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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Matt Moore (2-1) overcame one costly mistake to allow two runs over seven innings and Alfredo Despaigne, getting a rare start in the outfield, had three hits including a tie-breaking home run in the SoftBank Hawks’ 4-2 win over the Seibu Lions on Friday.
Lions starter Zach Neal (3-5) was victimized by good swings and good footspeed in the Hawks’ two-run second at Fukuoka’s Casa de Pepe. Takuya Kai lined a leadoff double to center. Ukyo Shuto brought him home from third with one out with a well-hit single. Shuto stole second and third and scored on a sacrifice fly.
The Lions tied it in the third on a Corey Spangenberg infield single and a two-out Ernesto Mejia home run. Moore missed up with a 1-2 changeup and Mejia drove it over the short fence in left for his ninth home run in his 90th at-bat this season. Moore was visibly displeased and might have been penalized at Wimbledon had lip readers called in to report him to the match officials.
With the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the inning, the broadcasters quoted Lions pitching coach Fumiya Nishiguchi about Neal pitching well despite the two runs allowed. Within seconds, however. Neal caught the bad-pitch bug. The right-hander hung a changeup to Alfredo Despaigne that the Cuban slugger miss-hit but lofted over the fence in left.
Moore struck out nine and walked two, while allowing three hits. Other than a walk to Hotaka Yamakawa, Spangenberg, who walked in the first, and Mejia, who doubled in the second, were the only Lions to reach base against the lefty.
Neal struck out six, while allowing seven hits over seven innings, and would have been a winner with the stuff he brought against a slightly less-potent team.
Livan Moinelo and Yuito Mori each worked a scoreless inning of relief with Mori earning his 20th save.
Nakamura outduels Yamaoka
Lotte Marines lefty Toshiya Nakamura (2-2) took a no-hitter into the eighth, and his teammates scored two unearned runs off the Orix Buffaloes Opening Day starter, Taisuke Yamaoka, in a 2-0 win at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
The Marines managed just three hits against Yamaoka (0-3). Shohei Kato singled to open the Marines’ sixth for their first hit. An error put two on with no outs. Kato stole third, but Yamaoka struck out the next two batters and got ahead of Shogo Nakamura 1-2. The next pitch floated up in the zone and Nakamura did what most Japanese hitters are trained to do, hammer it up the middle. The ball got through the infield to make it 1-0, and Katsuya Kakunaka doubled in another run.
Ryoichi Adachi broke up Toshiya Nakamura’s no-hit bid with a leadoff double in the eighth, and Lotte skipper Tadahito Iguchi came and got his starter. Newly acquired right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura retired the next three batters, and closer Naoya Masuda worked a 1-2-3 ninth to record his 23rd save.
Mogi knocks out Fighters in 10th
Eigoro Mogi’s two-run 10th-inning home run overturned a one-run deficit and lifted the Rakuten Eagles to a 5-4 walk-off win over the Nippon Ham Fighters in a rain-soaked game at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Eagles closer Alan Busenitz retired only one of the four batters he faced—on a sacrifice bunt–as the Fighters tied it in the ninth, but right-hander Tomohito Sakai retired both batters he faced to keep it tied. The visitors made it 4-3 in the 10th after a 30-minute rain delay.
Hideto Asamura opened the 10th with a single and Eagles manager Hajime Miki played for a tie by having hard-hitting Hiroaki Shimauchi sacrifice. Mogi, however, would have none of it.
Afterward, Mogi read the home run hitters’ post-game hero interview script to perfection.
“I have good hitters coming up behind me so I was just trying to get on base,” Mogi said, with some measure of honesty since Stefen Romero was on deck, although guys say that when anyone but the pitcher is following them.
Hara sets Giants managing record
Hayato Sakamoto’s eighth-inning home run broke a 1-1 tie as Tatsunori Hara earned his franchise-best 1,067th victory as Yomiuri Giants manager in a 2-1 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome.
