Tag Archives: Masahiro Yamamoto

Fix the hall

With the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame failing to elect a former pro player for the first time since it went two straight years in 1986 and 1987, people are asking what the heck is wrong.

It’s not a shortage of good candidates. In three years, the Players’ division has managed to elect only longtime Chunichi Dragons second baseman Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, while arguably the best candidate, Tuffy Rhodes, treaded water in the middle of the ballot.

This year’s ballot was both larger, increasing from 21 candidates to 30, and better stocked with players who had huge careers.

This year’s results

Reliever Shingo Takatsu and outfielder Alex Ramirez, each got the same number of votes as they did last year, but it’s not true that everyone who voted for them a year ago did so again, because I didn’t. But Masahiro Kawai, a perplexing high flyer dropped from 218 to 210, while Rhodes crashed from 102 to 61.

This year’s poor outcome, however, might encourage some changes to the way things are done.

What can be done

I’m glad you asked. I don’t have a concrete solution, like changing the way the ballots are structured or voted, but while the whole process is administered efficiently and above board, it is a closed circuit.

Baseball writers who cover players during their careers then vote on those players. The results are then announced to the media and only then relayed to the public through that media filter. The event is a press conference in the long narrow hall where the plaques are hung, and as wonderful as the surroundings are, it’s not a good venue for a press conference.

Unlike the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, Japan’s wonderful museum at Tokyo Dome is closed on the day results are announced. TV cameras are there to record the introductory speeches and the speeches of those being enshrined — or their survivors.

The only public part of the enshrinement process is when new members are presented with their plaques at Game 1 of the annual all-star series. There are fans in the crowd, but there’s no time for anything more than a wave to them.

The first thing to do is take the private process and make the fans a part of it.

Hold the induction ceremony outdoors and invite the public. Give honorees more than a day or two to prepare their remarks. Give their fans time to show up. Make it an event that for one day stops baseball time in its tracks.

Give voters a chance to go public

Look I may be wrong when I say Masahiro Kawai– whom I loved as the Yomiuri Giants infield anchor at short for years–is not really deserving of a place in the Hall of Fame. I’m wrong a lot. But if you think he is, why not tell everyone your reasoning?

Sure, full disclosure might bring abuse from the public, but it would ensure more careful deliberation by voters. How about we go halfway, and have the ballot committees give voters the chance to make their votes public. Then we can have a debate and I can learn stuff and the public can be more involved.

Of course, every writer has that option in this day and age, but I may be the only one who uses it other than a few Hall of Famers who take to the press each year to issue proclamations on who is and isn’t up to THEIR standards.

My podcast partner John E. Gibson complains about the lack of standards, but neither of thinks that’s really the problem, but I like the idea of looking at who is in and what the current candidates have in common with most of them.

If we don’t find a positive way to solve it, I’m sure the Hall of Fame can come up with a “solution” that causes more problems.

A little background

The first nine members were selected by the special committee, and that group included only one former professional player, the Yomiuri Giants’ first Japanese ace, Eiji Sawamura. The following year, his Russian teammate, Victor Starffin, became the first player to be selected by the competitors’ ballot in 1960.

The competitors’ ballot, considered anyone and everyone who played amateur or professional ball, managed, coached or umpired until it was disbanded after 2007 in favor of two competitors’ divisions, the players’ division for recent retirees and the experts’ division for those who hadn’t played in 21 years.

At least until 1965, former players still in uniform could be elected, since the manager of the Nishitetsu Lions, Tadashi “Bozo” Wakabayashi was elected in 1964. The next year, the Hall inducted the managers of the Yomiuri Giants, Tetsuharu Kawakami, and Nankai Hawks Kazuto Tsuruoka.

Perhaps someone didn’t like the idea of Hall of Famers in uniform, because from 1966 to 1996 nobody was allowed on the ballot who had been active as a player, manager or coach in the past five seasons.

Thus, Sadaharu Oh, who last played in 1980 and then coached and managed until 1988, couldn’t be considered until 1994. It created a huge logjam as guys like Oh, Masaichi Kaneda, Kazuhisa Inao, Katsuya Nomura and Shigeo Nagashima had to leave the game for five years before they could go in the Hall of Fame.

