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Baseball Analysis Home   Gary Garland / the japanese insider

January 12, 2002

Ichiro Accused of Betraying Japan by Yomiuri Owner       

Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe, who is apparently not tired of the taste of his own foot, accused Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki as well as Ichiro's former team, the Orix Blue Wave, of "selling out [Japan]." Watanabe has in the past expressed an outward distaste for the posting system as well as players who choose to try their luck in MLB and this is his most bizarre comment on it yet.     

One of the problems that has led to the current state of affairs in Japanese baseball, what with declining attendance and players choosing to go to the majors, is petty dictators such as Watanabe. The former international correspondent for Japan's most popular daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun, is now looking at his star centerfielder, Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui, possibly going to MLB via free agency next season and this has fueled the 75 year old Watanabe's increasing resentment toward the big leagues. Yesterday, Watanabe even infered that MLB is invading Japan much like the arrival of Commodore Perry's black ships in the 1850's.      The Giants are so worried about Matsui getting away that they've asked his family to stop speculating in the press about it. A Sankei Sports poll out the last couple of days show Japanese fans generally supportive of Matsui heading to the bigs. The 28 year old lefthanded hitter has recently said that he has an eye on another Giants club, the one by the SF Bay.     

So far, there has been no reaction from either Orix or Ichiro to Watanabe's statement, perhaps choosing to allow the clownish nature of the remark speak for itself.  

Japanese Banks Want Daiei Hawks Put Up for Sale       

Four of Japan's largest banks, holding between them more than 2.3 trillion yen (roughly $18.1 billion) in outstanding loan notes from the Daiei supermarket chain, are demanding that Daiei sell its pro baseball team, the Daiei Hawks, as well as Fukuoka Dome and the Seahawk Hotel and Resort in order to raise money to pay off at least some of the debt. Daiei has been hammered by the ongoing Japanese recession and recently dealt a subsidiary to the Caryle Group to raise cash.      For its part, Daiei officials are saying that they have no intention of unloading the powerful Hawks nine, although it had been rumored last season that it may be sold to a Taiwanese company. Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe has pledged to do everything he can to help Daiei keep the team. The Hawks drew a Pacific League record 3,087,000 people last season and are profitable.  

Japan's Lou Brock, Yutaka Fukumoto, and Seven Others Named to Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame       

Japan's all time stolen base king, Yutaka Fukumoto, who swiped 1065 bags over the course of a 20 year career with the Hankyu Braves (now the Orix Blue Wave), was named to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame earlier today. Also being immortalized on a plaque were southpaw Keishi Suzuki, who won 317 games in 20 campaigns with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, former Mainichi Orions (now the Chiba Lotte Marines) outfielder and Chunichi Dragons manager Kazuhiro Yamauchi, ex-Osaka Tigers outfielder and Toei Flyers (now Nippon Ham) field boss Kenjiro Tamiya, the late Pacific League  chairman Fujio Nakazawa, Akihiro "Ike" Ikuhara, who worked to bring the Japanese and major league baseball worlds together, especially as a special assistant to Dodgers chairman Walter O' Malley, poet Shiki Masaoka, who is credited with helping to spread word about the game in Japan in the late 19th century, and former two time National League batting champ and San Francisco Seals manager  Frank "Lefty" O'Doul, who was likewise recognized for his aiding in the interaction between Japanese and U.S. baseball.     

Fukumoto, who won 13 consecutive Pacific League stolen base crowns between 1970-1982 to go along with 13 Gold Gloves, batted .291 lifetime, rapping out 2543 hits (fifth all time), 208 of them homers, drove in 884 runs while also ripping all time Japanese highs of 449 doubles and 115 triples. He struck out 1054 times in 8745 official at bats (12%) and walked on 1234 (sixth all time) occasions. His career OBP was .379. He was selected as the PL MVP in 1972 after hitting .301 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs while thieving 106 bases, still the Japanese record. In fact, Fukumoto hold the top three steals marks in Japanese baseball history, taking 95 in 1973 and 94 in 1974. His lifetime steal success rate was 78%. Ironically, before Fukumoto, the one season high had been 85, by Akiteru Kono in 1956, also a member of Hankyu. The most that have been stolen since Fukumoto set the record was Tadashi  Matsumoto's Central League record 76 for the 1983 Yomiuri Giants. Of course, after racking up all the steals, it's little surprise that Fukumoto is second all time in runs scored with 1656. And, as a curious footnote, at one point, the Braves even had Fukumoto's legs insured.     

Fukumoto was so dominant a base stealer that the second place career leader, Nankai Hawks centerfielder Yoshinori Hirose, lightfingered just over half of Fukumoto's total at 596 over 22 years, with a single season high of 72 in 1964, the same year he won his first and only batting championship. Altogether, Hirose won five stolen base titles, all in the early 1960's.     

