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"Son, when you pitch a strike Mr. Hornsby will let you know."
-Bill Klem-

Bios of Nippon League Pitchers

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* Special thanks to Rob Fitts of Rob's Japanese Cards for allowing me to use his player bios as a foundation. *

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Noboru Akiyama
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Whales 1956-67

Pitching his entire career with the Whales, Noboru Akiyama compiled a 193-171 career record with 1,897 strikeouts and a 2.60 ERA. Akiyama led the Whales to their first ever Japan Series Championship in 1960. That year he led the Central League with a 1.75 ERA, and earned the Central League's Most Valuable Player Award in 1960 for leading the Whales to their first Japan Series championship. Akiyama paced the Whales in wins seven straight years from 1956, and he topped the 20 wins plateau seven times.


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Atsushi (Jun) Aramaki
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Orions 1950-61, Braves 1962

HOF 1985

One of the star pitchers of the 1950s, Aramaki posted a career record of 173-107. He won 20 or more games three times and had a winning record in each of his first ten seasons. During that time, his ERA remained under 2.45 each year! Aramaki’s best season came in 1950 when he compiled a league leading 26-8, 2.08 record as he led the expansion Mainichi Orions to the first Japan Series title. For his accomplishments, he received the Pacific League’s Rookie of the Year Award. Despite winning as many as 24 and having ERAs in the 2.10s, Aramaki never led the league in a major pitching category after his rookie year. Aramaki was named to the All-Star team on five occasions. His 2.23 ERA is the eighth best in the history of Japanese baseball.




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Takehiko Bessho
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Hawks 1942-1948; Giants 1949-1960

HOF 1979

Bessho was Japan's premier pitcher during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He started his career with the Hawks in 1942 and quickly became the team's best pitcher. In 1947, he won the Sawamura Award by winning 30 games, striking out 191 and posting a 1.86 ERA. In 1949, he went to the Giants and helped them win nine Central League titles before retiring in 1960. During his career, Bessho won two Sawamura Awards (1947 and 1955) and two MVP Awards (1952 and 1956) as well as leading the league in wins three times, and strikeouts and ERA once apiece. Bessho ranks fifth on the all-time list for wins with 310, seventh for ERA with 2.18, and eighteenth for strikeouts with 1932. After he retired, Bessho became a renowned baseball commentator. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979 and died in 1999.  AKA "Akira Bessho."




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Suguru Egawa
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Giants 1978-87

Currently a television sports commentator and author of an annual guide to Japanese baseball, Suguru Egawa was one of the finest pitchers of the 1980s--and the most controversial. A record setting pitcher for Hosei University, Egawa refused a lucrative contract in 1977 from the Lions, the team that had selected him in the annual draft. Playing semi-pro baseball in America for a year, Egawa returned to Japan and signed with the Giants, his favorite team. One day later, however, the Hosei star was picked by the Hanshin Tigers in the 1978 draft and a tug-of-war ensued over the young pitcher. His contract with Yomiuri ruled illegal, the Giants threatened to withdraw from the Central League and form their own baseball circuit. At that point, Hanshin was pressured to trade Egawa to the Giants for Shigeru Kobayashi (below). The move violated league rules, however, and Egawa and the Kyojin were vilified in the Japanese press. Still the Giants got their man, and for ten years the troublesome flame-thrower dominated Central League batters. In 1980, Egawa earned a 16-12 record (most wins in the CL) with 2.48 ERA (second best) and 219 strikeouts. The following year, he earned the MVP, sweeping all the major pitching honors while improving to 20-6 with 221 strikeouts and a 2.29 ERA. In his nine year career  Egawa twice led the league in wins (and came in second three times) and won three straight strikeout crowns (1980-82). Retiring at the age of thirty-two, Egawa claimed his sore arm had reduced his effectiveness. Compiling a 135-72 record, Egawa earned a 3.02 lifetime ERA with 1,366 strikeouts



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Yutaka Enatsu
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Tigers 1967-75; Hawks 1976-77; Carp 1978-80; Fighters 1981-83; Lions 1984

