Tag Archives: Senichi Hoshino

Sayonara Nomu-san

Katsuya Nomura, one of the greatest baseball players in history, a player worth comparing to Josh Gibson, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella, died suddenly at the age of 84 of ischemic heart on Tuesday in Japan.

An elite slugging catcher, Nomura played in an era when Japan’s talent depth was quite a bit lower than it is today. And like some of his peers, Shigeo Nagashima, Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto, Nomura was able to stand above the crowd like a colossus and added to his legend by becoming a superb manager and a celebrity analyst.

In a 27-year career, Nomura won nine home run titles, led the Pacific League in runs three times and RBIs seven times. He was a Triple Crown winner and a five-time MVP.

A driven, gifted athlete, Nomura was also blessed with a keen mind that he constantly exercised in his bid to stay one step ahead of his opponents — a talent that helped him become the most successful manager of his generation. The peak of his managing success came with the Yakult Swallows from 1990 to 1998. Taking over a team that had been perennial weaklings, Nomura won four Central League pennants and three Japan Series championships.

On Tuesday, the impact Nomura had on his players and rivals echoed around Japan as word of his death spread. Players recalled how he motivated them with his harsh words and how he educated them and trained them to win.

Nomura turned pro in 1954 with the Osaka-based Nankai Hawks, then in the middle of a dynasty under the leadership of Hall of Fame manager Kazuto Tsuruoka.

From 1970 to 1977, Nomura served as the Hawks’ player-manager, although it was largely a collaboration between him and influential coach Don Blasingame. After winning the 1973 pennant, Nomura became the first Hawks manager to fail to win a pennant in four consecutive seasons since Tsuruoka had Hawks to their first pennant in 1946. But turmoil within the club, that Nomura blamed on a faction aligned with Tsuruoka, and Nomura’s enemies blamed on the skipper’s future wife Sachiyo — the mother of their five-year-old son — came to a head and Nomura was fired after the 1977 season.

Nomura moved to the Lotte Orions in 1978 before finishing his playing career with the Seibu Lions, which in 1979 were transplanted from Fukuoka to Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, on the western outskirts of Tokyo.

Although Nomura would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame required candidates to be out of uniform for five years before they could go on the ballot. Since many stars became managers and coaches, this created a huge logjam of worthy candidates and Nomura was not elected until 1989. The following year he took over as manager of the Swallows and turned them into a minor dynasty.

Just as he had been the leader with Nankai, the Swallows were built around their catcher, bespectacled big-hitting defensive wiz Atsuya Furuta, the second player Nomura took in the 1989 draft and a future Hall of Famer.

In his stints as Hawks and Swallows manager, Nomura showed a talent for working with young pitchers, getting big performances out of them and then overworking them.

He was also an incredible evaluator of talent, and a motivator. Former outfielder Atsunori Inaba, who someday should be voted into the Hall of Fame, credited Nomura with turning his career around by telling him his outfield defense was useless. Inaba responded by turning himself into a superior right fielder.

He is best known, however, for his fascination with analytics and advance scouting in formulating game plans against opponents, something he had begun as a player studying films of opposing pitchers to discover how they were tipping their pitches. The Swallows famously shut down PL MVP Ichiro Suzuki in the 1995 Japan Series.

Nomura was ahead of his time in building a club made of guys with high on-base percentage, often collecting aging castoffs like Eiji Kanamori, a slap-hitting on-base machine, thus earning the Swallows the nickname of “Nomura’s recycling factory.”

As a manager, Nomura displayed amazing verbal acuity. He loved to make up little phrases, quips and songs about players and rivals. And while he was a master storyteller, he often couldn’t resist the urge to rip into others in public. His constant jabs against the Swallows’ top rivals, the Yomiuri Giants, and their manager, Nagashima, became tiresome for the club’s executives and they cut him loose after the 1998 season — although by all accounts he was as tired of them as they were of him.

He went off to manage the Hanshin Tigers, where he figuratively put his foot down on the team’s prima donna, celebrity outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Nomura left him on the farm team at the start of the season and said he might use him to pitch, but had no use for him otherwise. As it had with Inaba, Nomura lit a fire under the Tigers poster boy, who followed by turning in three of his best seasons.