Suzuki broke in with Kintetsu in 1966 and after going 10-12 as a rookie, came back the next season and went 21-13 with a 2.77 ERA, beginning a run of what became five consecutive 20 victory campaigns. His best year was in 1978, when he triumphed 25 times and was beaten in ten others while posting a 2.02 ERA. In all, he came out on top 317 times against 238 losses with a 3.11 ERA in 4600.1 innings. His average walks were 2.2/9 while inducing exactly six whiffs per nine. He  also twirled two no hitters during his career, one in 1968 against Toei and another in 1971 against the Nishitetsu (now Seibu) Lions. He still holds the Pacific League record for most strikeout titles with eight.     

One remarkable thing about Suzuki is that he was a natural righthander, but his father forced him to learn to pitch lefthanded, even going so far as to tie his son's right arm behind him while he practiced.     

Yamauchi, a native of Aichi Prefecture, joined the Orions out of high school in 1952, where he was a spot player for a couple of seasons until making it into the starting lineup in 1954, batting .308 with 28 homers and 97 RBIs and took home the PL crown in the latter category. He slugged 20 homers or more in 12 of his 19 seasons as an active player, winning one batting championship in 1957 and earning an MVP trophy in 1960 when he hit .313 with 32 homers and 103 RBIs, the homer and RBI figures leading the league.     

For his career, Yamauchi collected 2271 hits as he batted .295, went deep 396 times, drove in 1286 runs and struckout a mere 820 times in 7702 official at bats. In 1964, he was traded from the now Tokyo Orions to the Hanshin Tigers for pitching great Masaki Koyama, a deal that worked bigtime for Tokyo since Koyama spun his way to a 30 victory season. Koyama ultimately finished his career with 320 wins. Yamauchi didn't disappoint fans in his new surroundings, sending 31 balls sailing over the fence at Koshien Stadium and other Central League facilities and bringing home 94. Hanshin then went on to lose in the Japan Series four games to three to the Nankai Hawks.     

That was the last really great season for Yamauchi, though his subsequent campaigns were at least decent, hitting around 20 homers and batting in the .260 range for the most part, the .313-21-69 1968 season , when he moved on to Hiroshima, notwithstanding.     

Kenjiro Tamiya was a 5'9" 172 pound centerfielder out of Shimodate, Ibarakai Prefecture, who played mostly for the Osaka (now Hanshin) Tigers. He originally came to the club in 1949 at the age of 21 as a pitcher, coming within one out of tossing a perfect game in 1950. However, in 1952, he experienced shoulder problems and was converted to an outfielder.  As a position player, he finally got a chance at being a regular in 1954 and took advantage, hitting .300 with seven homers, 60 RBIs and 30 steals. For the next nine seasons, he was consistently between .280 and .300, and except for the final three years w as usually good for 20-30 stolen bases. He  won his only batting title in 1958, hitting .320 and whacking 11 dingers on the way to plating 62 runners.     

In 1959, he went to the Daimai Orions and did well there, helping the Orions to a PL pennant before retiring after the conclusion of the 1963 schedule. In 1969 he was named batting instructor of the Chunichi Dragons and then in 1971 took the helm of the Toei squad for two and a half years, recording a 155-200-21 mark before being replaced by Masayuki Dobashi in July of 1973  In 1995 and 1996, he managed a pro team in Taiwan. There is a junior high baseball tournament named after him that started in 1981.  

A Little Bit of Versatility in Taguchi       

New St. Louis Cardinals addition So Taguchi, besides being a fine outfielder, can also chip in at second base if needed, since he did some work at that position while with his old club in Japan, Orix. Taguchi, who finished second to Brent Abernethy in total hits in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, remarked to the press that he thought that "the Cardinals have the coolest uniform in all of baseball." The Taguchi signing is being greeted very positively by the St. Louis faithful, arguably the greatest fans around.     

Taguchi, who has a clause in his contract that says if the Cardinals demote him to the minors he can go back to the Japanese league, will be wearing number 99 and hopes that "I do so good they will retire it."     

For those of you Cardinals fans who will be at a fan appreciation event on the 19th, Taguchi revealed that he intends to show up at it. If you want to offer Mr. Taguchi some encouragement, you can use the Japanese phrase "gambatte kudasai," which means, "do your best."  

Hasegawa Heads to Seattle       

The always upbeat and humorous Shigetoshi Hasegawa is a Mariner, according to Sports Nippon. Hasegawa, who while perhaps not having the raw stuff of the now departed Jose Paniagua, can throw strikes all day long. Paniagua was having a lot of trouble in that department, especially the last two months of the season. Another great aquisition by Mr. Gillick.     

Hasegawa had done some tv and radio work in Japan during the 2000 World Series and it will be interesting to see what they do with him from a public relations standpoint. To be sure, Anaheim could dearly pay for allowing the ex-Blue Wave to get away, since their middle relief has some big question marks right now.  

Meanwhile, Over in Korea       

Congratulations are in order to Samsung Lions slugger Seung-yeop Lee, who will be working out with the Chicago Cubs this coming February and early March. After wrapping up yet another homer title and Gold Glove, though his team lost the Korea Series, Lee is tying the knot this month.  

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