The Players’ division can now consider guys in uniform if they haven’t played for five years, while the experts’ division can handle anyone out of uniform for six months, and can consider other contributions to the game. The special committee is now how non-players and amateurs get in. It used to be the last resort for players, and players selected by the special committee are not considered competitors, even if they did little else but play.

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Hall of Infamy

I have a message for some of my fellow voters in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame’s players’ division, and I’d like you not to take it the wrong way: Get your heads out of your asses.

I wish I knew what was up with some Hall of Fame voters because if it was simply a matter of looking at 30 former players and choosing the seven you think are most qualified, we wouldn’t get the dog’s breakfast we saw from the 2021 players ballot.

To be fair, it was a packed ballot, with a lot of solid candidates, but for the first time since 1987, none of the new Hall of Famers were former pro players. The Hall said it was the first time since 1998 that no former players were elected, but the Hall doesn’t count former players elected by the special committee, which inducted 209-game winner Hiroshi Nakao that year.

2021 Hall of Fame ballot posts

With a slew of solid candidates on this year’s ballots it’s easy to see how big candidates can split the ballot. Shingo Takatsu led the players’ division vote with 72.3 percent, coming just 10 votes shy of induction. I didn’t vote for him this time, but he’s an OK choice.

But if quality of the player matters, then perhaps voters should ask themselves these questions, lifted from Bill James’ old abstracts:

  • Was this player ever considered the best at his position in his league for any length of time?
  • Would you expect a team to be a pennant winner if he was its best player?

Shingo Takatsu? He was one of the better relievers for an extended period, but if he was your best player you wouldn’t win a pennant.

No. 2 on this year’s players’ ballot was lefty Masahiro Yamamoto, who I did vote for. He was considered one of the CL’s better starters for a long, long time. He won a Sawamura Award. So obviously, his best was pretty darn good. The same could be said for No. 3, Alex Ramirez. He won two MVPs and four Best Nines.

After that we get into a shit show. I don’t mean to disrespect the substantial quality of all the guys on the ballot. Fifty-eight percent of the voters named Masahiro Kawai on their ballots. He was a terrific player, but if he’s the best you’ve got, you’re not going to win a pennant.

Two hundred and eight voters named him on their ballot. These are people who have been covering pro baseball for established outlets for over 15 years.

I love Kawai. He was a really good player who I thought was underrated during his career, but if you voted for him, I would appreciate it if you take your vote more seriously. If in your carefully considered opinion, you really think Kawai belongs in the hall, then your considered opinion needs a hell of a lot of explaining.

Norihiro Nakamura, a player who deserves serious consideration, got none. He received four votes, and will not be eligible to be reconsidered for another 14 or so years when he can get onto the experts’ division.

Hirokazu Ibata, a much better player than Kawai, got 1.8 percent of the vote. Kenshin Kawakami, perhaps a good candidate, got 1.4 and he’s gone, too.

It’s like there was a rebellion and voters decided that after voting in Kazuyoshi Tatsunami a year ago, and putting strong support behind Yamamoto this year, that no other former Dragons deserved support, since Kazuhiro Wada barely survived the first cut.

There are so many players on this ballot who are comparable to guys already in the Hall, but many of them may not get there because votes are being wasted by people who have no respect for their vote.

If that’s you, I’ll be happy to publish your reasoning. The more we discuss our choices and rationale, the better they should get.

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Deck the Hall time

Christmas is coming and so is the deadline to submit ballots for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame players’ division.

There are 30 players on this year’s ballot and we get to pick seven. This year’s crop of new guys Kazuhiro Wada, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Michihiro Ogasawara, and Masahiro Yamamoto make the 2021 ballot a particularly packed one. In a normal year, three of those four would be candidates to go in on the first ballot. Wada might be one of those guys who has to wait a bit because his career got started so late.

