Tag Archives: Yomiuri Giants

When catcher is the new second base

Tatsunori Hara is back for his 13th season as Yomiuri Giants manager after a three-year sabbatical. During his first 12 seasons, from 2002 to 2003, and then again from 2006 to 2015, Hara won seven Central League pennants. During that time, he also earned some attention for using lots of second basemen.

When Hara I suggested he had left in 2015 because he had exhausted the nation’s supply of second baseman. A few weeks ago, sitting in for John Gibson on the Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, Jason Coskrey, quipped that seeing the Giants employ third baseman Casey McGehee at second base in 2017 had rekindled the skipper’s desire to return.

“Maybe that’s why he came back,” Coskrey said. “‘You didn’t tell me I could put ANYBODY at second base.'”

Or maybe Hara’s sensibilities were offended when his successor and protege, Yoshinobu Takahashi,  used 26  second basemen in his three years in charge.

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Well now Hara is back, and although he may bring back his “Who’s my second baseman” smartphone app, it seems likely he’ll need the latest update that includes catchers after Ginjiro Sumitani joined the Giants as a free agent on Saturday.

Sumitani, who last season been forced out of the No. 1 spot he’d held down for a decade by a catcher who can really hit, Tomoya Mori, said Saturday he wants a chance to compete for a job again. That’s great, but the Giants are flush with catchers.

Their incumbent regular, Seiji Kobayashi, caught in 119 games last season, while his chief backup Takumi Oshiro, caught in 66. Former captain Shinnosuke Abe, who hasn’t caught since he played in 25 games behind the plate in 2015, has said he wants to catch again — probably because the emergence of 22-year-old corner infielder Kazuma Okamoto as cleanup hitter means playing time at first is about to get scarce.

Until three years ago, Sumitani was the Pacific League’s premier defensive catcher, and probably will be the best defensive option open to Hara. Abe remains a smart and dangerous hitter and an unquestioned leader. Kobayashi has earned his regular spot and might still improve a lot defensively although he is no slouch now.

Elsewhere, the Giants met with free-agent center fielder of the Hiroshima Carp on Saturday, with Hara taking part in the talks, urging the 2017 Central League MVP to bring “new blood” to the team.

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.