Eligible for Meikyukai Membership

Voted by the Japanese fans as the greatest pitcher in the history of Japanese baseball, Enatsu’s personal problems were headline news and interfered with his career. Enatsu led the Central League in strikeouts in his rookie season, and he won the Sawamura Award with 25 wins and 401 strikeouts (a single season record that still stands today) the following year. Pitching for the Tigers from 1967 to 1975, he had four 20 win seasons, led the league in strikeouts six times, and ERA once. In the 1971 All-Star game Enatsu set another unequalled record by striking out 9 batters in a row. To make it even more memorable, Enatsu clouted a dinger deep into the rightfield stands in the top of the second. Eight of the nine Enatsu whiffed went down hacking. And to make this accomplishment even crazier, in 1970, Enatsu fanned the final five hitters he faced in that season's all star series and then got another strikeout against the first hitter he faced in the third game in the 1971 all star series. Thus, Enatsu mowed down 15 of the PL's finest in a row in those five innings. After 9 seasons as a starter Enatsu began a second career as a reliever and lead the league in saves 6 years. Off-the-field problems, caused Enatsu to be traded to the Hawks in 1976. He led the Pacific League with 19 saves in 1977, but nonetheless was traded to Hiroshima at season’s end. In his 3 years with the Carp, Enatsu led the league in saves twice and helped the team to two Japan Series titles. He also picked up the 1979 Central League MVP Award. Following the 1980 season, the Carp traded Enatsu to the Fighters. Enatsu quickly re-established himself as the Pacific League’s top reliever winning 3 consecutive save titles. His 25 saves in 1981 helped bring the Fighters to the Japan Series and gained him a second MVP Award. Despite a 2.33 ERA and 34 saves in 1983, he was traded to Seibu after the season. After shoving the Lions’ manager, he was released in 1984. Finished his 18-year career with 204 wins, 158 losses, 193 saves (2nd on the all-time list), 2987 strikeouts (5th on the all-time list) and a 2.49 ERA. Became the only man to win the MVP in both leagues -- in 1979 with the Hiroshima Carp & in 1981 with the Nippon Ham Fighters. In 1985, he reported to spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers but failed to take the Major League team.



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Kazuhiko Endo
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Whales 1978-92

Earning the 1983 Sawamura Award, Kazuhiko Endo led the Central League with a 18-9 record and 186 strikeouts while compiling a 2.87 ERA. Also winning the most games in the CL in 1984, the right-handed pitcher earned titles for strikeouts in 1984 and 1986. Leading his team in wins seven straight years (1981-87), Endo compiled a 134-128 career record with 1,654 strikeouts and a 3.49 ERA.



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Hideo Fujimoto
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Giants 1942-46, Dragons 1947, Giants 1948-55

HOF 1976

One of Japan’s greatest pitchers, Fujimoto has the best career ERA (1.90) and the highest career winning percentage (.697) in the history of Japanese Pro ball. Pitching almost exclusively for the Giants, he won 20 or more games 4 times. He led the league in wins once, ERA 3 times, strikeouts twice, and shutouts three times. He hurled the first ever perfect game in japan, June 28, 1950. Fujimoto also pitched a no-hitter in 1943. He was awarded the Sawamura Award in 1949, and a Best Nine that year as well. Upon marrying in 1943, he changed his last name to Nakagami, but played under the name Fujimoto for the rest of his career.



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Ryohei Hasegawa
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Carp 1950-63

HOF 2001

Hasegawa was the workhorse of the 1950s Carp staff and one of the most effective pitchers of the decade. Usually pitching for a losing team, Hasegawa was often among the league leaders in both victories and ERA. Hasegawa’s finest season came in 1955 as he led the Central League with 30 wins and posted a 1.69 ERA. His 30 wins accounted for more than half of the Carps’ victories. Overall, Hasegawa won 20 or more games 5 times and posted ERAs under 2.50 6 times. During his 14-year career, Hasegawa amassed 197 wins against 208 losses and posted a 2.65 ERA. He ranks in the top twenty-five career leaders in wins (23rd), innings pitched (13th), complete games (12th), shutouts (18th), losses (7th), and ERA (19th).



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Osamu Higashio
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Lions 1969-88

Meikyukai Member

The ace of the Lions staff during the 1970s and 1980s, Higashio was also a highly successful manager. After 5 difficult seasons, Higashio emerged as a star in 1975 when he led the Pacific League in wins, games, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts as well as losses, hits against, and earned runs surrendered. After this break-through season, Higashio became the mainstay on the Lions’ five championship teams during the 1980s. His finest season came in 1983 when he led the league with 18 wins and a 2.92 ERA. He was selected as the Pacific League MVP as the Lions captured the Japan Series title. Higashio was voted to 10 All-Star teams (1.61 ERA), pitched in six Japan Series (1.79 ERA) and won six consecutive Gold Gloves. He was voted Pacific League MVP in 1983 and 1987. He was elected to Best Nine teams in 1983 and 1985. Higashio managed the Seibu Lions from 1995 to 2001 capturing 2 Pennants.



