Tag Archives: Nankai Hawks

An tribute to Katsuya Nomura from Joe Stanka’s grandson

The following letter was distributed to media in Japan from Josh Stanka, whose grandfather Joe won 100 games in Nippon Professional Baseball, an MVP award and a Japan Series MVP award in 1964. His longtime Nankai Hawks batterymate, Hall of Fame player and manager Katsuya Nomura, died at the age of 84 on Tuesday.

Forevermore the term “catcher” will be synonymous with the name Katsuya Nomura. Over the coming days and weeks much will be written about his prodigious stats (his 1965 Triple Crown comes to mind), his unmatched longevity and his encyclopedic knowledge of the game that he loved, lived and breathed.

But to those fortunate enough to be his teammates, his players, his friends and most importantly his family; attempting to use mere numbers to describe Nomura-san would be like trying to describe Mount Fuji simply by its height and dimensions. Because the true greatness of Nomura-san lay not just in his ability to smash home runs or manage multiple teams to championships or tutor numerous generations of pitchers and catchers in the art of yakyu.

The true greatness of Katsuya Nomura was something intangible. A work ethic and a passion for the game that few possess and that cannot be taught. A living testament to the truism that no matter how humble a persons beginnings may be, with enough desire and hard work and moxie there are no limits to how high a person may rise. In many ways his story is a microcosm of the attributes of the Japanese people themselves in the post-war years who exhibited the same irrepressible drive to succeed and rebuild a whole new society that became the economic marvel of the twentieth century.

When our family arrived in Japan for the first time in 1960 Nomura-san welcomed us warmly. 

When our family was struck by tragedy in 1965 in our family’s darkest hours Nomura-san was a kind and supportive friend. 

And in the interim he and my grandfather played games of pitch and catch in legendary stadiums just as they had played games of pitch and catch with their schoolmates when they were boys growing up 7,000 miles apart in Mineyama, Japan, and Hammon, Oklahoma.

With apologies to Hanshin Tigers fans they played a couple of truly memorable games of catch in Koshien Stadium in 1964 the likes of which may never be equaled.

Nomura-san once said of my grandfather that he was an American with the soul of a Japanese. 

My grandfather once said of Nomura-san that he never met anybody so determined to win.

Perhaps the one constant Japan and America have shared through all the years has been baseball.

Baseball has marked the time.  It has been a constant reminder of a love that our countries share.

Because when my grandfather would take the mound to throw to Katsuya Nomura, they ceased to be American or Japanese. They became partners, willing to do whatever it took to achieve victory.

So as the Stanka family with heavy hearts mourn the loss of our dear friend Katsuya Nomura we offer our condolences to the entire nation of Japan but most especially the Nomura family with whom we will always share a deep and meaningful bond.

And disregarding momentarily his trophies and records and accolades, our family offers in tribute to Nomura-san perhaps the highest compliment that can be given in this game we all love and share.

Katsuya Nomura was a baseball player.

Cheating, Japanese style

Now that two MLB managers and one GM have lost their jobs over a sign-stealing scheme, I thought I’d relay this conversation I had with former Chunichi Dragons cleanup hitter Kenichi Yazawa.

A few winters ago, he brought up the topic of the late Morimichi Takagi, who died suddenly on Friday. The taciturn Hall of Fame second baseman had a knack to spot opponents tipping their pitches. From there, the conversation moved to sign stealing, and the elaborate ways Japanese teams went to transmit that information to the guy in the batter’s box.

“Takagi loved finding out how guys tipped their pitches. He’d spot something like where the pitcher’s palm was. He’d tell me what to look for. But when I was at the plate, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t see it,” Yazawa said.

“When he was on the bench, he’d never say anything. He spent every instant concentrating on the pitcher. You could do that with (Yomiuri Giants star Suguru) Egawa. He’d hold the glove in front of his face in his windup, and you could tell by the size of the gap between the top of his glove and the bill of his cap whether it would be a fastball or not.”

“But for me, even if I could figure it out, I didn’t want to know because the whole process messed up my timing if I was thinking about that.”

“A former Taiyo Whales catcher, (Hisaaki) Fukushima. In the late innings once, when the score would be 6-0 or 7-0, he’d say, ‘Yazawa, what kind of pitch do you want next?’ I’d think, what would be good, so I’d say, ‘OK. How about a curve?’ I asked him if I’d really get one, and he said it would be a curve. And it was. So he’d ask if I wanted another one, and it here it came.”

