Tag Archives: Masaichi Kaneda

Leon and bob’s wonderful wayback machine

As promised, here are the videos of last week’s live zoom chat featuring author Robert Whiting and former Japanese pro baseball star Leon Lee.

Bob was gracious enough to share more than an hour of his time, so I’ll add that you can now pre-order his memoir “Tokyo Junkie.” I haven’t read it but I’m sure it will be a page turner. Bob is a master story teller who saw all of Tokyo from its seedy early 60s glory to its slicker, more polished facade of today.

Bob’s 1st game

So where did the Robert Whiting phenomenon as a baseball icon begin? I’ve pegged that date down to July 17, 1962, when Oh and Nagashima each homered in both games of a doubleheader at Tokyo’s Korakuen Stadium, with a crowd

Leon Lee on the WBC

On Ichiro Suzuki

More about Ichiro as a class act

Sibling rival Lees

Leon was asked about playing as a teammate with his older brother Leron during their time with the Lotte Orions, and we learn about their one fight.

The “gaijin strike zone”

You’ve all head about it, but Leon said a veteran Central League umpire, the late Kiyoshi Hirako, explained the strike zone to him. I mention Hirako, who retired in 1992. Because he’s famous for misjudging a ball off the center-field wall at Koshien Stadium as a game-tying home run on Sept. 11 of that year, that resulted in a 6-hour, 26-minute, 15-inning game between the Swallows and Tigers.

How Ichiro got into the WBC

OK, so this is my story, but we were on the topic of Sadaharu Oh, Ichiro and the WBC, my apologies to those who’ve heard it before.

Sacrifices

I wrote a while back about how Japan’s quality-control-is-in-our-blood nonsense that was pedaled around the world in the 1980s to explain Japan’s economic “miracle” seemed to infect baseball, and so I asked Bob if he knew more about it. The article was really about why pitchers batting eighth, once a fairly common practice in Japan was eradicated in the 1970s.

Since the chat, I had a back-and-forth with Bob about how often the old Giants bunted and I’ve written about that, too.

Practice makes more practice

Bob talks about Japan’s passion for practice

Bob Horner in Japan

Lee had the pleasure of being Bob Horner’s teammate with the Yakult Swallows for one year, and he spills on some of the memorable highlights of that season.

Discipline in Japanese baseball

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Then and now

The sacrifice as religion

When asking why Japanese baseball considers batting the pitcher eighth an egregious mistake, I was confronted with the fact that the practice was once very common before it became eradicated in the 1970s. This happened about the same time as the game’s most unique batting styles were pushed out and the sacrifice bunt became as much a ritual as tactic.

Robert Whiting said he didn’t recall when these changes occurred precisely but pushed back against my assertion that the Yomiuri Giants under manager Tetsuharu Kawakami didn’t bunt THAT much.

He replied in an e-mail:

“Kawakami may not have bunted as much as other managers but he still bunted a lot, 100 times. Leadoff hitter would get on, Shibata Doi would sacrifice him to second.”

My memory is worse than Bob’s even though he’s a few years older than me, but I cheat by having a database. Kawakami once bunted 100 times, in 1966, although that was one of his two best seasons, his team finishing 13 games in front in 1965 and ’66.

During the 5 years of box scores I have for Kawakami’s Giants (1961-1963, 1968 and 1969, his No. 2 hitter bunted in the first inning 22.5 percent of the time when the leadoff man was on first base. The rest of the CL did that 21.5 percent of the time. So he was pretty normal.

Anyway, the point I was making was not that Kawakami didn’t bunt, because he bunted about as often as his contemporaries, but rather that his disciples, Tatsuro Hirooka and Masaaki Mori, spread this lie that the Giants won BECAUSE they executed the sacrifice, and Japanese baseball listened.

In all the other box scores I have since then, since 1999, teams have bunted with the runner on first with no outs in the first inning about 50 percent more often than Kawakami did, and they don’t do it nearly as often as they were doing in the mid 1980s, when Hirooka, Mori and another of Kawakami’s players, Masaichi Kaneda, bunted far more than the league norm in the Pacific League.

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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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The Heisei ERA, part 2

On this past week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, a listener asked:

  1. Who had the single most dominant season in the Heisei era (1989 to April 30, 2019)?
  2. Who was the best player of the Heisei era in NPB?

To recap our answers, we split on Question 1. John (@JBWPodcast) Gibson answered Masahiro Tanaka‘s 2013, 24-0 MVP season for the Rakuten Eagles, while I had Tetsuto Yamada‘s 2015 MVP season at second base for the Yakult Swallows, which ranks — according to Bill James’ win shares — as the seventh most valuable season in Japanese pro baseball history.

The Heisei Most Dominant Season Award

Tanaka’s season ranks 457th overall among all players in history, and second behind Hall of Famer Masaki Saito’s 1989 season for the Yomiuri Giants. But if one thinks about how the game has changed, Tanaka’s season is pretty darn remarkable.

The quality of play in NPB has increased steadily along with the number of pitches needed to get batters out. Saito, who is a big strong guy like Tanaka had a season that was a little better but required 33 more innings to accomplish.

