John Holway / the japanese insider
U.S. Japan Series
1953, History Is Made
John B Holway
The Japanese won their first game against visiting U.S. big leaguers on November 19 1922. Yoichi Nagata reports that the Mita Club, made up of Keio university grads, defeated Waite Hoyt, Casey Stengel, Luke Sewell, and others by a score of 9-3. It was a cold day, and Hoyt may not have been throwing very hard. But Japan's Michimaro Ono was. He gave only five hits and four walks.
Japan wouldn't win another game until 1951, when the Pacific League All Stars defeated the U.S. All Stars 3-1.
The score since 1922 stood:
In 1953 not one, but two, major league teams arrived, an All Star squad and the New York Giants. History was about to be made, and I had been evacuated from Korea in time to see it.
The All Stars
The team included five future Hall of Famers among an all-star cast:
Pitchers were Robin Roberts (23-16), Bob Lemon (21-15), Mike Garcia (18-9), Ed Lopat (16-4), and Curt Simmons (16-3). Others included Harvey Kuenn (.308), Ed Mathews (.302, 47 homers), MVP Yogi Berra (29), Enos Slaughter (.291), Nellie Fox, (.295), Jackie Jensen (266), Hank Sauer (.263), Billy Martin, the World sEries hero (257), and Ed Robinson (.247).
Still staggering from jet lag, they were shocked in the opening game. Simmons and Garcia had given up four runs to the fifth-place Mainichi Orions and went into the ninth tied 4-4. Roberts, the best pitcher in baseball took the mound and gave up the tie-breaker as the Japanese won 5-4. It was the first time Japan had ever beaten a United States major league team.
The Americans recovered, however, and won the next 11 games, mostly by blowout scores.
Roberts took a particular interest in one kid, Sadaaki Nishimura, who used the pointers he picked up to win 21 games the following summer.
I asked Mathews and Kuenn what they thought of the host players, and they agreed that the Japanese had some great leathermen.
Another infielder, home run king Futoshi Nakanishi, did pretty well with the stick too. In one home run-hitting contest, he actually tied Mathews, the major league homer champ.
A game that stands out in memory is Sauer smashing a ball clean over the bleachers at Tokyos Korakuen Stadium, possibly the first time it had ever been done. He was given a motorcycle at home plate.
Leo Durocher brought many members of both the 1951 National League champions and the 1954 world champs. The biggest absentee was Willie Mays, who was in the Army.
The New Yorkers had some close games. One was against lefty Shoichi Kaneda, who was my favorite Japanese player and the best hurler ever developed in Japan. The temperamental youngster toiled for the last-place Swallows, who won about 50 games a year, half of them by Kaneda. He went on to win 400 games and at one time held the world strikeout record until Nolan Ryan broke it. The Americans scored three runs off him in the ninth to win 5-3.
They had another scare, beating the Central league All Stars 3-2.
On a Sunday afternoon the Durocher-men met the Tokyo Giants, the best team in Japan. It would be Al Worthington against a little submarine-balling right-hander named Takumi Otomo (27-6).
It was a good pitching duel. At one point the New Yorkers put a man on base, and Durocher, coaching at first, told him to go down on the next pitch. Tokyo catcher Jyun Hirota gunned him down. Durocher didnt know that Hirota was a graduate of the University of Hawaii.
In the Tokyo dugout that day, Lefty ODoul was calling the pitches for Otomo, mostly high fastballs, while Hirota set the targets inside or outside. Otomo stayed ahead in the counts and after eight innings was locked in a 1-1 tie.
He must have been doing something right, says New York shortstop Darryl Spencer, consulting his scrapbook. I struck out four times.
(Spencer returned to Japan to play 1966-72, batting .275.)
In the eighth Durocher waved to his bullpen for perhaps the greatest relief ace of all time, Hoyt Wilhelm. Tokyos 55 shortstop, Masaaki Hirai, batting in the eighth spot, must have picked out a knuckle ball that didnt knuckle, because he parked it in the leftfield bleachers.
Otomo slammed the door in the ninth for a four-hit 2-1 victory.
The Japanese once took a poll of the ten greatest games in the countrys history, and this one made the list.
John B Holway is author of Japan Is Big League in Thrills, 1954, the first book ever written in English on the subject of Japanese baseball.