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Masaji Hiramatsu
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Whales 1967-84

Meikyukai Member

Hiramatsu was one of the most effective pitchers of the early 1970s. Pitching for the Taiyo Whales, he dominated batters in 1970: winning 25, striking out 182, and giving up only 1.95 runs per game. For his performance, he was given the Sawamura Award and selected to the Central League Best Nine. The following year, he won 17, struckout 153, and posted a 2.23 ERA. Although Hiramatsu was not presented with another Sawamura Award, he was named to his second Best Nine team. He paid for these two strenuous seasons, as his effectiveness steadily declined over the next eight years. In 1980, Hiramatsu rebounded to lead the Central League with a 2.39 ERA, but he never had a winning season again.



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Tsuneo Horiuchi
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Giants 1966-83

Meikyukai Member

Considered one of the "bad boys" of Japanese baseball, Horiuchi was the most charismatic and one of the best pitchers on the famed V-9 Giants. Always slightly wild, Horiuchi's delivery caused his cap to fall to the ground. In his rookie season (1966), he led the Central League in ERA, winning percentage and walks as he helped the Giants to their second of nine consecutive championships. For his accomplishments, he was selected Rookie of the Year and shared the Sawamura Award with Minoru Murayama. Horiuchi won a second Sawamura Award in 1972 and was named to the Best Nine in 1972 and 1974. He was also an excellent fielder (winning seven consecutive Gold Gloves) and a strong batter (hitting 21 career homers). Surprisingly, Horiuchi only led the league in major pitching categories twice: ERA in 1966 and wins in 1972. Horiuchi's off-the-field antics and bad attitude, however, often made the sports paper headlines. Robert Whiting devotes a whole section of The Chrysanthemum and the Bat to this topic. Winning 12 consecutive games as an 18-year-old rookie, he proclaimed himself a superstar, refused to bow respectfully to elder players, argued with management, goofed off in exhibition games, spat while on television, and shamefully let his cap fall off during his follow-through. He went on to taunt rivals and discuss their shortcomings with uncommon candor throughout his career. He pitched his way back into the good graces of Japanese fans in a disastrous 1971 postseason series against the Baltimore Orioles as one Japanese pitcher with whom the Orioles had trouble.



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Nobuyuki Hoshino
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Braves/BlueWave 1985-1999, Tigers 2000-02

Meikyukai Member

One of the best starters in BlueWave history. The gaunt southpaw struck out 2,041 batters in 18 years. In 1996, Hoshino had the best Pacific League winning percentage, with a 13-5 record. Not a power pitcher, Hoshino used a mixture of off-speed pitches to out-smart batters. He had double-figure wins in 12 seasons, eleven consecutively.


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Kazuhisa Inao
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Lions 1956-69

HOF 1993, Meikyukai Member

In the late-1950s, Inao amazed Japanese fans with his pitching exploits and was known for pitching long games consecutively. Inao's finest performance came in the 1958 Japan Series, when he won all four of the Lions' games. By the end of his 14-year career (1956-1969) with the Lions, Inao had won the Rookie of the Year, two MVPs, won more than 30 games 3 years in a row, and had been named to the Best Nine team five times. He led the league in wins four times, strikeouts three times, and ERA five times (most all-time). He also set the Pacific League records for lowest ERA (1.06 in 1956), wins (42 in 1961), and strikeouts (353 in 1961). Inao currently ranks third all-time for ERA, seventh in career appearances with 756 (304 starts 452 in relief), seventh for strikeouts (2574), eighth for wins (276), tenth in most career innings pitched (3599), fourteenth (tied) in career shutouts (43), eighteenth in career complete games (179), and much more. His name was used in a set phrase "Kamisama, Hotokesama, Inaosama" as in a prayer to god for help. It's no exaggeration to say that without him, the Lions would not have had its golden era. He has skippered Nishitetsu and Lotte Orions.



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Hideki Irabu
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Orions 1988-91, Marines 1992-96, Tigers 2003-04

Irabu was dubbed "kurage," meaning jellyfish, because of his wiggly pitching motion. He broke Japan's pitching speed record when he marked 158 km/hr hurling to Kazuhiro Kiyohara, then a Lions hitter in 1993. He was the winningest pitcher of 1994, and the pitcher with the best ERA in 1995 and 1996. He was also known in the States as the 'Japanese Nolan Ryan" for his fastball. Irabu caused quite a stir in his fateful trip to the Major Leagues, mostly because of his inability to adjust to the US spotlight and his inability to pitch effectively. He did, however, finally have some success in the States as a closer, and he went back to Japan for his last two years of pro ball and pitched in that capacity.