I don’t have any straight-line calculation that says one guy is a Hall of Famer and another isn’t. I can just compare who’s in, who’s out and see if the various accomplishments of a candidate are common to those who get elected. This exercise is not about saying “This guy should be in the Hall of Fame” but rather “How well does this player fit with people who have been voted in before?”

To some degree, the quality of players who get in is somewhat determined by the quality of the players on the ballot. We’ve gone through some fairly slack ballots the past five years. It’s not that the guys who did get in weren’t worthy, but that they were at the lower end of the Hall of Fame spectrum. From this year, we’re going to get a surge of qualified players.

With each player, I’m going to give you three lists of 10 players who have been eligible for HOF voting as pitchers or position players and who are closest in three ratings: Career Win Shares, the average Win Share value of the player’s best five-year period, and the average Win Share value of his three most valuable seasons.

Golden Gloves don’t seem to equate much with Hall of Fame success, although it was cited when Tsutomu Ito won that his 11 awards were the most by a catcher.

Best Nine awards do appear to be a thing, as do MVP awards. Every two-time MVP is in or being voted on, as is every MVP who also won six or more Best Nines with the lone exception of the puzzling Hiromichi Ishige. By those considerations, five guys on this year’s players’ ballot will go in: Alex Ramirez, Michihiro Ogasawara, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Tuffy Rhodes, Kenji Jojima, and Kazuhiro Wada.

Every player with more than seven Best Nine honors is in the Hall except for a pair who must have really pissed some people off in their day, Michiyo Arito (10), who is now in the expert’s division, and Ishige (8). Six and seven is the grey area for those without an MVP in their trophy case.

Twenty-three players whose career ended by 2015 won six or seven Best Nines. Of those, 10 are in, seven are being voted on, three still have a chance to make the experts’ division, and three are in all likelihood out of chances. With five Best Nines, you get in the realm of candidates who only got in through the experts’ division.

The one thing I can’t really measure for is popularity, perhaps the only thing that can explain why Masahiro Kawai was named on 61.6 percent of the players’ division’s ballots last year. I get why Shingo Takatsu got 73.2 percent because after all, he was the career saves leader for a while. Alex Ramirez got 65.8 percent, and it’s not like he’s unworthy but Tuffy Rhodes (28.8 percent) and Kenji Jojima (17.2 percent) have much better credentials.

Here is my ballot for the 2021 Hall in the order I think they should go in:

  1. Nobuhiko Matsunaka 1B
  2. Michihiro Ogasawara 3B
  3. Masahiro Yamamoto P
  4. Kenji Jojima C
  5. Kazuhiro Wada LF
  6. Hirokazu Ibata SS
  7. Tuffy Rhodes CF

Nobuhiko Matsunaka

A two-time MVP and triple crown winner, with tremendous peak value and a good career. Matsunaka led his league in 17 offensive categories, and virtually everyone who did that and led in one of the triple crown stats is in the hall. He was a Japanese Randy Bass, but with even more peak value. Unlike Bass, he won’t have to wait for the experts’ division to rescue his candidacy from us non-experts who vote in the players’ division.

Career Value 310 WS
  1. Kazuhiro Wada 332 – on ballot
  2. Tuffy Rhodes 320 – on ballot
  3. Kazuyoshi Tatsunami 319 – HOF
  4. Hiroki Kokubo 311 – on ballot
  5. Tokuji Iida 310 – HOF
  6. Motonobu Tanishige 308 – on ballot
  7. Norihiro Nakamura 305 – on ballot
  8. Masayuki Kakefu 303 – Experts ballot
  9. Atsunori Inaba 302 – on ballot
  10. Taira Fujita 302 – Experts ballot
5 year peak 31 WS
  1. Katsuya Nomura 34 – HOF
  2. Hiromitsu Ochiai 33 – HOF
  3. Koji Yamamoto 32 – HOF
  4. Kazuhiro Yamauchi 32 – HOF
  5. Tomoaki Kanemoto 32 – HOF
  6. Isao Harimoto 31 – HOF
  7. Michihiro Ogasawara – on ballot
  8. Fumio Fujimura 30 – HOF
  9. Masayuki Kakefu 30 – Experts ballot
  10. Koichi Tabuchi 30 – HOF
3 best seasons avg 36.3 WS
  1. Sadaharu Oh 40.8 – HOF
  2. Shigeo Nagashima 38.3 – HOF
  3. Masayuki Kakefu 38.1 – Experts ballot
  4. Kazuhiro Yamauchi 37.3 – HOF
  5. Hideki Matsui 36.3 – HOF
  6. Tomoaki Kanemoto 35.8 – HOF
  7. Katsuya Nomura 35.2 – HOF
  8. Koji Yamamoto 34.8 – HOF
  9. Hiromitsu Ochiai 34.8 – HOF
  10. Tuffy Rhodes 33.8 – on ballot