Although the Tigers finished last for three straight seasons under Nomura, the talent he nurtured there provided the foundation for the club’s 2003 and 2005 Central League championships. Nomura’s run, however, was cut short after his wife, Sachiyo, was arrested on suspicion of tax evasion in December 2001.

After a successful run as manager of corporate league side Shidax, Nomura was asked to rescue the Rakuten Eagles, who fired the club’s inaugural skipper, Yasushi Tao, after the club’s 2005 disastrous debut campaign. Nomura again was able to make big strides in the development of a young pitcher. This time, however, it was in the form of powerfully built youngster Masahiro Tanaka, who blossomed under Nomura’s tutelage.

The Eagles reached the playoffs for the first time in 2009, but that proved to be Nomura’s swan song. Once more, turmoil within the front office left people pointing fingers and Nomura was out.

My only real interactions with Nomura were during that time with Rakuten, because he was supremely approachable. While most field managers who meet the media before the game do so in sessions lasting five to 15 minutes before wandering onto the field, Nomura came out early, sat on the bench, where his cushion and bottle of green tea would be waiting for him.

For the entire Eagles practice, he would chat with reporters, covering the usual team news, but also telling stories. It seemed like the responsibility of the beat writers to keep him engaged so he would continue to tell his tales. It was magical stuff we may never see the likes of again.

Once more, however, some of the groundwork he laid in Sendai contributed to a later pennant. After a failed 2010 season under Marty Brown, the Eagles hired Senichi Hoshino as their fourth manager. Hoshino, who had succeeded Nomura with Hanshin and won the 2003 CL pennant, steered the Eagles in 2013 to their first Japan Series championship.

In between managing gigs, Nomura was at his critical best as a sharp-tongued TV analyst, harshly laying into managers and players who failed to meet his high standards on the field. It wasn’t simple bitterness, but rather a powerful mix of his love for the game, a dislike for half-measures and his talent with words.

In 2012, one of his former Swallows players, Hideki Kuriyama, took over as manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters and led them to the Japan Series title in his first season. Asked about the form journeyman outfielder turned analyst and university lecturer, Nomura said, “The Pacific League has certainly gotten pretty weak if that guy can win a pennant.”

As teams lowered their flags to half-mast on Tuesday at their spring camps and held moments of silence in Nomura’s memory, Kuriyama said, “I never heard a single word of praise from him. I’ve been giving it all I’ve got up to now so that I might once hear him say, ‘You’ve done a good job, I see.’ I so much wanted him to see me take that next step forward.”

Best 10 of the 2010s

I know one’s supposed to do these things before 2020, but Ione of the things about New Year’s Eve in Tokyo is that the trains run all night, and I was on the train, so it seemed like an optimal time. So here are my top 10 Japanese baseball stories of the past 10 years in chronological order.

2013: It’s the ball stupid

Six weeks into the 2013 season and everyone noticed it. Home runs were jumping and the players union, worrying about pitchers failing to collect on their incentives, asked what was going on. Commissioner Ryozo Kato said, “Nothing. The ball is the same uniform ball we introduced in 2011.”

His disloyal lieutenant, Atsushi Ihara, stood there and let his boss tell that knowing full well that he had conspired with the Mizuno Corporation to introduce a livelier ball without the commissioner’s consent or knowledge. Ihara, one of four people involved, came from the Yomiuri Shimbun — owner of Japan’s most influential team and the leading opponent of the commissioner — whose new ball cut home runs and who had introduced a third-party panel to adjudicate player arbitration cases.

So Ihara let his boss hang himself in public. And then later came clean that he and his immediate superior, who was not a Yomiuri guy, had switched out the balls. Ihara’s boss was fired, the commissioner was ousted and Ihara, the fox, was put in charge of the henhouse.

2013: Masahiro Tanaka, Senichi Hoshino and the Eagles

Masahiro Tanaka went 24-0 and didn’t lose all year until Game 6 of the Japan Series. After that complete game, he earned the save in Game 7 as the city of Sendai — struck by a killer earthquake and tsunami two years earlier — won its first Japan Series.