“I liked to think along with the pitcher, try to guess based on the kind of pitcher he was. This type we’ll probably throw this, while another type of pitcher would throw that.”

“At old Nagoya Stadium, the Dragons used to station a scout inside the scoreboard. They weren’t like the electronic ones now. They had numbers and letters on boards. If we were playing the Giants, there would be a “G” and below it a “D.” If a curve or a breaking ball was coming, the scout would wiggle the “D,” so you’re there looking at, it’s in your line of sight to the pitcher. If it didn’t move, it meant the next pitch was a fastball.”

“That stuff all started with (Hall of Fame catcher Katsuya) Nomura with the Nankai Hawks. Blazer, Don Blasingame, was involved in that. He was really good at it. Another of the coaches they had at Nankai was Takeshi Koba.”

“Koba liked to do that when he was the manager in Hiroshima. At old Hiroshima Shimin, they had a member of the team staff in the scoreboard and there was a light in the scoreboard that would flash once for fastball and twice for a curve. Actually, I was the one who discovered that. After that they quit. Later they used a radio signal to trigger a buzzer that Koji Yamamoto and Sachio Kinugasa and players like that would have concealed in their sliding pants.”

Dr. Gail Hopkins, who played two years for the Carp when Koba was their manager and finished his Japan career with the Hawks under Nomura and “Blazer” — as Blasingame was known — has confirmed Yazawa’s account.

Japan Series 2019 Game 3

There was a little reminiscing at the start of Tuesday’s Game 3, when the Japan Series moved to the home of the Central League champions, with the Yomiuri Giants trailing 2-0. That’s the same deficit they overcame in the 2000 neural surgeon series to beat the Hawks.

Hawks cruise past Giants rookies

Giants rookie Yuki Takahashi lasted 2-2/3 innings, while SoftBank starter Rick van den Hurk was pulled after four frames with both starters giving up two innings. The game was decided in that 1-1/3-inning gap in which another Giants rookie, Shosei Togo, allowed four unearned runs in a third of an inning.

After a Seiichi Uchikawa single and a walk, the fun began with van den Hurk not squaring to bunt on the first pitch. TV cameras showed that this had taken the Giants bench by surprise, and the infielders had to gather at the mound to consider the implications of the Hawks not bunting in an automatic bunt situation.

Van den Hurk got a poor bunt down on the next pitch, Togo pounced and threw a one-hopper that third baseman Kazuma Okamoto could have caught but didn’t to load the bases. A pinch-hit sacrifice fly, an infield single and a walk made it 4-2 and Alfredo Despaigne completed the scoring with a two-run single.

Despaigne, a designated hitter playing left field, had one outfield incident, playing a potential out into a second-inning double for Cuban compatriot Alex Guerrero. But the Hawks’ home run leader drove in three runs with a pair of singles.

The Giants leadoff man, a hard-hitting 37-year-old on-base machine named Yoshiyuki Kamei, homered twice, while Yurisbel Gracial hit his second homer of the series.

The Giants narrative will no doubt switch from 2000 to 1989, when Yomiuri bounced back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The Buffaloes operated from 1950 to 2004 and at the time they merged with the Orix BlueWave, were the only existing NPB team without a Japan Series championship.

Some other notes

  • The Giants may have set a Japan Series record by going through four pitchers in the first four innings.
  • van den Hurk retired Giants cleanup hitter Okamoto twice on seven pitches, all curveballs.
  • Hawks rookie Hiroshi Kaino allowed one hit in his four-batter seventh inning, with all three outs recorded on called third strikes.
  • Hawks closer Yuito Mori has pitched and wrapped up all three games but has yet to enter in a save situation.
  • Needing four runs in the ninth, Giants pinch-runner Daiki Masuda tried to go from first and third on a one-out wild pitch and didn’t make it.
  • Game 4 will pit Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano, who has been suffering from lower back issues since September against 38-year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who was once the Hawks ace and who has been struggling with fitness issues the past few months as well.
  • No team has swept the Japan Series since the Lotte Marines beat the Hanshin Tigers in 2005.
  • The Hawks and Giants are playing each other for a record 11th time, with the Hawks having won just once, 60 years ago, when Nankai Hawks Hall of Famer Tadashi Sugiura won all four games in a 4-0 sweep, starting Games 1, 3 and 4, and finishing the series with back-to-back complete game victories.