Michihiro Ogasawara

Another two-time MVP and a similar player to Matsunaka with only slightly less peak value but better durability. I don’t know if they’re dead even or Ogasawara is behind Matsunaka. If Ogasawara is behind, he’s not behind by much.

The other two-time MVP on the ballot, Alex Ramirez is another step further down. One doesn’t want to compare raw career numbers when talking about imports, for whom it’s ALL about peak value, but Ramirez’s peak value was not in the same neighborhood as Guts’, and not among the seven most qualified this year.

Career Value 335 WS
  1. Kazuhiro Kiyohara 384 – not on ballot
  2. Kihachi Enomoto 360 – HOF
  3. Sachio Kinugasa 344 – HOF
  4. Atsuya Furuta 339 – HOF
  5. Masahiro Doi 338 – out
  6. Yasumitsu Toyoda 334 – HOF
  7. Koji Akiyama 334 – HOF
  8. Kazuhiro Wada 332 – on ballot
  9. Tuffy Rhodes 332 – on ballot
  10. Kazuyoshi Tatsunami 320 – HOF
5 year peak 31 WS

This starts with Koji Yamamoto, No. 3 on Matsunaka’s list, includes Matsunaka at 31 and adds the following two: Futoshi Nakanishi 29 – HOF; Yasumitsu Toyoda 28 – HOF, which is a similar mix to Matsunaka’s group with eight hall of famers, and two guys on the ballot.

3 best seasons avg 31.8 WS
  1. Koichi Tabuchi 32.9 – HOF
  2. Makoto Kozuru 32.8 – HOF
  3. Atsuya Furuta 32.6 – HOF
  4. Fumio Fujimura 32.5 – HOF
  5. Hiromitsu Kadota 32.3 – HOF
  6. Yasumitsu Toyoda 31.8 – HOF
  7. Kihachi Enomoto 31.3 – HOF
  8. Daryl Spencer 31 – out
  9. Atsunori Inaba 31 – on ballot
  10. Futoshi Nakanishi 30.9 – HOF

Masahiro Yamamoto

The Chunichi Dragons lefty won a Sawamura Award and had tremendous career value, Win Shares ranked him 26th all-time among pitchers, although Masahiro Tanaka likely passed him this year. But that is in the range where most pitchers have been elected to the Hall of Fame. His peak value — as measured by the average of his best five seasons, was not great, 95th, although a little better than Kimiyasu Kudo, a player of similar accomplishments who went in easily in 2016.

Kudo, however, won two MVP awards and three Best Nines, while Yamamoto only won two pitching Best Nines. As such Yamamoto may be a borderline candidate and my choice this year more of the heart than the head. But the ballot is in the mail.

Career Value 294 WS

Yamamoto is right on the margin between the haves and have-nots. Four of the next five pitchers with higher career values are in the Hall: Hideo Nomo, Kudo, Mutsuo Minagawa, Yutaka Ono. The next is Hiromu Matsuoka, who is on the experts’ ballot but struggling. Three below him are in the Hall and two of them have MVPs. Another is on the experts’ ballot and also struggling, former MVP Mitsuru Adachi.

5 year peak avg 14 WS

There are three Hall of Famers in this 10-player group, Kudo, old-timer Hiroshi Nakao, and Jyunzo Sekine, who was more valuable as an outfielder than a pitcher. Kazuhisa Ishii, and Shinji Sasaoka, both currently on the players’ ballot are there, too.

