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  #111  
Old 09-07-2018, 08:35 PM
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Default Yasumitsu Toyoda

Yasumitsu Toyoda spent 17 years playing shortstop for Nishitetsu (the Lions) and Kokutetsu/Sankei (the Swallows/Atoms), from 1953 to 1969. He was a power hitter who also had good speed when he was in his early 20s. Superficially he looks like a fast version of Cal Ripken (without the streak), but in context he was actually a better offensive player. He was one hell of a batter, slugging around .500 in leagues that averaged around .300. For a comparable American player I guess I’d go with someone like Alex Rodriguez. Unfortunately, he didn’t last as long as Rodriguez. Although he played until he was 34, Toyoda was basically done as a full-time player at age 29. The last few seasons of his career he played sparingly, apparently often appearing as a pinch hitter, if his game and at bat totals are to be believed. Given the propensity of Japanese stars to go on to have managerial careers, you might think that he few appearances were a result of transitioning into management. But no, Toyoda never managed even a single game. He did serve as a coach in 1968 and 69. Perhaps that accounts for his low number of games played in those seasons. Albright ranks him as Japan’s greatest shortstop, the Lions’ second-greatest player (behind Inao), and the fifteenth greatest Japanese player ever.

There is one area in which the comparison with Rodriguez breaks down rather dramatically: fielding. When he was young Rodriguez was an excellent fielder. (It was a terrible waste of resources for the Yankees to move him to third. Jeter had slow reactions times but good speed. They should have kept Rodriguez at short and moved Jeter to centerfield to take advantage of his greatest strength and hide his greatest weakness. Bernie wasn’t such a great fielder that it would have been much of a loss to move him to left.) Toyoda, on the other hand, was an atrocious fielder. Tokuji Kawasaki, a pitcher for his team, reportedly tried to induce batters to hit the ball anywhere but to short. Nevertheless, he was selected to the best-nine six times, and made the all-star team nine times.

During Toyoda’s time with them the Lions were extraordinarily successful. They won the Japan Series each year from 1956 to 1958, and Toyoda captured the Japan Series MVP in 56.

After retiring Toyoda served as a TV and radio commentator. Word on the internet is that he’s also an author, although I have had trouble finding anything that he wrote. One book comes up on the English Amazon page for him, but the title doesn’t suggest anything about baseball, so I may have the wrong “Yasumitsu Toyoda”. The Japanese Amazon page, as near as I can tell, also doesn’t have any likely hits for either ‘Yasumitsu Toyoda’ or for ‘やすみつ とよだ’. He does appear to have made a cameo in a couple baseball movies, in 1957 and 1977. Not sure of his role (he’s credited as “Batter Toyoda” and “Coach Toyoda”), but he’s got his own IMDB page. And it is the same “Yasumitsu Toyoda”, I checked their birthdays.

The card is a menko from the JCM 69 set. Released in 1959. Someone wrote what looks to me like the hiragana symbol for ‘ya’ on the back. No idea why.
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  #112  
Old 09-10-2018, 01:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nat View Post
After retiring Toyoda served as a TV and radio commentator. Word on the internet is that he’s also an author, although I have had trouble finding anything that he wrote.
I don't think he wrote any books, but he had a regular column in the magazine Shukan Baseball and also in the Nihon Keizai Newspaper until 2013, which is probably what that is in reference to.
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  #113  
Old 09-10-2018, 09:40 PM
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Default Tetsuharu Kawakami

Tetsuharu Kawakami was a first baseman (and briefly a pitcher) for several incarnations of the Giants from 1938 to 1958. Appropriately nicknamed ‘The God of Batting’, Kawakami was a devastating offensive force. In 1939, at the age of 19, he hit .338 in a league that hit .224. That’s 51% better than average, for those keeping score at home. His OBP was 27% better than average, and slugging 71% better. To pull that off in the 2018 American League you would need to hit 377/403/713. (Look at that slugging percentage!) Kawakami’s career rate stats are excellent, his counting totals are good. He cleared 2000 hits comfortably, but managed only 181 home runs. Some years he was hitting nearly 30, others he was in single digits. He seems to have been injured in 1951 (during what would have been his best year) and his power never came back. I wonder if he had a back or wrist injury, something notorious for sapping power and not healing quite right. Albright says that the change resulted from a conversation with Ted Williams, in which Williams suggested aiming for more line drives instead of selling out for so much power. The conversation reportedly happened during 1950, however, and in 51 he was the same power hitter that he had been the previous few years. It wasn’t until after his abbreviated 1951 season that his output changed. During the war (1943-45) Kawakami served in the military, spending his time as a drill sergeant in the Imperial Army. He did not see battle.

During the postwar period Kawakami was Oshita’s rival. Oshita used a bat painted blue. Kawakami painted his red.

