Gary Garland / the japanese insider
Report by Gary Garland
On May 12, 1977, it was decided that in the wake of the Sano incident that all outfield walls in the various Japanese ballparks would use rubber padding.
Here is wahat caused that decision: on April 29, 1977, in a day game between the Hanshin Tigers and Taiyo Whales (now the Yokohama Bay Stars) at Kawasaki Stadium, it went into the bottom of the ninth with the Tigers leading 7-6. With speedy Whales outfielder Yoshio Noguchi on first and one away, an infielder named Shimizu was sent up to pinch hit. He unloaded a deep drive into the leftcenter alley. Hanshin centerfielder Noriyoshi Sano got on his horse and made a highlight play getting to and catching the ball before smashing headfirst into the concrete outfield wall. Amazingly, while Sano was knocked unconscious from what was later diagnosed as a skull fracture, he held on to the ball while laying motionless on the warning track with spit foaming up in his mouth.
The other outfielders ran over to Sano and signaled that something was wrong with him. The Hanshin infielders sprinted out to help their fallen comrade. Noguchi, seeing that the ball was unlikely to be thrown in anytime soon, tagged up and made like a bat out of hell around the bases. As he rounded third, Tigers catcher Koichi Tabuchi called for the ball, but the throw was ultimately too late.
A rhubarb then ensued, as Hanshin Tigers manager Yoshio Yoshida vehemently protested that due to this emergency situation, time out should have been called and Noguchi sent back to first, something that Yoshida believed was specified in the rule book. His proteststations went for nought, though, has the umpiring crew ruled the ball was in play and therefore no time could be called.
Moreover, the last time before that in Japanese basebal history that a runner had scored for first on a fly out to the outfield was on August 22, 1963 at Hiroshima Municipal Stadium in a faceoff between the Yomiuri Giants and Hirosima Carp. In that case, the centerfielder had also collided with the wall and been knocked unconcious for what was ruled as a two RBI sac fly (there was a runner on second as well).
Aside from there now being padding stipulated by the rule book, they also revised the rules so that in situations similar to the above the umpire could indeed call time if he believes the player may have suffered a harmful or life threatening injury. Too, the play had been ruled an error on the centerfielder for not returning the ball to the infield by the official scorer (who must have had too much sake to drink) but was later changed to a fielder's choice several days later when the players objected to what they thought was an unkind ruling.
Also on that date in 1973, the longest ever nine inning game was played, a tilt between the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Taiheiyo Club Lions (now Seibu), which went 4 hours and 36 minutes.