3 best seasons 18.5

Yamamoto’s three best seasons are comparable to those of: Sasaoka, Hideki Irabu, Hall of Famer Yutaka Ono, Fumiya Nishiguchi, who’s on this year’s ballot, Hiromi Makihara, Hall of Fame reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki, new players’ candidates Ishii and Kenshin Kawakami, and former Braves workhorse Yoshinori Sato — whom Yamamoto eclipsed as the oldest to throw a no-hitter in Japan.

Kenji Jojima

Jojima is the catcher who should go in next, but I’d bet a thousand yen that Motonobu Tanishige will be inducted first. For a time around 2002-2004, Jojima was arguably Japan’s best player, or perhaps it was Tadahito Iguchi or Alex Cabrera or Nobuhiko Matsunaka.

Jojima won six Best Nine awards to Tanishige’s one, and eight Golden Gloves to Tanishige’s six. Jojima ranks 36th in NPB history in peak value, Tanishige 296th. True, Tanishige faced tougher competition by playing his best years in the same league with Atsuya Furuta, but one has to go a long way to argue that Tanishige was better. Tanishige is, however, probably a lot more popular and that seems to matter A LOT in the voting.

Jojima was truly an elite player, but his tepid performance in the voting suggests that just being better than virtually everybody else is not always a big concern with most Hall of Fame voters.

Looking at the tables below, Jojima looks close to being a lock for the Hall of Fame, because he’s Japanese…

Career Value 294 WS
  1. Michiyo Arito 302 – Experts ballot
  2. HIromi Matsunaga 302 – out
  3. Takuro Ishii 300 – on ballot
  4. Shinichi Eto 297 – HOF
  5. Hiromichi Ishige 294- out
  6. Koichi Tabuchi 292 – HOF
  7. Yoshio Yoshida 290 – HOF
  8. Yoshinori Hirose 289 – HOF
  9. Tetsuharu Kawakami 286 – HOF
  10. Hideji Kato 286 – Experts ballot
5 year peak 28 WS
  1. Masayuki Kakefu 30 – Experts ballot
  2. Koichi Tabuchi 30 – HOF
  3. Futoshi Nakanishi 29 – HOF
  4. Yasumitsu Toyoda 28.3 – HOF
  5. Roberto Petagine 28.1 – out
  6. Tom O’Malley 28 – out
  7. Kazuhiro Kiyohara 28 – not on ballot
  8. Koji Akiyama 28 – HOF
  9. Tetsuharu Kawakami 28 – HOF
  10. Hiroshi Oshita 27 – HOF
3 best seasons avg 30.7
  1. Futoshi Nakanishi 30.9 – HOF
  2. Kazuhiro Wada 30.9 – on ballot
  3. Hirokazu Ibata 30.8 – on ballot
  4. Tetsuharu Kawakami 30.7 – HOF
  5. Kazuhiro Kiyohara 30.7- not on ballot
  6. Hiroshi Oshita 30.4 – HOF
  7. Alex Cabrera 30.4 – out
  8. Randy Bass 30.3 – Experts ballot
  9. Yoshio Yoshida 30.3 – HOF
  10. Roberto Petagine 30.1 – out

Intermission

Just a reminder, that while the ballot is packed with Hall of Fame quality players, the wonderful Masahiro Kawai got 218 votes a year ago. Here’s how he stacks up:

10 most players with most similar career value (148 Win Shares) : None in HOF. 10 players with most similar value from their best five-year stretch: None in HOF. 10 players with most similar value from their 3 best seasons: 1 in HOF – 2017 inductee Tsutomu Ito.

Recent players with similar career value: Norihiro Akahoshi, Hiroshi Shibahara, Makoto Kosaka.

Recent players with similar best 5-year stretches: Shibahara, Makoto Kaneko.

Recent players with similar 3 best seasons: Ito, Hatsuhiko Tsuji.

During his career, the media voted Kawai the CL’s best shortstop once, but now many of those people want him in the Hall of Fame.

Ito was great but not a Hall of Fame-caliber player in the context of those previously inducted. Instead, the field was a little thin and he got in. The same thing was happening to Kawai, but he’s probably going to start stalling.