Manager Senichi Hoshino, who had lost his three previous Japan Series as manager of the Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers said when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame that he lost interest after winning the Central League pennant because his mission in life had been to beat the league-rival Giants. But in 2013, as Pacific League champions with NPB’s newest franchise, he faced the Giants and beat them in seven.

2014-2016: Tetsuto Yamada

From July 2014 through July 2016, the Yakult Swallows second baseman may have been the best player on the planet. He wasn’t a very good fielder in 2014 but took steps forward the next year when he was the CL MVP and led the consistently bad Swallows to the pennant.

His 2015 season was the 10th best in NPB history as measured by win shares and adjusted for era. His run came to a screeching halt in August 2016, when he was on his way to an even better season, but was hit in the back by a pitch that threw him off his game for nearly two seasons. Because of his stellar 2016 start, he became the first player in NPB history to record multiple seasons with a .300 average, 30 homers and 30 steals — even though he was an offensive zero the last two months of the season.

2015-2016: Giants stung by gambling scandal

Toward the end of the 2015 season, three Yomiuri Giants minor league pitchers were found guilty of betting on baseball — including games by their own team, although not in games they played in. The following March, a fourth pitcher, Kyosuke Takagi, revealed he, too, had been betting on games.

The first three players were all given indefinite suspensions and fired. In March 2016, Kyosuke Takagi also admitted to gambling. The only pitcher of the four of any quality, Takagi was let back into the game after a one-year suspension, following a recent pattern in which athletes who break the rules in Japan receive punishment inversely proportionate to how successful they are as competitors.

2016: Shohei Ohtani

If Yamada was the best for a 25-month span, 2016 cemented Ohtani’s place as the most intriguing player in the world. Ohtani had his first “Babe Ruth season” in 2014 with 10-plus wins and 10-plus home runs, but 2016, when he often batted as the pitcher in games when his manager could have used the DH was magical.

That summer, the Tokyo Sports Kisha Club, which organizes the voting for Japan’s postseason awards, made a rule change that allowed writers to cast Best Nine votes for the same player at multiple positions — provided one was a pitcher. The Ohtani rule allowed him to be win two Best Nine Awards, as the Pacific League’s best pitcher and best designated hitter.

His signature game came against the SoftBank Hawks — the team his Fighters came from behind to beat in the pennant race. Ohtani threw eight scoreless innings, opened the game with a leadoff homer and scored Nippon Ham’s other run in a 2-0 victory. Although he rolled his ankle running the bases in the Japan Series, he capped his year batting for Japan by hitting a ball into the ceiling panels at Tokyo Dome in November’s international series.

2016: Hiroshima Carp end their drought

In 2015, Hiroki Kuroda returned from the major leagues and even without Sawamura Award winner Kenta Maeda, the Carp’s young talented core snapped a 24-year drought, winning their first CL title since 1991.

The Carp went on to win three-straight CL championships, the longest streak in club history. When the club failed to win its fourth straight pennant and finished out of the postseason in 2019, manager Koichi Ogata resigned.

2019: Ichiro Suzuki retires in Japan

The only better script would have been for Suzuki to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for another MVP and a World Series championship.

2010-2019: The CL status as a 2nd-class league is confirmed

The PL won nine Japan Series in the decade, the only time either league had ever done that. It equaled the best 10-year stretch by either league—when the Yomiuri Giants won nine straight from 1965 to 1973 bookended by PL titles.

2010-2019: The SoftBank Hawks

Never mind that the Hawks opened the decade by losing the playoffs’ final stage for the 4th time in 7 years to the third-place Lotte Marines. Softbank’s six Japan Series titles from 2011 t0 2019 under two different managers made them the team of the decade.

2019: The Giants discover the posting system

In November 2019, Shun Yamaguchi was posted by the Yomiuri Giants, who along with the Hawks have been the most critical of NPB’s posting agreement with MLB. When approached for comment about the impending news, the Giants’ official response was “that’s a rumor” and “speculation.”

Eight days later it was a done deal. Then followed the fun stuff as first one executive said it was a “one-off deal” and that the team had not changed its policy, having been obligated by contract to post Yamaguchi, which is pretty dumb, since the Giants agreed to that contract in the first place when they took him on as a free agent three years before.

