he’s going to be out of baseball before he knows it,” Nakanishi said. “You tell him that. I’m through with him. He doesn’t listen and I’m done talking.”

Nakanishi, fortunately, wasn’t done talking to everyone. He was a constant source of stories, and while he loved the players of today’s game, he could be harsh about its developments.

“Video ruined baseball,” he said one day at Tokyo Dome. “It allowed people like Katsuya Nomura to study the life out of it, to pick up tells and steal signs. Studying video of opponents is only one step removed from cheating.”

He was recently in the news, having shared his father-in-law’s trove of notebooks with Samurai Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama in the lead up to the World Baseball Classic.

“When I was still playing, Nakanishi-san was a coach with Yakult, and everything I am in baseball is based on what I learned from him and Mihara-san. Nakanishi’s extremely warm-hearted coaching and his recollection of details still live in my memory,” Kuriyama said in a statement released by NPB Enterprise, Inc.

“Everything about our WBC championship, I owe to Nakanishi-san. I am so grateful to him.”

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