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Takao Kajimoto
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Braves 1954-73

HOF 2001 Meikyukai Member

Twice in Japanese baseball history has a pitcher gotten nine consecutive strikeouts in an official regular season game. The first such feat was in 1957 by southpaw Takao Kajimoto of the Hankyu Braves (now the Orix BlueWave) against Nankai (now Daiei) on July 23rd of that year. Kajimoto went on to win 24 games that year and lose 16 with an ERA of 1.92 in 53 appearances. For his career, Kajimoto won 254 and dropped 255 with a lifetime ERA of 2.98.



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Genji Kaku
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Dragons

This Taiwanese pitcher won an MVP, led the league in saves twice and in ERA once. He had 88 saves from 1987 through 1989. Though his best seasons were in relief, he started games in nearly half the years he appeared in. He's another example of how Japanese managers have loved workhorse starters and undervalued relief aces.


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Taigen Kaku
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Lions 1985-96

Meikyukai Member

One of the best fastball pitchers of the 1980s, Taiwanese star Taigen Kaku pitched a no-hitter his first year in Japan and compiled a 117-68 career record with the Lions. Named the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player in 1991, Kaku compiled a 15-6 record with a 2.59 ERA and 108 strikeouts that year.



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Masaichi Kaneda
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Swallows 1950-64, Giants 1965-69

HOF 1988; Meikyukai Member

Considered by many to be Japan's greatest pitcher, "The God of Pitching" was a lefty who had pinpoint control and dazzling speed. Kaneda holds numerous Japanese records. He is the all-time leader in wins with 400, strikeouts with 4,490, complete games with 365, and innings pitched with 5,526.2. During his career with the Swallows and Giants he led the Central League in wins three times, ERA twice, and strikeouts ten times. Kaneda was selected to the Best Nine team 3 times, won the Sawamura Award 3 consecutive times. Only Cy Young and Walter Johnson have more career Wins, and the closest lefty is Warren Spah at 363.




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Yoshitaka Katori
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Giants 1979-89, Lions 1990-96

A relief pitcher his entire 18-year career, and a Head Coach of the Giants after he retired. Katori had a great pitching career with the Giants and Lions. The right-handed middle reliever and closer compiled a 90-45 record with 131 saves, 846 strikeouts and a 2.76 ERA. Katori retired on the same day as Taigen Kaku --both pitched to a single batter before fans and teammates bid them farewell.



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Kazuhisa Kawaguchi
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Carp 1982-1995,  Giants 1996-1998
 
Number 1 draft pick by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in 1981, by the time he retired in 1998 he had racked up 2,092 K's -- good for 13th all-time.



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Manabu Kitabeppu
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Carp 1976-94

Meikyukai Member

Kitabeppu was the ace of the powerful Carp teams of the late-1970s and 1980s. During his 19 year career, he led the Central League in ERA only once and wins only twice, but he still managed to rack up an impressive 213 career victories. Kitabeppu won his first Sawamura Award in 1982 by leading the Central League in wins (20) and innings pitched and posting a 2.43 ERA. In 1986, his league leading 18 wins, .818 winning percent, and 2.43 ERA helped the Carp win the pennant and earned him his second Sawamura Award as well as the Central League MVP. Kitabeppu was named to the Central League Best Nine team twice and was a Gold Glove winner in 1986.



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Shigeru Kobayashi
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Giants, ?1972-1977, Tigers 1978-1982?

Dealt to the Tigers in 1978 in the infamous Egawa Incident, Kobayashi was a very strong pitcher in his own right.  Kobayashi won the Sawamura Award in 1977 with an 18-8, .2.92 record.  He won it again in 1979 with a 22-9, 2.89 mark.  It would be twenty years before another Tigers pitcher posted 20 wins. In his eleven year career he was 139-95. After he retired he became pitching coach for the Buffaloes, and then a sportscaster.