In terms of how much Tanaka accomplished per inning pitched, his 2013 season is third in Japanese baseball history, behind two more Hall of Famers, Masaichi Kaneda (1958, Kokutetsu Swallows) and Tadashi Sugiura (1959, Nankai Hawks) during Japan’s most pitcher-friendly years since the end of World War II.

John, for those of you who haven’t heard it, brought up Wladimir Balentien‘s 60-home run 2013 season, but Win Shares has that ranked right behind Hotaka Yamakawa‘s MVP season last year for the Seibu Lions and the 28th most valuable during the Heisei era.

The Heisei MVP Award

John and I both picked Tomoaki Kanemoto as the Heisei MVP, which came as a shock to Mr. Gibson. The question excluded Ichiro Suzuki, but if I valued his MLB win shares at 1.2 per NPB WS, he ranks as the undisputed Heisei king. Through that somewhat conservative formula, Suzuki’s 540 ranks him third in Japanese baseball history, far behind the run-away leader, Sadaharu Oh (723 WS) and catcher Katsuya Nomura (581). Because the bulk of Suzuki’s win shares come from MLB, he would shoot past Nomura if each WS was valued at 1.5 per NPB win share.

If we allowed MLB win shares, Kanemoto would finish third, right behind Hideki Matsui.

Anyway, here are the top Heisei win share seasons:

Position players

PlayerYearTeamWS
1. Tetsuto Yamada2015Swallows46.8
2. Yuki Yanagita2015Hawks42.0
3. Hideki Matsui2002Giants41.7
4. Ichiro Suzuki1995BlueWave40.5
5. Kosuke Fukudome2006Dragons39.1
6. Kazuo Matsui2002Lions38.8
7. Alex Cabrera2002Lions37.7
8. Tuffy Rhodes2001Buffaloes37.4
9. Yuki Yanagita2018Hawks36.4
10. Takeya Nakamura2011Lions35.8

Pitchers

PlayerYearTeamWS
1. Masaki Saito1989Giants29.8
2. Masahiro Tanaka2013Eagles27.3
3. Masaki Saito1990Giants26.6
4. Masahiro Tanaka2011Eagles26.3
5. Hideo Nomo1990Buffaloes25.1
6. Hideyuki Awano1989Buffaloes24.2
7. Shinji Imanaka1993Dragons23.2
8. Tomoyuki Sugano2017Giants23.2
9. Yu Darvish2008Fighters23.1
10. Koji Uehara1999Giants22.8

And for the guy who doesn’t fit anywhere easily, Shohei Ohtani had 32.3 win shares in 2016 as a pitcher and a hitter, and would have ranked high in either list had he only batted or pitched.

You can find my post on NPB’s Heisei era pitching leaders HERE.

How times have changed

It is quite surprising to those of us who weren’t in Japan in the 1970s how different the ballpark experience is now compared to 40 years ago. Combing through newspaper clippings from 1973 and 1974 while looking to document changes within the game, I was struck by what a dangerous place Japanese ballparks were.

I had witnessed some pretty obnoxious behavior in the ’80s and early ’90s when people cheering for the wrong team in the wrong part of the ballpark were punched in the bleachers, but that is pretty rare in my experience here and that also happened sometimes at games I’d attended at Candlestick Park in the 1970s.

The first to catch my eye was a report on May 3, 1974, in which Hall of Fame outfielder Isao Harimoto attacked an opposing player before the start of a game, kicking a member of the Lotte Orions with his spikes, apparently because the guy had been heckling him for a couple of games.

Five days later, Nippon Ham Fighters infielder Toshizo Sakamoto was in the field at his home park, Tokyo’s Korakuen Stadium, while Taiheiyo Club Lions manager Kazuhisa Inao had a heated exchange over a called third strike, when a sake bottle came hurling out of the stands. It didn’t hit Sakamoto, but the Fighters shortstop walked toward the stands and said, “Hey, don’t you think that’s dangerous?” Another fan answered Sakamoto’s rhetorical question with an empty beer bottle, that struck Sakamoto in the head.

On May 30, empty beer bottles were thrown at reporters in the press seats at Koshien Stadium,  the Hanshin Tigers’ home park, while several stories in the spring detailed incidents involving Orions manager Masaichi Kaneda’s threatening abusive fans with a bat — after he’d been warned in the offseason to mind his Ps and Qs after calling Pacific League owners cheapskates. The owners were cheapskates, of course, as documented by the union’s demand over the previous offseason that the teams pay for the players’ bats and gloves.

At some point, commissioner Nobumoto Ohama took notice and on May 31 instructed the teams to avoid arguing too much as it would “enflame the passions of the fans” and lead to bad behavior.

Until I came across these articles, I was under the impression the fan riots during the 1975 season at two different games between the Hiroshima Carp and Chunichi Dragons were rare and isolated instances.

After storming the field at Hiroshima Citizens Stadium in 1975, Carp fans attacked the Dragons bus and slashed its tires.