The move makes it virtually impossible that the club will be able to keep ace and two-time Sawamura Award-winner Tomoyuki Sugano much longer and not post him.

NPB managers and pinch-hitters

Having examined what happens when individual batters come off the bench to hit in NPB, and knowing that pinch-hitters, as a whole, are less productive in that role than they are when taking their regular turn in the batting order.

While the pinch-hitting penalty described by Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Lichtman and Andrew E. Dolphin in “The Book” does not appear to be nearly as extreme in NPB, their advice holds. Because they calculated that pinch-hitters wOBA is .034 less than when they bat in other contexts, they recommend managers only hit for position players using guys off the bench who are significantly better hitters.

Even if the pinch-hitting penalty is only .006 points of OPS2, it would behoove managers to at least use pinch-hitters who are somewhat better, because some managers don’t even do that.

In terms of the OPS2 managers have sacrificed and production gained during the period studied, here are the NPB managers who gotten the most mileage out of pinch-hitting for position players:

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
TanishigeD2080.3240.4080.2710.1370.053
OgiBu2250.3330.3790.3090.0700.024
OchiaiD6140.320.3540.2990.0550.021
NashidaE4090.3090.3110.2710.0400.038
HaraG12910.3260.3420.3040.0380.022
TakagiD2610.3250.3010.2640.0370.061
NomuraC5460.3080.3020.2660.0360.042
TakahashiG2930.3190.3260.2910.0350.028
TaoE2410.3140.3220.2870.0350.027
IshigeBu2380.2990.3190.2850.0340.014
RamirezBS2890.3010.2990.2690.0300.032
MayumiT3650.3130.3390.3100.0290.003
OhH10750.3010.3230.2950.0280.006
YamamotoC3010.3170.3290.3010.0280.016
FukuraBu5190.2990.3000.2720.0280.027
AkiyamaH7410.3060.3000.2740.0260.032
KudoH6160.3280.3190.2940.0250.034
ItoL7710.3380.3390.3150.0240.023
OkadaBu4690.2860.2930.2700.0230.016
MoriD2510.3100.3090.2880.0210.022
NPB managers with largest average gain in OPS2 when pinch-hitting for positon players from 2002-2018, minimum 200 PH appearances.

The next table gives the 20 managers who’ve replaced one position player with another at least 200 times between 2002 and 2018 and who got the least mileage for their changes.

In these lists, a few managers are given twice — for results with individual teams and for all the teams they managed during this period combined.

Least productive managers when pinch-hitting for position players

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
YamamotoM5390.3250.2720.315-0.0430.01
HoshinoE3350.2920.2510.293-0.042-0.001
HoshinoT & E total5050.3110.2570.295-0.0380.016
OkuboE2740.3020.2480.272-0.0240.03
MoriwakiBu4450.30.2770.301-0.024-0.001
NishimuraM4680.270.2490.272-0.023-0.002
OgataC3410.3540.2990.321-0.0220.033
YamadaD2070.3270.3080.326-0.0180.001
NashidaF6060.3010.2830.297-0.0140.004
NashidaKB6630.3430.3070.318-0.0110.025
IharaBu2000.3240.3370.345-0.008-0.021
NomuraE7470.3230.2910.297-0.0060.026
Nashida totalKB & F & E16780.3200.2990.2990.0000.021
KuriyamaF11170.3030.2920.290.0020.013
HillmanF8970.3150.3120.310.0020.005
LeeBu2120.3410.340.3380.0020.003
OishiBu2790.3230.3120.3090.0030.014
WatanabeL11840.2950.2920.2880.0040.007
OkadaT4870.3340.3230.3170.0060.017
ValentineM10340.3280.3340.3260.0080.002
NPB's least productive managers from 2002-2018 when pulling a position player for a pinch-hitter, minimum 200 pinch-hit appearances.

So the most successful employer of pinch-hitters in recent years was a playing-manager, Motonobu Tanishige, who often delegated bench decisions to his head coach, Shigekazu Mori, while No. 2 was Hall of Fame manager Akira Ogi, who was manager for only one year during the study, 2005, before his untimely death.

At the bottom of the table is the late Koji Yamamoto, who managed the Lotte Marines before Bobby Valentine took over the reins in 2004. Another Hall of Fame manager, Senichi Hoshino, finishes second worst with the Rakuten Eagles, and third worst for his time with both the Hanshin Tigers and Eagles combined.