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Masaaki Koyama
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Tigers 1953-63, Orions 1963-72, Whales 1973

HOF 2001, Meikyukai Member

One of the most dominating pitchers in the history of Japanese ball, Masaaki Koyama was the ace of the Tigers’ staff in the late 1950s and the Orions’ crew of the mid 1960s. In his 21-year career, he had only 2 losing seasons. Overall, Koyama won over 20 games seven times, but he led the league in wins and strikeouts only once. Nevertheless, his 320 career wins is the third best in the history of Japanese baseball. Koyama won a Sawamura Award in 1962 with a 27-11, 270 K, 1.62 mark. He is third in career strikeouts with 3,159 and ranks in the all-time top ten in games (4th), innings pitched (3rd), complete games (5th), shutouts (3rd), and losses (6th).



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Kimiyasu Kudo
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Lions 1982-94, Hawks 1995-99, Giants 2000-03

The sometimes erratic Kudo has won 1 Strikeout and 4 ERA titles as well as an MVP while playing through several serious injuries over his 22-year career. Kudo was one of the best Pacific League pitchers in the 1990's, and became the highest paid pitcher ever when he joined the Giants in 2000. In 2003 he became the first Giants pitcher over 40 to hurl a shutout (5th overall), a 3-hit affair with 9 K's.



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Masumi Kuwata
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Giants 1986-95, 1997-03

Kuwata was Kiyohara's teammate in high school. Was the number one draft pick for the Giants in 1985. He has won the MVP and the Sawamura Award. He was out from April 1995 and the entire 1996 season due to serious damage of the ligament in the right elbow, but he made a successful comeback in the 1997 season achieving 10 wins. He was the first Japanese pitcher to recover from serious arm surgery and pitch successfully again.



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Hiromi Makihara
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Giants 1983-01

Meikyukai Member

Though never having won either the MVP or the Sawamura Award, Hiromi Makihara was one of the top pitchers in the Central League. Makihara has compiled a 159-128 record with 2,111 strikeouts and a 3.19 ERA. The right-handed hurler earned his only pitching crown in 1988, leading the league with 187 strikeouts. On June 18, 1994, he pitched a perfect no-hit game against the Hiroshima Carp at the Fukuoka Dome. In 1998-2000 he was the relief ace of the staff with 50 saves out of 57 attempts.  He pitched to a single batter in 2001, striking him out.



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Mutsuo Minagawa
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Hawks 1954-1971

Meikyukai Member

Minagawa pitched for the strong Hawks teams of the 1950s and 1960s helping them to six pennants and two Japan Series titles. A consistent winner and probably the most successful Nankai pitcher of all-time, Minagawa won 16 or more in seven seasons, and his .614 career winning percentage ranks among the best. Minagawa also had ERAs of less the 2.00 five times during his career, and in only three seasons during his eighteen-year career did his ERA rise above 3.00. He led the Pacific League in victories twice, winning percentage twice, and ERA once. He is also Japan's last 30 game winner, going 31 and 10 with a league-leading 1.61 ERA in 1968. He ended his career with a 2.42 ERA with a 221-139 mark.



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Choji Murata
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Orions 1968-90

Meikyukai Member

The ace of the Orions staff from the mid-1970s to 1990, Murata thought a pitcher should never stop working. He threw a hundred or more pitches every day in practice and in games he would throw every pitch as hard as he could -- which in Murata's case was over ninety miles per hour. But one day early in the 1982 season he felt a strange twinge in his right elbow and found himself unable to pitch normally. His arm hurt every time he tried to throw and he was forced to go on the disabled list. The team doctor could find nothing wrong, so Murata decided that he would "pitch through the pain." Pain shot through his arm with every pitch, but he continued to throw, hoping somehow to make the pain disappear by sheer will. It didn't, and he had tried everything to heal his injured elbow: acupuncture, electrical shock, massages. Finally he heard of Tommy John, and his wife convinced him to seek help in America. Eventually, to make a long story short, Murata was the first Japanese pitcher to break with tradition and have arm surgery -- it was successful, and he made a comeback. He led the Pacific League in wins once, ERA three times, strikeouts four times and saves once. Murata’s best season came in 1976 when he won 21 and led the league in both ERA and strikeouts. By the end of his career, Murata had won 215, struck out 2363, and posted a 3.24 ERA.



