Tag Archives: obituary

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.

NPB games, news of Aug. 2, 2019

The top two teams in each league as of Aug. 1, met for the start of three-game series on Friday at the home park of the second-place team. With Kodai Senga pitching for the Hawks in Sapporo and Tomoyuki Sugano going for the Giants in Yokohama, it made for an entertaining start to the weekend.

Central League

BayStars 4, Giants 2

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA’s Kentaro Taira took his 138 kph (85.7 mph) side-arm fastball, a screwball a slider and kept the ball in or below the bottom of the strike zone to outpitch Yomiuri ace Tomoyuki Sugano (8-5).

Taira said teammates Neftali Soto and Jose “El Chamo” Lopez both promised to get hits for him, and in a sixth inning set up by a series of fat pitches from Sugano, Soto tied it with a line double before Lopez had to work for a hit, going down to get a decent slider and lofting it into right center for a two-run double.

Carp 7, Tigers 0

At Mazda Stadium, Xavier Batista hit a grand slam with his 25th home run of the season, and Daichi Osera (8-6) threw a five-hitter as third-place Hiroshima beat Hanshin to move within three games of the Giants.

Dragons 5, Swallows 4

At Jingu Stadium, Yota Kyoda drove in the winning run with a squeeze as Chunichi beat Yakult’s current closer, Scott McGough (4-2) in a game that saw five home runs.

Wladimir Balentien hit his 22nd of the season for the Swallows, giving Japan’s single-season record holder 277 home runs in NPB, tying him for fifth all-time among foreign hitters alongside former Minnesota Twins farmhand Greg “Boomer” Wells.

Pacific League

Hawks 2, Fighters 0

At Sapporo Dome, Kodai Senga (10-4) walked five but allowed just two hits, while striking out eight to post his first shutout of the season as SoftBank held off Nippon Ham.

Fighters right-hander Toshihiro Sugiura, who has been bouncing back and forth between the minors and the big club, making starts every two weeks or so and looking bad doing so, had his best game of the year, striking out five over five scoreless innings.

Alfredo Despaigne broke the scoreless deadlock in the sixth off Mizuki Hori, who had been dropped out of his short starter role after surrendering 13 runs over his last two starts.

Senga improved to 7-0 in his career at Sapporo Dome.

Game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 5, Marines 2

At Rakuten Seimei Park, 1.69-meter right-hander Manabu Mima (7-3) allowed one unearned run over six innings, and Rakuten skipper Yosuke Hiraishi got a chance to use his closer for a save in the ninth against Lotte.

A Shogo Nakamura leadoff homer in the top of the ninth made it a three-run game, and Takashi Ogino’s two-out single created a save situation. Hiraishi trotted out Japan’s save leader just to prove he could, and lefty Yuki Matsui struck out Leonys Martin on seven pitches to earn his Japan-best 29th save.

Game highlights are HERE.

Buffaloes 9, Lions 8

At Kyocera Dome, Steven Moya drove in three runs as Orix beat Seibu–the second-straight night the Lions lost by a run after scoring eight-plus.

Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji juggled his lineup, dropping No. 2 hitter Sosuke Genda to the No. 9 spot, and batting catcher Tomoya Mori third, from where he homered twice and drove in five runs.

Game highlights are HERE.


Former Tigers, Buffaloes infielder Kamada dies

Minoru Kamada, who played 1,482 games, mostly at second base for the Tigers and Kintetsu Buffaloes and is best known for introducing the infielder’s backward toss to Japan, has died at the age of 80.

Kamada first saw major leaguers flipping the ball to their double play partners when he visited major league spring camps in Florida with the Tigers in the early 1960s, but said it took him four years of practice to get the hang of it.

A story goes that he rarely tried it in games because he disliked the media so much and said that if he were to make one mistake doing it the Tigers beat writers would never let him forget it.

When he moved to the Buffaloes in 1967, legendary manager Osamu Mihara instructed him not to do it. One story goes that Mihara, a former infielder said it would cause problems with the team’s other infielders, who were not that skilled. In response to that, Kamada famously said, “That’s the other infielder’s problem, and has nothing to do with me.”