And then there are the managers who’ve chosen, on average to replace position players with pinch-hitters of lesser value. The good news for Marines fans is that while Iguchi made some ostensibly dreadful choices last season, they did not hurt his club, since the pinch-hitters exceeded anyone’s expectations — except perhaps the skippers’.

Silly pinch-hitting choices

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
IguchiM1330.2710.3130.2950.018-0.024
IharaBu2000.3240.3370.345-0.008-0.021
BrownE980.290.2740.302-0.028-0.012
NakamuraBu1790.3130.3110.316-0.005-0.003
NishimuraM4680.270.2490.272-0.023-0.002
HoshinoE3350.2920.2510.293-0.042-0.001
MoriwakiBu4450.30.2770.301-0.024-0.001
Recent NPB managers who've used pinch-hitters of lower quality than the players they've batted for.

The “Gaijin Zone”

A building block of anecdotal descriptions about Japanese baseball is the “Gaijin strike zone.” This implies that foreign hitters in NPB have wider strike zones. A look at play-by-play data since 2003 suggests that such a phenomenon does exist, but primarily for first-year hitters and that from the second season the effect seems negligible.

Former Hanshin Tiger and Orix BlueWave pitcher Ryan Vogelsong said, according to a 2015 Fox Sports story, felt hitters had a smaller strike zone when facing foreign pitchers. This appears to be true in general.

The hypothesis

With access to pitch tracking data, one could ascertain precisely whether or not foreign player get more calls that are outliers, more called balls in the strike zone for pitchers, more called strikes out of the zone for batters.

The data available, however, includes–in all but a few cases–whether a third strike is swung at and missed, bunted and fouled or called.

If there is a gaijin strike zone, we should expect to see two things:

  1. Foreign hitters’ share of called third strikes is higher than that of domestic hitters.
  2. Foreign pitchers get a smaller share of their strikeouts on called third strikes than domestic pitchers.

The data

The simple answer is that overall, the third-strike analysis does not support the hypothesis that foreign hitters do worse than domestic hitters in called third strikes. But it does support the hypothesis that foreign pitchers might be pitching to smaller strike zones.

From 2003 to 2018 against foreign pitchers, 20.6 percent of foreign hitters’ non-bunt strikeouts were called. Domestic hitters’ called-third-strike percentage was 21.5.

During the same period, against domestic pitchers, foreign hitters’ called-third-strike percentage increased to 21.0. Versus non-foreign pitchers, the domestic hitters’ called-third-strike percentage rose to 22.2 percent.

Hitters vs Pitchers called-third-strike percentages, 2003-2018

 Domestic HittersForeign Hitters
vs Domestic Pitchers22.221.0
vs Foreign Pitchers21.520.6

Take that rookie

If the foreign strike zone does exist for hitters, it appears to be significant for first-year players. First-year foreign hitters had a 23.0 called-third-strike percentage, second-year players 20.9, third-year players 20.0. Whether that’s a reflection of their not knowing the ways of NPB or their status is uncertain, because first-year domestic players get called out infrequently (20.4 percent).

This raises two questions. 1) Do foreign hitters get called out less often because they swing and miss more? 2) Do foreign pitchers get fewer called third strikes because they are better at missing bats?

When one speaks to Japanese players about the trials they went through to secure first-team playing time, the most common theme is the (often justifiable) fear that striking out will earn them a return trip to the farm team. They tend to hack early and often, trying to both get a hit and stave off falling behind in the count. Clearly, the longer domestic players have been competing at the top level, the more often they take called third strikes.

With foreign hitters, it appears to be a one-year adjustment as the called-third -strike percentages plummet after the first season and remain low afterward.

Called-third-strike percents, 1st 6 years, 2003-2018

SeasonDomestic HittersForeign Hitters
1st20.423.0
2nd20.820.3
3rd20.420.6
4th21.720.4
5th23.220.1
6th22.518.4

Other comments

Again, what’s needed is pitch specific data, seeing what pitches hitters are laying off outside the zone that are being called strikes, and what pitches are being thrown by whom inside the zone that are being called balls.