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Minoru Murayama
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Tigers 1959-72

HOF 1993, Meikyukai Member

Murayama, the "Man of Flames," had a pitching style that is not well known stateside. Murayama was already a star player as a student of Kansai University before joining the Hanshin Tigers in 1959.  Murayama beat out Oh for Rookie of the Year in 1959 by winning 18 games and striking out 294 batters, with an astonishing 1.19 ERA. One of his best known rookie moments, however, was when he was humiliated before Emperor Showa in June 1959 because Giants great Shigeo Nagashima slugged a game winning homerun off him. Still, Murayama won the 1959 Rookie of the Year Award going 18-10 with a 1.19 ERA. He was one of the greatest pitchers in Japanese history, winning three Sawamura Awards, eight All-Star selections as well as three Best Nines. Three times his season ERA was an astounding 1.20 or lower, including 0.98 (the modern record) in 1970. He won more than 20 games five times and won the Central League MVP in 1962. He had 55 career shutouts. A workhorse, he pitched more than 290 innings five times in his first eight seasons.  Midway through his career he started having arm trouble, and at age 32 he was appointed player-manager of the Tigers. Murayama was expected to ease himself out of the rotation, but instead he picked his spots and posted a 14-3, 0.98 mark. His feud with ace Yutaka Enatsu led to his dismissal as manager shortly after the next season.



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Hiroshi Nakao
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Giants 1939-57

HOF 1998

During his sixteen-year career with the Giants, the left-handed Nakao was a stellar hurler, but was often slated as the Giants’ second or even third starter. In all, he won 209 games while losing only 127, and ended with a 2.48 lifetime ERA. Being a member of several powerful Giants teams, he pitched in four different Japan Series during the latter part of his career posting a miserly 1.93 ERA in 28 innings. He also pitched two no hitters. His best season came in 1948 when he received the Sawamura Award for leading the league in wins (27), strikeouts (187), and ERA (1.87).


 
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Jiro Noguchi
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Senators 1939, Tsubasa 1940, Taiho 1941-1942, Braves 1946-1953, Lions 1953

HOF 1989

One of the top pitchers of the 1940s, Noguchi was one of the world’s greatest Iron Men. After being the first pitcher in history to throw four consecutive shutouts in the national high school championships, Noguchi joined the Senators in 1939. In his rookie year, he pitched in 69 games, 459 innings and won 33 games with a 2.04 ERA. During the next four seasons, Noguchi won 123 games in 1637 innings with ERAs under 1.50 each season. His best season came in 1942 when he won 40 with 19 shutouts and a 1.19 ERA. He also pitched in 527 1/3 innings and on May 28, 1942, all 28 innings of a game that ended in a 4-4 tie. After the War, Noguchi’s domination slackened but he still remained one of the league’s best. Noguchi was also a proficient batter and often played outfield between starts. His best offensive season came in 1946 when he hit .298 in 336 at bats, including a then record 31 game hitting streak.



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Yutaka Ono
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Carp 1977-98

Although many of Japan's best pitchers burn out at an early age, when Yutaka Ono retired at age 43 he was still Hiroshima's best starter. Ono twice led the league in ERA, first in 1988 and again in 1997 when he was 42 years old. The second time it was on a team that had the worst ERA in both leagues. Ono won the Sawamura Award in 1988 with a 13-7 record, 183 strikeouts, and a 1.70 ERA. Though used heavily as a reliever between 1991 and 1994, Ono was moved back to a starting role for his last years. Ono compiled a 148-100 record with 138 saves, 54 relief wins, 1,733 strikeouts and a 2.90 career ERA in 2,231 innings over 707 games. Despite pitching in Japan's smallest ballpark, Ono gave up less than one home run every ten innings over his career.



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Masaki Saito
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Giants 1984-2001

#1 Draft Pick, 3-Time Sawamura winner (1989, 1995-96), 5-time Wins Leader (#1 all-time), 4-Time Gold Glove winner, 3-time ERA Leader and 1-Time Strikeout Leader, Masaki Saito was probably the most dominant Japanese pitcher of the early 1990s. Injuries severely limited his playing time at the end of his career, however, and with retirement he became the Giants pitching coach.



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Juzo (Shigeo) Sanada
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Asahi 1943, Pacific 1946, Robins 1947-51, Tigers 1952-56

HOF 1990

An incredible workhorse, Sanada was known for having the best curveball of his era and for his hitting ability. Sanada led the league in innings pitched three times, including four seasons with more than 390 IP! He also completed 211 of the 296 games he started. He finished with a pitching record of 178-128, a 2.83 ERA, and a lifetime batting average of .255. He also tossed two no hitters. Sanada's best season came in 1950 when his 39 wins paced the Robins to the first Central League pennant. He also led the league in innings pitched (395 2/3), struck out 191, posted a 3.05 ERA and received the Sawamura Award.