Kazuhiro Wada

Is the best Japanese position player on the ballot to never win a Golden Glove. But with an MVP and six Best Nines, it will be a surprise if he doesn’t make it.

Career Value 332 WS

His career value is smack in between Ogasawara on the high end and Matsunaka on the low end.

5 year peak 27 WS

The top three in Wada’s list overlap with the last three on Jojima’s. After that it’s:

  1. Atsunori Inaba 27 – on ballot
  2. Wally Yonamine 27 – HOF
  3. Tokuji Iida 27 – HOF
  4. Hiromi Matsunaga 27 – out
  5. Akinori Iwamura 26 – out
  6. Makoto Kozuru 26 – HOF
  7. Tyrone Woods 26 – out
3 best seasons 30.9 WS

Ogasawara is the top of Wada’s list, and Jojima is at the bottom. so basically solid candidates, Hall of Famers, troubled star (Kazuhiro Kiyohara) and foreigners.

Hirokazu Ibata

In contrast to Kawai, Ibata, who was also a shortstop, had something resembling a Hall of Fame career with five Best Nine Awards. He may have to struggle to get in, but he is probably a little better qualified than Ramirez.

Career Value 258 WS
  1. Yoshinobu Takahashi 262 – on ballot
  2. Tomonori Maeda 262 – on ballot
  3. Isao Shibata 261 – Experts ballot
  4. Makoto Kozuru 260 – HOF
  5. Shoichi Busujima 260 – out
  6. Fumio Fujimura 258 – HOF
  7. Akinobu Mayumi 256 – out
  8. Morimichi Takagi 254 – HOF
  9. Alex Ramirez 248 – on ballot
  10. Noboru Aota 245 – HOF
5 year peak avg 26
  1. Tyrone Woods 26 – out
  2. Yutaka Fukumoto 26 – HOF
  3. Randy Bass 26 – Experts ballot
  4. Hiromichi Ishige 26 – out
  5. Akira Eto 26 – out
  6. Norihiro Nakamura 26 – on ballot
  7. Kenjiro Tamiya 26 – HOF
  8. Tuffy Rhodes 26 – on ballot
  9. Atsuya Furuta 26 – HOF
  10. Shigeru Chiba 26 – HOF
3 best seasons 30.8

Ibata’s closest 10 are essentially the same as Kazuhiro Wada’s, which is not an exclusive Hall of Fame group, but is Hall of Fame-like.

Tuffy Rhodes

I suppose you are all tired of hearing me talk about Tuffy Rhodes. The good news for you then is that for the first time in about three years he is not the most qualified player on the ballot.

Career Value 320 WS

Rhodes’ career value is sandwiched between Kazuhiro Wada and Hall of Famer Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. If you have higher career value than a lot of solid candidates AND you’re an import, then that says something I suppose.

5 year peak avg 26 WS

Essentially the same group as Hirokazu Ibata’s, some guys who are in the Hall and some guys who would be if they were more popular.

3 best seasons 33.8 WS

The top six on Rhodes’ list are the bottom six on Matsunaka’s. And his list starts with Sadaharu Oh and will include Ichiro Suzuki when he’s eligible. So this, and the long career are really Rhodes’ strong suits.

Alex Ramirez and the other strong candidates

For a guy with 2,000 hits in Japan, the total career value should be Ramirez’s calling card, but it’s not as good as Rhodes, who didn’t reach 2,000 hits because he walked so much.

Rami-chan is going to get in because he won two MVPs and he has a ton of support, so I’m not worried enough to vote just to keep him on the ballot this year. He didn’t match Ibata in peak or career value and won two MVPs but only four Best Nines, the fewest of any two-time MVP in contention for the Hall.

Atsunori Inaba, who should have been the PL’s 2007 MVP instead of his teammate Yu Darvish is probably a step ahead of Ramirez in every category except the big hardware. Hiroki Kokubo is about even with Ramirez according to established norms. But if you are voting for Masahiro Kawai then you have to ignore a zillion players who are better than him. I think the world of Kawai, and he was a very good player for a long time.