As a young man Kawakami was a pitcher. The 1959 Kyojin had a pitching staff that was something else. The old man of the staff, 23 year old Victor Starfin, threw 458 innings. Fellow hall of famer (and 19 year old) Hiroshi Nakao threw 224 innings. Kawakami (also 19 years old) threw about 100. Yasuo Kusunoki filled out the staff, pitching 70 innings at a respectable 2.17 ERA. That’s three hall of famers and a guy with an ERA just a nose above two.

Kawakami is one of the rare men who has two separate compelling cases for the hall of fame. In addition to being a great player, he was the manager of the ON Cannon Yomiuri Giants who won the Japan Series nine consecutive times (and 11 total). He spent fourteen years at the helm of the Giants, from 1961 to 1974. During that time the Giants compiled an astounding .591 winning percentage. By way of comparison, that’s in the same neighborhood as Joe Torre’s winning percentage as manager of the Yankees (.605 over 12 seasons) and Bobby Cox’s winning percentage with the Braves (.576, admittedly over a longer period of time). Kawakami’s managerial style was notoriously brutal, and serves as an embodiment of the traditional Japanese style of training that some recent stars (most notably Hiromitsu Ochiai) rebelled against. Robert Whiting describes Kawakami’s managerial philosophy as combining “Zen Buddhist principles with Machiavellian tactics”. The reference to Zen Buddhism is meant in all seriousness, Kawakami was a devoted practitioner, crediting its influence with his extremely well-developed ability to concentrate (most notably on the ball), and eventually his success as a player. As a manager he demanded that his players be dedicated to their craft with the same intensity that he was dedicated to his.

Kawakami seems to have been a traditionalist in a number of ways. He was one of the chief proponents of the restrained style of ball that dominated the early years of professional Japanese baseball (and, I assume, pre-war amateur baseball as well), and ended up clashing with his teammate, Wally Yonamine, on this issue. When Kawakami finally took over managerial duties, he engineered a trade of Yonamine to the Dragons, but the damage (as he saw it) had been done. Kawakami’s managerial style, and practice regimen, had followers long after he retired* but his style of actually playing baseball did not.

*From an ESPN story about Ichiro Suzuki:
“When Ichiro was 3, [his father Nobuyuki] bought him his first glove, made of shiny leather. It cost two weeks' salary. Nobuyuki taught his son to clean and polish it carefully. It wasn't a toy, he said. It was a tool. ... They went to a nearby park, every day the same: 50 pitches, 200 soft-toss swings and 50 fungo drills. At night, they went to a batting cage near the Nagoya airport and Ichiro would take 250 to 300 swings on a pitching machine. They did this 365 days a year. Sometimes it got so cold that young Ichiro couldn't button his shirt, his fingers too stiff to work.” (Wright Thompson, ESPN the Magazine, April 2018)

I wonder if his nickname is a play on his real name. ‘God’ in Japanese is ‘kami’ (so much I remember from my high school Japanese class). The kanji for ‘Kawakami’ is ‘川上’. The latter symbol means ‘up’, and makes up a part of the word for heaven, superior, and, according to Google, supreme being. Maybe he was nicknamed ‘The God of Batting’ because his name (when pronounced) has the word ‘God’ in it, and (when written) has a part of it? For what it’s worth Wikipedia says that his nickname was spelled ‘打撃の神様’. But anyway, his nickname is a pretty good one in English, it might be even more clever in Japanese.

For a much better biography of Kawakami, see the Japan Times article by Robert Whiting linked above.

This clip is only four seconds long, but here’s Kawakami taking a swing.

As for the card, I don’t know what set it’s from. On the front it looks like lots of “tobacco style” menkos, but it’s blank on the back. Some sets are sort of hybrid menko/bromides. This card probably belongs to one of those. The front has a familiar menko design, and it’s printed on menko-style card stock (my bromides tend to be noticeably thinner). But it doesn’t have a menko number, nor a rock-paper-scissors symbol. So I guess it leans closer to the bromide end of things than the menko end. Anyways, I like it for the solid red background.
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  #114  
Old 09-11-2018, 10:12 PM
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Default Sugiura

[QUOTE. This card sure looks like it belongs to JCM 33d. The only problem is that Engel associates this menko number with Inao. I see three possibilities: (1) there’s an error in the book, (2) it’s an uncatalogued variation, (3) it belongs to an uncatalogued set that is nearly indistinguishable from JCM 33d. I don’t know which it is. Option (1) is certainly possible: I’ve written things shorter than Engel’s book that were professionally copyedited and errors still snuck through. But it could also be (2), there are plenty of sets that re-use menko numbers. And of course what (3) has going for it is that there are still plenty of uncatalogued menko sets. So who knows.[/quote]

Nat, would like to commend you on your research. Really enjoy seeing your cards and the write ups on each player.