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Kazuhiro Sasaki
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Whales 1990-92, Bay Stars 1993-99, 2004-05

Dubbed "daimajin" or the "great devil". Won the title for the most saves 5 times. He holds a number of Japan records. He holds the record for most saves in a season with 45, most career total saves (252), and also the record for most consecutive saves (17). His 1999 contract with the Bay Stars was 480 million yen. In 2000, he joined the Seattle Mariners and was awarded Rookie of the Year.




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Yoshiro Sotokoba
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Carp 1965-79

One of the most overpowering pitchers of the late 1960s and early 70s. In his 15-year career, Sotokoba compiled a 131-138 record with 1,678 strikeouts and a 2.88 career ERA. Leading the Carp to their first pennant, Sotokoba earned the Sawamura Award in 1975 after leading the league with a 20-13 record and 193 strikeouts. Sotokoba also pitched three no-hitters for the Carp, including a perfect game on September 14, 1968 in which he struck out 16 Taiyo Whales batters. His three no-hitters matched a feat accomplished only in Japan by legendary pitcher Eiji Sawamura.



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Victor Starffin
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Giants 1936-44; Pacific 1946; Robins 1947; Stars 1949-53; Unions 1954-55

HOF 1960

Born in Russia, Victor Starfin grew up in Japan after his parents fled the Bolshevik Revolution. He was one of the league's early star pitchers and the first gaijin elected to the Hall of Fame. He was the Giants' best pitcher during the late-1930s and even participated in the Giants' U.S. tour. In his best season, Starffin won 42 games (a Japan record) with an ERA of 1.73 in 458 1/3 innings. During his career, he won a MVP award, led the league in wins three times, in strikeouts once, and in ERA twice. He ranks first in career shutouts with 83, second on the all-time list of complete games with 350, sixth in wins with 303 and fifth in lifetime ERA with 2.09, seventh in innings pitched with 4571.1, fifth in Walks Allowed with 1221 and nineteenth in Strikeouts with 1960.



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Shigeru Sugishita
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Dragons 1949-58, Orions 1961

HOF 1985

One of the premier pitchers of the 1950s, and the best pitcher ever to appear with the Dragons, Sugishita had a great but short career. He was the first forkball pitcher in Japan. In only 11 seasons he racked up 215 wins against 123 losses. He reached 20 victories six times and topped 30 wins twice. Sugishita was presented with the Sawamura Award three times (1951, 1952 and 1954) and was named the Central League MVP in 1954 when he led the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. He currently has the sixth best lifetime winning percentage in Japanese baseball, and 1,761 strikeouts (24th), a 2.23 ERA (9th), 170 complete games (21st) and 31 shutouts (27th). He also pitched a no-hitter against the Kokutetsu Swallows.



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Tadashi Sugiura
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Hawks 1958-70

HOF 1995

One of the most dominant pitchers of the late-1950s and early-1960s, Sugiura won 116 games in only four seasons (1958-1961). The heavy workload enabled Sugiura to be very successful in his first few years, but probably caused his arm to burn out at early. He soon developed arm trouble, however, and only won 71 over the next nine. In 1959, his finest season, Sugiura led the Pacific League with 38 wins, 336 strikeouts, an ERA of 1.40, and a .905 winning percentage. He won the Pacific League Rookie of the year in 1958, and the MVP in 1959. The year he won 38 he also won the Japan Series MVP by winning 4 games single-handedly, losing none with an ERA of 1.41. Sugiura had a blood blister pop on his right middle finger in the 5th inning of Game Four, painting the white baseball red with his power pitching. In an interview after the Series, Tsuruoka-kantoku made the infamous quote, "Kamisama, Butsusama, Sugiurasama" ("God, Buddah, Mr. Sugiura"). Sugiura's words were, "Hirori ni natte nakitai" ("I'd like to go off by myself and cry"). Sugiura retired with a career 187-106 record and a 2.39 ERA.



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Keishi Suzuki
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Buffaloes 1966-85

HOF 2002, Meikyukai

Keishi Suzuki is one of the five pitchers in the history of Japanese baseball to win 300 or more games. Suzuki, however, accomplished this feat while playing on a team that won less than half of its games for half of his career. On the road to his 317 victories, Suzuki won 20 or more games eight times including five seasons in a row (1967-71). He also led the Pacific League in complete games nine times, strikeouts eight times and ERA once. He was selected to three Best Nine teams, but never was presented with a Sawamura Award or a MVP despite some outstanding seasons. Suzuki ranks among the top five career leaders in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, wins, loses, and strikeouts. He is currently managing the Kintetsu Buffaloes, but his experience as an "Iron Man" has led him to over use pitchers and was one of the reasons for Hideo Nomo coming to the Majors.