Hara first managed the Giants in 2002 and is in his third stint with the team after quitting twice. He had been tied for the franchise lead with Tetsuharu Kawakami, who managed 1,866 games. Friday’s game was Hara’s 1,927th. In addition to being one of the club’s first superstars as a hard-hitting first baseman, Kawakami managed the Giants to nine-straight Japan Series championships from 1965 to 1973.
The game marked right-hander Albert Suarez’s return from exile with the Swallows’ farm team in Toda, Saitama Prefecture. Suarez had been deactivated after walking seven betters over six scoreless innings on July 7 to “regain his form.” On the farm, he had an ERA over 10.00 so it is unclear whether he accomplished that.
At Tokyo Dome, he allowed a run over six innings on five hits and a walk. Giants rookie Shosei Togo worked seven innings and allowed a solo home run to Tetsuto Yamada.
Yuki Nishi (6-3) struck out nine without a walk in a four-hit shutout, and Jerry Sands drove in a pair of runs for the Hanshin Tigers in their 4-0 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Koshien Stadium.
Sands went 3-for-4 to push his batting average above .300. He singled in Koji Chikamoto in the first to open the scoring. Chikamoto doubled in the third, stole third and came home on catcher Shogo Sakakura’s throwing error. Sands’ 18th home run made it 3-0 in the sixth.
Dragons squeak past BayStars
Cuban closer Raidel Martinez overcame a ninth-inning leadoff homer and two singles to hold the DeNA BayStars to one run and seal his 11th save in the Chunichi Dragons’ 3-2 win at Yokohama Stadium.
Neftali Soto, who has led the Central League in home runs in each of his two seasons in Japan, went after Martinez’s first pitch and launched his 13th home run. But the right-hander struck out two of the last three batters he faced to end it.
Jerry Sands’ 17th home run of the season overturned a one-run seventh-inning deficit and Robert Suarez recorded a four-out save as the Hanshin Tigers beat the DeNA BayStars 8-7 at Yokohama Stadium on Thursday.
Sands, who lead South Korea’s KBO in RBIs last season, had three for the game, with one out and a man on in the seventh, he drove the first pitch he saw from big right-hander Yuki Kuniyoshi (3-3) for his third home run in six games.
The Tigers grabbed a 2-0 lead in the third against Michael Peoples, who surrendered a leadoff single to Tigers starting pitcher Yukiya Saito. Tigers captain Kento Itohara’s infield single brought one run in, and Sands’ sac fly made it 2-0.
The BayStars tied it in the home half when they loaded the bases with no outs following a leadoff single by the No. 9 hitter, catcher Yasutaka Tobashira. Saito struck out Neftali Soto, the two-time defending Central League home run king, with no outs and the bags juiced, but a flare single and a sac fly tied it.
Saito was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the third, and Naomasa Yokawa delivered a three-run homer, only for the hosts to get two back on solo homers in the home half. Tobashira, who homered in the fourth, singled with a man on in the sixth to set the table for a three-run outburst against Joe Gunkel (1-2).
Soto’s two-run single put the BayStars up for the first time, but Gunkel earned the win after Sands turned things around in the seventh.
With one on and two out in the eighth, Suarez was called in to face Soto, and retired all four batters he faced to earn his 14th save.
Morishita earns 6th win
Rookie right-hander Masato Morishita (6-2) allowed a run over seven innings and Ryosuke Kikuchi broke up a tie game with an RBI double in the Hiroshima Carp’s 2-1 win over the Yakult Swallows at Mazda Stadium.
Morishita allowed five hits and a walk while walking one and striking out seven. The Swallows’ run came on Tomotaka Sakaguchi’s game-tying leadoff homer in the sixth.
“He has a good variety of pitchers, allowing him to navigate through the opposing batting order,” Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu said. “It’s great for a first-year pitcher to see so many batters, because I got the sense he was reading swings as he pitched.”
Seiya Suzuki doubled and scored on a Hisayoshi Chono single against Swallows lefty Keiji Takahashi in the fourth. Kikuchi broke the tie against Scott McGough (3-1) after Minoru Omori opened the inning with a leadoff pinch-hit double.