I voted for Takuro Ishii in the past, but he’s not quite up to Ramirez’s level, so I’m going to have to pass on him. Shinya Miyamoto won 10 Golden Gloves, which is kind of a 50-50 grey area and he was named on 58 percent of last year’s ballots, but he also had less peak and career value than any of the nine Hall eligible players with 10 or more Golden Gloves. Ishii, who got 24.6 percent last year is a MUCH more fitting candidate. Kenjiro Nomura, another shortstop, is about even with Ishii although with a slightly shorter career and slightly more peak value.

I’m conflicted about Motonobu Tanishige. He’s going to get in because he’s on TV all the time, was a productive hitter for a while, and an excellent defensive catcher for a long time because he stayed fit for a long time.

Hall ballot
The 2021 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame ballot… warts and all

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Former greats weigh in on high school pitch limits

The outer limits

Since Japan’s Niigata Prefecture has announced its plan to restrict pitcher usage in its spring tournament this year, three former Chunichi Dragons pitchers, two Hall of Famers Hiroshi Gondo and Shigeru Sugishita and Masahiro Yamamoto have weighed in on the issue and expressed widely divergent views.

On Jan. 15, Gondo was announced as one of the three newest members of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. The right-hander’s playing career was defined by his first two seasons. As a 22-year-old out of corporate league ball in 1961, Gondo won 35 games in his 429-1/3-inning rookie season. The following year, he pitched 362-1/3 innings and won 30 games.

Niigata’s new limits will prohibit a pitcher from starting an inning after he’d thrown 100 pitches in a game but not prohibit pitchers from pitching on consecutive days.

Save the game

“I am absolutely opposed to that (sort of restriction),” Gondo said.

“Most of those kids aren’t going to be professionals, and this will be the end of their baseball careers. You don’t want to hold them back. Besides, if you can’t pitch that much in high school without ruining your arm, there’s no way you can make it in the pros anyway.”

On the question of whether high school baseball should be about competition or education, Gondo came down solidly on the side of competition.

“You don’t want to put obstacles in the way of people playing to win,” he said. “People are going to get hurt, and you can’t alter that fact.”

I don’t want to state that as his entire philosophy on the issue, since we only spoke for a few minutes, but he certainly seemed to think that high school ball is safe enough.

Save the kids

Sugishita, whose No. 20 Gondo inherited when he joined the Dragons, wasn’t certain if Niigata’s method was the right way to go, but said, “You’ve got to do something to protect these kids’ arms.”

Yamamoto, a lock to join them in the Hall of Fame after he enters the players division ballot for the Hall’s class of 2021, was even more emphatic when he spoke on Sunday in Yokohama.

At a seminar attended by nearly 600 people that included elementary and junior high school coaches, doctors and parents, Yamamoto spoke of last year’s high school superstar, pitcher Kosei Yoshida.

At the national high school summer championship, Yoshida threw 881 pitches over six games, with four of those games coming over the final five days of the tournament.

“It’s a good thing Yoshida didn’t break down,” Yamamoto said. “But I thought that continuing like he did put the player’s career at risk.”

When Niigata’s prefectural association imposed its rules without asking the national body, the Japan High School Baseball Federation lashed out, calling the new system arbitrary and unenforceable.

But Yamamoto praised the work of Japan’s national rubber ball federation, whose guidelines limit pitchers to 70 pitches in a single game and 300 within a week.

“They have done good work to protect children’s futures,” he said.

No magic number

In a recent interview, Dr. Tsutomu Jinji, a professor of biomechanics who has extensively studied how pitchers mechanics impart movement to baseballs, said there is no magic number of pitches that will prevent injuries.

“Some people possess thicker ligaments, that can withstand more stress and torque,” he said. “Other pitchers are more flexible than others, or possess better mechanics.”

“What that means is that some pitchers’ arms will break down even with very limited usage, while others will survive much heavier workloads without any damage at all. It is possible to prevent catastrophic damage with ultrasound examinations so that pitchers whose elbows are at risk get rest, but that is not being done.”