I do not believe your card is from a catalogued set, at least not in Engel’s first guide (waiting for my thumb drive copy of the second). The text box on this Suguira card is highlighted in black and none of the sets in the JCM 33 series indicate a black text box. Nor do any of the other Yamakatsu sets have that style of text box. Hmmm. At first I thought you had a Marusan card but for the back. Anyway, you appear to have a unique example there, congrats! And thanks again for the thread!
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Last edited by drmondobueno; 09-11-2018 at 10:20 PM. Reason: Clarity
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  #115  
Old 09-14-2018, 08:42 PM
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Default Katsumi Shiraishi

Hi Keith, glad you like the thread, and thanks for pointing out that my Suguira card can't be from JCM 33. There are so many menko sets still to be catalogued. I'd considered putting together a website to crowdsource checklists for uncatalogued menko sets, but then I realized that that would entail a fair amount of work, and I remembered how lazy I am, and decided against it. I also don't know how many people would be interested in contributing. Anyway, for you today I've got one of the more obscure hall of famers (at least, obscure for a professional player; the executives and some of the amateur players probably blow this guy away for obscureness).

Katsumi Shiraishi was a shortstop for 18 seasons. He came up at age 18 in 1936 with the Kyojin, leaving them only for the war in 1944. In 1946 he returned for only one season with Pacific team. 1947 was again a lost year. He spent it in the industrial leagues. It seems odd that a veteran player of his caliber didn’t have a pro contract. Anyway, upon returning in 1948 he spent two seasons with Yomiuri, and the balance of his career with his hometown Hiroshima Carp. He joined the team for its inaugural year and hit the first homerun in Carp history. Shiraishi was a strong hitter in a league with absolutely no offense. In 1942 the league hit 197/285/244. That’s right, the league as a whole was below the Mendoza line. There was a huge amount of variation, however. The Kyojin hit 231/342/299, whereas the Yamato team hit 181/271/217. Shiraishi himself hit 236/353/278. He had excellent on base skills, and decent power. His performance relative to his league would be the same as hitting 300/398/473 in MLB in 2018. At his peak Chase Utley was better, but they were the same kind of player. (Incidentally: Chase Utley was a legitimately great player, and I fully expect hall of fame voters to fail to recognize his greatness.) In addition to being a good hitter, Shiraishi was reasonably fast, stealing 20 or so bases per season when he was young, and 15 or so as an old man. And he was renowned for his defense. His counting stats are not impressive – 1500 or so hits, 81 home runs – which is to be expected for someone who played in short-season low-offense leagues.

For his career Shiraishi’s on-base percentage is higher than his slugging percentage. This almost never happens in MLB. (Not never never – Brett Butler pulled it off – but it’s extremely rare.) As you might expect, Shiraishi walked quite a bit. About 50% more than he struck out.

After retirement he managed the Carp for several years. They were not successful. He was known as a strict no non-sense manager, and one who was fond of small-ball tactics.

This bromide is from the JBR 75 set, issued between 1948 and 1949. That means that this card is from the brief post-war period in which Shiraishi played for the Giants.
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Last edited by nat; 09-17-2018 at 07:51 AM.
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  #116  
Old 09-16-2018, 11:16 PM
Bill77 Bill77 is offline
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Default Katsumi Shiraishi

I am glad you posted the information on Katsumi Shiraishi. I just got one of his cards about the same time as your post.
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  #117  
Old 09-17-2018, 08:57 PM
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Default Ryohei Hasegawa

You got a 2-for-1 on that Shiraishi card, with Wakabayashi on the back. I wonder why they used an image of Shiraishi's back?

Today's player is a pitcher from the 1950s.

Ryohei Hasegawa
was a sidearm and submarine pitcher for the Hiroshima Carp from 1950 to 1963. He had a losing record: 197-208. The Carp were not very good. In 1956 they went 45-82. Hasegawa won 22 games for them. In 1955 they were 58-70, and Hasegawa won 30 games. In 1972 Steve Carlton famously won 27 of his teams 62 victories. That’s pretty good, but not even Carlton can claim to have notched more than half of his team’s victories. As seems to have been common for aces at the time, Hasegawa threw an incredible number of innings. He pitched 348 innings as a rookie, and went as high as 387 in 1955. Immediately after that season of very heavy work his appearances dropped precipitously. One suspects injuries were involved. Again, this seems to have been very common for aces of the period. Perhaps teams would have gotten more value from their ace pitchers if they hadn’t pushed them quite so hard. Hasegawa was done at age 33, and the injuries seem to have taken their toll by the time he was 28. Of course any pitcher can get injured (and plenty do), but Japanese teams of the 1950s seem to have worse luck with this than most.