Geronimo Franzua worked the ninth to record his eighth save.
Dragons tie Giants, put Hara on hold
Naoki Yoshikawa tripled in two runs to eighth-inning runs for the Yomiuri Giants, and reliever Kota Nakagawa surrendered just one run after the Chunichi Dragons loaded the bases with one out in the eighth in their 2-2 10-inning tie at Nagoya Dome.
The tie prevented Giants manager Tatsunori Hara from earning his 1,067th career win that would move him out of a tie for the most in franchise history with Tetsuharu Kawakami, who managed the Giants to nine-straight Japan Series titles from 1965 to 1973.
Hara had praise for the left-hander who issued two one-out walks to load the bases, but allowed only one run to score on a ground out.
“It was amazing he kept them from doing more, considering he walked two and must have been questioning his command. Holding them to one run was really something,” Hara said.
First-year Giants import Angel Sanchez allowed a run over seven innings. Rubby De La Rosa worked the ninth, while Yuhei Takanashi shut the Dragons down in the 10th, when the game was called a tie.
NOTE:The story originally said Hara was second in managing wins with the Giants. Former Giants manager Shigeru Mizuhara had nearly 500 more wins in his career, but only 881 of those came with the Giants.
Yanagita pours it on Eagles
Yuki Yanagita brought the SoftBank Hawks from behind with a three-run third-inning home run, and added another for good measure in a 4-2 win over the Rakuten Eagles that was twice delayed by rain at Sendai’s Raktuen Seimei Park Miyagi.
Trailing 2-0 to lefty Yuki Matsui in the third inning, a walk by Keizo Kawashima and an Akira Nakamura single brought Yanagita to the plate with one out and runners on the corners. Matsui missed in the heart of the zone with a decent 1-0 fastball and Yangita drove it out to left for an opposite field home run, his 21st of the season.
The game, which started 37 minutes late, was suspended again for 55 minutes with one out and two on in the bottom of the seventh.
Rookie Masami Iwami, who had opened the scoring with his first career home run faced lefty Livan Moinelo and grounded into a double play. The 26-year-old Iwami, the Eagles’ second pick in the 2017 draft, took SoftBank starter Nao Higashihama deep to lead off the second.
With two outs in the inning, rookie shortstop Hiroto Kobukata doubled and scored on a Daichi Suzuki single. Higashihama, who allowed four runners to reach in the first but no runs, left after five, having allowed six hits and four walks.
Former San Diego Padres right-hander Kazuhisa Makita took the mound for the Eagles in the eighth, and with two outs, surrendered Yanagita’s second home run.
Jones hits’ Japan’s magic milestone
Although he’s only played a few months here, the Orix Buffaloes happily celebrated Adam Jones’ reaching Japan’s iconic 2,000-hit milestone in their 12-4 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.
Jones entered the game with 1,939 career major league hits and 59 in the Pacific League for the Buffaloes. His second hit of the game, an RBI double was his 2,000th, which is in Japan — with it’s shorter seasons — what 3,000 is in the majors.
Only one imported player has ever had 2,000 hits in Japan, DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez. Second on that list is Tuffy Rhodes with 1,792.
Two nights after they were one-hit, the Buffaloes cranked out 16 hits in the one-sided win. Corey Spangenberg hit his 10th home run for the Lions. The first-year import also hit his Japan-best 21st double. Spangenberg also leads both leagues with six triples.
Nakata hits 250th HR in Fighters’ win
Sho Nakata became the 64th player to reach 250 home runs in Japan when he capped a three-run first inning with his 24th of the season in the Nippon Ham Fighters’ 5-3 win over the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Marines right-hander Daiki Iwashita (4-5) allowed four runs over six innings to take the loss. He gave up five hits and a walk while striking out eight.
Former Cleveland Indians farmhand Toru Murata (1-1) struck out two over two perfect innings of relief to earn his first win in two years. Nick Martinez struck out three and walked two in a scoreless ninth to earn his first save in Japan. His only other save came with the Single-A Hickory Crawdads in 2012.