Speaking to Tuffy Rhodes recently, he reiterated a common complaint among foreign players, not that the umpiring was inconsistent, but that some umpires acted arrogantly, giving idiotic rationals for missed called strikes, “It’s because you’re tall.”

Looking at this limited data set, I am inclined to think the following:

  • That the umpiring doesn’t vary a lot between foreign and Japanese hitters, but that foreign pitchers might have something to complain about.
  • Any extreme effect on foreign hitters appears to be a first-year phenomenon.
  • I didn’t discuss it here, because I want to look at more data, but I’m inclined to believe that until the Central and Pacific leagues’ umpires were merged together in 2011, they operated extremely differently in deciding called third strikes. The umpires in the more popular and powerful CL appeared to call third strikes less often on players whose managers were famously ornery, such as Marty Brown or Senichi Hoshino. The PL umps appear to have done the opposite and punished the managers who gave them the most trouble, such as Katsuya Nomura.

NPB’s most famous strike

NPB umpiring technical committee chairman Osamu Ino
Osamu Ino, NPB’s umpiring technical committee chairman was there the day east met west.

End of the experiment

The plan, hatched by Central League president Hiromori Kawashima, was to prove umpires showed no favoritism to Japan’s most powerful franchise. Instead, it demonstrated to the world that Nippon Professional Baseball showed no favoritism towards its umpires when they were attacked on the field.

On June 5, 1997, Mike DiMuro was assaulted on the field after calling an American-style outside strike on Chunichi Dragons slugger Chen Ta-feng (known in Japan as Yasuaki Taiho). DiMuro, who was supposed to spend the season on loan in order to prove umpire neutrality, called it quits.

Although technically, he was recalled for his own safety, it was cover-your-ass story.

“He came out of the game, and then informed us he wouldn’t be back,” former umpire Osamu Ino said.

Masaaki Nagino, the league’s secretary general at the time, said DiMuro was ready to leave and the incident was not the reason he left, but the reason he left at that time.

“He had a tough time, living out of hotels, always on the road, with few people he could speak English with,” Nagino said soon after the incident. “He was ready to go, and nobody blamed him for leaving.”

The zone

A central issue to the DiMuro experiment was his use of the American strike zone that had been altered by umpires in the States, shifted one ball width away from the batter. A pitch not entirely over the inside edge of the plate would not be called a strike in the majors but would be in Japan. On the other side, American umps had become accustomed to calling strikes on pitches within two ball-widths of the outside edge.

This troubled foreign hitters, like Hensley Meulens, and created an opportunity for players willing to exploit it, like Motonobu Tanishige and Hiroki Nomura.

The setup

“I was there,” Ino said. “DiMuro was always in my crew. That day in 1997, I was the second base ump and DiMuro was behind the plate. There was nobody on base, and Yokohama playing Chunichi. Tanishige, the catcher, set a target a little outside, and it was one of those ‘American-style strikes,’ and DiMuro called it.”

“Taiho made a commotion about I thought, ‘What a moron.’ It didn’t enter into Taiho’s head that DiMuro’s strike zone would be like that.”

The sting

“But Tanishige was sharp, so he set a target a little farther outside, and I was thinking, that’s just like Tanishige to do that. The pitcher, Nomura, had really good control, and he threw another outside, more than a ball outside.”DiMuro, of course, couldn’t let it go, and had to teach (Taiho) a lesson. So as soon as I saw the target, I thought, ‘Here we go.'”

But Dragons were not an ordinary team. Their manager, Senichi Hoshino, wore his fierce emotions on his sleeve, could erupt in anger or laughter at the drop of a cap and had a history of getting physical with umpires and players he was angry with.

Another character was coach Ikuo Shimano. Fifteen years earlier, in September 1982, Shimano had been coaching with the Hanshin Tigers when he and a fellow coach assaulted two umpires in a game in Yokohama. *

The ruckus

“Nomura threw it, (DiMuro called a strike and) Taiho shouted and then all of a sudden Hoshino’s there and Shimano’s charging in there,” Ino said. “And they’ve got DiMuro surrounded near the backstop.”