Although his career was short, due to the heavy workload he did manage to pitch 3300 innings. His career ERA of 2.65 is not outstanding given the relatively low run environment of the day. (It seems to be around league average for many of the years that he was active.) Albright thinks that he was better than that though. Hiroshima had a terrible offense, and a terrible defense. Albright says that normalizing his performance to account for the poor defensive club behind him would show that he was significantly above average for his career, despite his disappointing superficial numbers.

Hasegawa was a small man (listed at 123 pounds), without much on his fastball. His specialties were movement and location. If he’d been left handed it would be tempting to call him “crafty”. (For some reason “crafty lefty” is a thing whereas “crafty righty” is not.) He threw sliders, and sinkers, and a shuuto.

The Carp’s struggles were understandable. Unlike most Japanese teams, they weren’t controlled by a corporation, and so didn’t have deep pockets to draw from; at one point they kept the lights on through public subscription. One reason that Hasegawa is notable is that the Carp faced contraction during his tenure, but they played just well-enough (and almost certainly wouldn’t have had he not been on the team) to keep the team off of the chopping block. It wasn’t until 1968 that they got a sponsor.

My Hasegawa card is from JCM 33e, issued in 1959.
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File Type: jpg hasegawa back.jpg (58.5 KB, 26 views)

Last edited by nat; 09-17-2018 at 08:59 PM.
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  #118  
Old 09-18-2018, 12:33 PM
Bill77 Bill77 is offline
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I am glad I posted my card. Thank you for the heads up on the 2nd player on my card.
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  #119  
Old 09-21-2018, 09:32 PM
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Default Hideo Nomo

I suspect that Hideo Nomo isn’t in the hall of fame for what he did on the baseball diamond. Don’t get me wrong, he was good, but that’s not what he’s being recognized for. Nomo pitched only five seasons in Japan (all with the Kintetsu Buffaloes). He was remarkably good at the beginning of his career, posting ERAs of 2.91, 3.05, and 2.66 in his first three years. In 1993 his performance dropped off (he was slightly below average), the following year offense exploded in the Pacific League, but Nomo’s ERA was about the same as it had been the previous year, so in context he was quite a bit better than average.

As a rookie, Nomo was a huge success. He won all of the post season awards. But it was what happened during the 1994/5 off-season that won him fame. He retired. Now, of course he’s not the first player to have retired, but he was the first to realize that if he retired from Japanese baseball he wouldn’t be bound by their reserve clause anymore, and so could declare himself a free agent. Not that any Japanese team would sign him – becoming a free agent in Japan isn’t that easy. But the Dodgers would (and did) sign him.

Nomo was the first player to have ever won the rookie of the year award twice. Unless Ichiro won it in Japan, he’s the only one to have ever managed it. After he signed with the Dodgers he was an immediate success. Nomo led the league in shutouts, strikeouts, hits per nine innings, and strikeouts per nine innings. That last figure was 11.1, a number that would be excellent for a starter today, and practically unheard of in the mid 90s. Nolan Ryan only topped 11.1 K/9 twice in his career. As an American “rookie” his ERA was 2.53; remember this was during sillyball, league-wide ERA was a fair bit north of 4. Nomo wasn’t the first Japanese player to come to America, but he was the first in about thirty years. What he did was display that playing in MLB was a viable option for Japanese players. Arguably without Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki would have been a life-long member of the Orix BlueWave. (Either that or Ichiro would have been the trailblazer that Nomo in fact was.)

The honeymoon didn’t last though. Nomo was good in 96, about average in 97, and traded to the Mets in the middle of 98. He had two more good years for the Dodgers in the early 00’s, but he spent most of the rest of his career bouncing from team to team in MLB, not being especially effective for anyone. At the age of 39, after having missed two years of baseball, he tried to make a comeback with the Royals. It went about as well as a 39 year old’s comeback with the Royals, after having sat out two years, should be expected to go.

The Golden Player’s Club counts performance after a player has left Japan, and Nomo totaled just barely north of 200 wins for his career, adding Japanese and MLB totals. Hence, he’s a member of the club. But there is an element of apple-and-oranges here. The MLB season is longer than the Japanese season, so Nomo had more chances to pick up wins than a pure Japanese player would have had over the same number of seasons.

Nomo was famous for his forkball and his funky “tornado” delivery motion. Probably the closest we have today is Johnny Cueto. (Although Cueto never quite repeats the same motion twice. I like watching him pitch just for the weirdness of it.)

If it had been my call, I wouldn’t have put Nomo in the hall of fame. His Japanese career was too short, and his American career wasn’t good enough to be worth much in the way of extra credit. My first thought for an American player who would be comparable to his JPPL+MLB career was Dave McNally. That’s not fair to Nomo though, McNally’s American career was only a little better than Nomo’s. Maybe someone like Sam McDowell would be a better comparison. McDowell was a star, but nobody’s idea of a hall of famer.

Sabr has a long Nomo biography.

My card is from the 1992 BBM set. Nomo was already a star at this point, but still only 23 years old.
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