Tag Archives: Takehiko Bessho

Giant tricks, old and new

After their second straight Japan Series 4-0 sweep at the hands of the SoftBank Hawks, no one was surprised when the Yomiuri Giants’ public response to their failure was to claim the rules put them at a disadvantage. Even though it’s an old story for the Giants, this new one comes with a hidden twist and the possibility of the organization actually doing some good.

The irony of Yomiuri blaming a system that it has managed and contorted to suit the best interests of its team alone at the expense of its other 11 business partners was not lost on anyone.

When the Pacific League jumped on the Olympic baseball bandwagon in 2000 by sending stars and not playing on national team game days, Tsuneo Watanabe, the president of Yomiuri publicly threatened to kick the six PL teams out for breaking NPB rules.

Four years later, when Yomiuri became an Olympic sponsor and pushed “Mr. Giants” Shigeo Nagashima to manage the team, Yomiuri became was the loudest advocate for the Athens Olympics’ baseball tournament.

Yomiuri and its Central League minions have done this over and over, denigrating every Pacific League innovation, until they worked. Every successful PL policy has gone from being the target of CL ridicule to being coopted by the CL with a new name slapped on it.

This is why Japan’s postseason games between the regular season and the Japan Series are not called playoffs because the Climax Series was based on the PL playoffs. The CL owners made a few superficial changes and slapped a new name on it, although a decidedly stupid one, in the hope people would look see them as something more than whiny unimaginative imitators.

In the past, Yomiuri responded to its team’s failure to dominate by changing the rules.

  • 1934: Blackmailed amateur pitcher Victor Starffin into joining Yomiuri’s new pro team by using the owner’s influence to get the pitcher’s father off a murder rap.
  • 1948: Tampered with Hawks ace Takehiko Bessho to force Nankai to let him go to the Giants.
  • 1978: Failed to create a loophole that allowed Giants to sign amateur pitcher Suguru Egawa. When that didn’t fly, they forced NPB to accept a trade that sent the player to the Giants with pitcher Shigeru Kobayashi.
  • 1993: threatened to quit Nippon Professional Baseball if the other 11 owners didn’t go along with a free agency system that would let the Giants scoop up Japan’s top veteran players.
  • 2021: Having failed to win a Japan Championship for a franchise-record eight years running, the Giants suddenly realized that the PL’s designated hitter rule, adopted in 1975, gives that league an unfair advantage.

Of course, nobody is fooled by this Yomiuri PR move, since nobody thinks the organization cares one bit about the quality of pro baseball beyond that of players wearing Giants uniforms.

The Giants’ bullying and hypocrisy are normal. What is new is the stuff the Giants aren’t talking about, a renewed effort to build a talent base from the ground up, through the developmental roster.

A review of the developmental system

The first time I heard of the developmental “ikusei” system was a CL official complaining that it was just another Yomiuri scheme to hoard talent to keep it away from other clubs.

Yet, the Giants were one of the first two teams to grasp the possibility of the developmental draft. I don’t profess to know much of this story, but Giants manager Tatsunori Hara had a good relationship with Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine, who was that PL club’s de facto GM from 2006 to 2008.

Valentine was an advocate of broader minor league development and after the Rakuten Eagles made the minor Eastern League a seven-team circuit, the Giants and Marines collaborated on a plan to get extra games between the teams’ youngest players and the EL team without an opponent for a few days.

After drafting more developmental players than the rest of the PL combined between 2005 and 2009, Lotte’s enthusiasm for developmental players waned after Valentine was ousted in the team’s infamous 2009 coup. The small amounts paid out in developmental contracts mean few opportunities for front-office grift and kickbacks that once were common in front offices.

It’s probably no surprise that the team that became the new champions of developmental deals started doing so in 2010. The winter before, SoftBank cleaned its front office, replacing the old-school grifters and hangers on with a more dedicated group, led at first by GM Itaru Kobayashi. After drafting no developmental players in 2009, the Hawks began grabbing five or more every year.

Signing lots of developmental players itself is no sign of a well-run organization, but when a team drastically changes the number of players it takes after the regular draft ends, it may signal a policy change.

What this has to do with the Giants

I didn’t notice it until doing this year’s rosters, but Yomiuri drafted 20 players in the regular and developmental drafts, almost a sixth of the 182 signed by all 12 teams combined. Of those, the Giants set an NPB record with 12 developmental picks.

With major league penny-pinching reaching new heights, people have for the past three years talked about when Japanese teams might take advantage of the situation. Until now, MLB has depended on Japan’s foreign player limits to prevent NPB teams from dipping into the majors domestic and amateur talent pool.

The Hawks, and more recently, the Chunichi Dragons, have been able to profit from some of Cuba’s impressive talent, but it took the signing of American pitcher Carter Stewart Jr in 2019 to crack open a door that MLB had expected would stay shut forever.

This past week, the Giants opened that door a little further by signing two 16-year-old Dominican prospects, outfielder Julian Tima and shortstop Jose De la Cruz to developmental deals.

Although there is no minor league free agency in Japan and players can only become free agents through first-team service time, developmental players can only be reserved for three years, by which time Yomiuri will have to either sign them to their 70-man roster or release them on Nov. 31, 2023.