“Because there was nobody on base, I was out in center field and shouted, ‘Wait!’ as I ran in, but I couldn’t get there in time to prevent it. Dimuro was in shock. We took over for him and the game went on.”

It never was much of a melee. DiMuro got away as Ino and the other two umps jawed with Hoshino, who was seen laughing as he went back to the dugout.

The aftermath

Although DiMuro’s departure had been as much about timing as the way he was treated on the field, it caused Japan’s managers some embarrassment to realize their actions put Japanese baseball as a whole in a bad light.

Soon after to show their solidarity for the umpires and the greater good, Kintetsu Buffaloes manager Kyosuke Sasaki and Seibu Lions manager Osamu Higashio pledged not to argue with umpires for an entire series.

That warm-and-fuzzy approach didn’t last however. On July 10, Higashi shoved umpire Koichi Tamba for calling one of his players out on the bases. Tamba tossed Higashio. After the game, the skipper went the umpires room and when Tamba refused to listen, put him in a headlock. The ump suffered a contusion on his left leg, while Higashio was fined 100,000 yen — worth about $890 at the time — and suspended for three days.

*–Local authorities investigated the incident, that forced one of the umpires to miss two weeks of work and the other three. Shimada and fellow coach Takeshi Shibata were prosecuted for assault and fined 50,000 yen each in summary proceedings by the Yokohama District Court. They were fired by the Tigers and both banned indefinitely from baseball. They both indicated their remorse and their suspensions were lifted the following March.

On a side note

Toru Hamaura during his time in the States.

One of the cool things I noticed when doing the post on preseason complete games was who was throwing all those pitches. Toru Hamaura was the first player who caught my attention. A guy I’d never heard of until a peek at Wikipedia hit home. There’s a nice little piece here about Hamaura by Mr. Bob Lemke.

Starting at the age of 19, Hamamura was among the California League’s better strikeout pitchers in his two seasons in Fresno. He returned to Japan to pitch for the Fukuoka-based Taiheiyo Club Lions but never won more than four games in a season. The control that was his calling card in Single-A, didn’t translate to NPB, where he walked almost as many batters as he struck out.

Frank Johnson, the original Mr. Baseball

Although I was unfamiliar with Hamaura, we are connected in a way. As a freshman and sophomore at Ravenswood High School in East Palo Alto, California, one of the teaching assistants at the school was a former San Francisco Giants player named Frank Johnson. Frank helped coach the baseball team and wore a neon-blue Lotte Orions warm-up jacket. On one of my first days at school, when we were getting to know each other he commented that my classmate’s first name “sounded Japanese.” It didn’t mean much to me at the time until I learned a year later that he had played in Japan.

 I haven’t seen Frank since I was 21 or so and he was working security at a K-Mart not far from my part-time job at a 7-11 when I was in college.

He was a big friendly guy, always ready with a kind word and a smile, so it was a huge pleasure to find that Frank was — in a sense — the original Mr. Baseball: an American that the Giants traded to Lotte for Hamaura.

The other name that caught my attention was Osamu Shimano, who unlike Hamaura, is actually fairly well known — but more for being what Paul Harvey would have called, “the rest of the story.” Shimano was the Yomiuri Giants’ first draft pick in 1968. In March 1975, Shimano gave himself a lifeline with a complete-game victory over the Atlanta Braves in spring training, but within a year, he was with the Hankyu Braves, having pitched in just 24 Central League games for the Giants.

He never pitched for the Braves at the top level, but became famous when after his retirement Shimano was asked to put on a bird costume and become Hankyu’s mascot “Bravey.” Shimano, who also created Orix’s mascot “Neppie” after the leasing company purchased the Braves from the Hankyu Railroad, is also famous for NOT being iconic fire-eating right-hander Senichi Hoshino.

Hoshino’s professional persona was largely shaped by his antipathy for the Giants — the team he longed to play for as a pro and expected to be drafted in the first round by in 1968. Instead, Hoshino was drafted by the Chunichi Dragons. As a manager, Hoshino beat the Giants in several CL pennant races, the Japan Series remained out of reach for him. That was until 2013, in a season marked by the heroics of Masahiro Tanaka, Hoshino’s Rakuten Eagles brought the disaster-ravaged Tohoku region its first Japan championship and a win over the Giants to boot.