A full-count story said the Giants see the pair as long-term investments and are preparing a support program that will include Japanese language instruction. Although the Giants have been big believers in mass farming of cheap amateur talent, the idea that 16-year-old imports were worth a longterm investment and a new setup is noteworthy.

If the Dominican amateur talent stream becomes a river for Yomiuri, it would be no surprise if the team that once boasted its pure Japanese lineup despite its best star, Sadaharu Oh, being a foreign national suddenly decided the four-player foreign limit was antithetical to the spirit of Japanese baseball and needed to go.

If that happens, it is easy to see how the Giants might find a way to combine their old trick, changing rules to suit their needs, with their new-found trick of mining foreign talent and, for once actually try to make the entire pro game better.

NPB games, news of Sept. 6, 2019

Kodai Senga, who lobbied the SoftBank Hawks last winter in vain to post him, became the first player who turned pro after signing a developmental contract to throw a no-hitter.

He did it touching 98.8 mph with his fastball and throwing bulls eyes with his breaking pitches, and as the game went on shifting to more splitters, the pitch he ended the game with.

“Before the game I wanted to use more big breaking pitches, and (catcher Takuya) Kai called those really effectively.”

Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi said he instructed his batters to be aggressive on the first pitch, but it was no good.

“He located his breaking pitches well,” the skipper said. “We talked about swinging at the first pitch, but we weren’t able to get good swings against him.”

No hits are not enough

Senga led 2-0 in the ninth, when he walked the first two batters. With one out, he had a runner on third, and couldn’t afford a wild pitch, since even if he won 2-1 and didn’t allow a hit, it wouldn’t enter the record books in Japan, which doesn’t count no-hitters, but only no-hit shutouts.

Excluding Japan’s newest team, the Rakuten Eagles formed in 2005, the Hawks have gone the longest without having a pitcher throw a no-hitter. In fact, Senga’s was the first they’ve had since the Pacific and Central leagues were formed in 1950’s expansion.

The last Hawks pitcher to achieve the feat did so on May 26, 1943 in Kobe, when future Hall of Famer Takehiko Bessho beat Yamato, also by a score of 2-0.


In addition to Senga, who was undrafted in 2010 until taken by the Hawks in the fourth round of the subsequent supplemental draft, catcher Takuya Kai was taken shortly after, in the sixth round.

Can’t touch this

“His fastball and breaking pitches were amazing,” said Lotte slugger Seiya Inoue, who struck out to end the game with the tying runs on base. “It’s always fun facing him.”

“At the end, he was really throwing at his best. He didn’t throw me anything good to hit, so it would have been hard to just wait for him to throw something I could handle.”

Pacific League

Hawks 2, Marines 0

At Yafuoku Dome, SoftBank’s Kodai Senga (12-7) threw the 91st regular season no-hitter in Japan’s elite level pro ranks in a pitchers’ duel with Mike Bolisnger (4-5) thanks to two routine fly balls dropped in center field by Lotte’s Leonys Martin.

Martin let two nearly identical flies hit off the heel of his glove, one in the fifth, that led to the Hawks’ first run, and one in the sixth that scored an insurance run from first with one out.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 5, Eagles 4

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Takeya Nakamura was at it again with the bases loaded, hitting his 20th career grand slam as Seibu held on to beat Rakuten 5-4.

In his past three games, Nakamura has had two grand slams and a three-run double. Of his PL-leading 115 RBIs, 49 have come with the bases loaded.

“I was half laughing (when I came up with the bases loaded again), thinking this can’t be happening,” Nakamura said of his fly that just barely cleared the fence in left. “I got jammed a bit, but I did put a good swing on it.”

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 6, Buffaloes 2

At Sapporo Dome, Toshihiro Sugiura (3-4) won for the first time since May 23, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out six over six scoreless innings as Nippon Ham beat Orix to snap an eight-game losing streak and drop the Buffaloes into last place.

Taisuke Yamaoka (10-4) allowed five runs on five walks and nine hits over five innings to take the loss.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Swallows 5, Giants 2

At Jingu Stadium, Wladimir Balentien reached 30 home runs for the eighth time in his NPB career with a two-run shot in the first inning, and Masanori Ishikawa (7-5) allowed one run over six innings.

The Giants’ only run off the lefty came in the fourth, when the first four batters singled. The win was the 170th of his career.

Carp 6, Tigers 3

At Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima blew the game open in a five-run third against Hanshin’s Haruto Takahashi (3-7) to move within 4-1/2 games of the league-leading Giants.

Dragons 8, BayStars 4

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi hammered DeNA right-hander Kentaro Taira (5-4) for seven runs over 3-2/3 innings to collect their fourth-straight win. Dayan Viciedo walked and scored in the first, broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run homer in the third and singled in a run in the fourth to lead the Dragons offense.


Chikamoto moving up in rookie ranks

Hanshin rookie Koji Chikamoto’s double and single on Friday against Hiroshima lifted his season hit total to 139, tying him with Shinichi Eto, who went on to win three batting titles, for fourth on the CL rookie hit list. The record is held by Hall of Famer Shigeo Nagashima with 153.

Blister disappoints scouts as Sasaki makes early exit

A flock of scouts who descended on Japan’s WSBC Under-18 World Cup game against South Korea on Friday were disappointed when flame throwing high schooler Roki Sasaki left the game in the first inning after breaking a blister on his pitching hand.