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Kazumi Takahashi
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Giants 1965-1975

The winner of two Sawamura Awards (1969 & 1973), and a mainstay of some of the great Giants teams. He finished his career with a 167-132, 3.18 mark, and also with 12 Saves in the last few years of his career when they were first counted. He missed the 2000 K mark by 3, ending up with 1997 strikeouts.



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Shingo Takatsu
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Swallows 1991-2003
   
Nicknamed "Mr. Zero" because of his exemplary play in the Japan Series, Shingo Takatsu has been the Swallows closer for the last eleven years. Though he didn't begin closing games until his third year, the right-handed reliever has averaged twenty saves a year since he joined the Swallows. With a career 35-39 record, Takatsu has compiled 260 saves and a lifetime 3.13 ERA. Known as much for his toothy grin as for his pitching, the popular fireman has been known to start a game when the rotation is in trouble. The submarine-throwing groundball pitcher has been courted by 5 MLB teams, including the Yankees, but he stayed in Yakult for a time before the call grew too strong and he signed with the White Sox.



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Tadashi (Bozo) Wakabayashi
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Tigers 1936-49, Orions 1950-53

HOF 1964

Henry Tadashi Wakabayashi, nicknamed "Bozo," was born in Hawaii and learned baseball at the neighboring U.S. military base. In 1929, he toured Japan with a Nisei team from Stockton, CA, and was recruited to pitch for Hosei University. In 1935, a year after graduating, he signed with the Osaka Tigers. During most of his 17-year professional career, Wakabayashi was one of the top hurlers in Japanese baseball. From 1939 to 1947, he won 20 or more games six times, and had six seasons with ERAs under 1.81. His best season came in 1944 when he went 22 and 4, led the league with a 1.56 ERA, and won the MVP Award. Overall, he led the league twice in wins, ERA, complete games and shutouts. Wakabayashi’s lifetime 1.99 ERA is the fourth best in the history of Japanese baseball. He also currently ranks ninth on the all-time list for career shutouts (57), seventh in complete games (263), twelfth in wins (237), and eleventh in winning percentage (.622).



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Hisanobu Watanabe
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Lions 1984-1997, Swallows 1998

One of the best pitchers in Japan during the 1980s. His best year was 1986 when he won a Best Nine, Led the PL in wins, winning percentage, strikeouts and innings pitched. However, the right hander suffered through several unsuccessful seasons with the Seibu Lions in the later 1990's despite throwing a no-hitter in against Orix on June 11, 1996. Watanabe's last full season in top form was 1990 when he won a Gold Glove and led the league in wins with an 18-10 record in 224 1/3 innings while amassing 172 strikeouts, 84 walks and a 2.97 ERA. Since 1994 His ERA hasn't dipped below 4.00. His brief performance in the 1997 Japan Series put an exclamation point on the struggling pitcher's downfall providing one of the more memorable moments of the series. Watanabe entered game three as a reliever and surrendered a go-ahead home run to Yakult catcher Atsuya Furuta. Many critics consider that the turning point of the series from which the Swallows seized the momentum and rolled to victory.



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Hisashi Yamada
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Braves 1969-88

Meikyukai

Yamada was Japan’s greatest submarine pitcher, winning 284 and leading the Braves to eight Pacific League championships and three Japan Series Titles. In the mid 1970s Yamada was the most dominant pitcher in Japanese baseball. From 1976 to 1978 he won the Pacific League MVP award each year. Yamada was named to five Best Nine teams and won five Golden Glove awards, as well as going 7-0 in All-Star games. He led his league in winning percentage four times and ERA twice.



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Tetsuya Yoneda
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Braves 1956-75, Tigers 1975-76, Buffaloes 1977

HOF 2000, Meikyukai

Second only to Masanichi Kaneda in Japanese career wins (350), Yoneda pitched his entire career outside the Tokyo media spotlight and was, in contrast to Kaneda, a model of comportment. He received little recognition for outstanding longevity and consistency.  Yoneda is also second on the all-time strikeout (3388) list and in innings pitched (5130). He appeared in more games (949) than any other Japanese pitcher, and also had 262 complete games (8th) and 64 Shutouts (7th). During his career, he won 20 or more games eight times and appeared in 14 All-Star games. In 1968 he won 29 games and was named the MVP. A generally consistent pitcher for most of his career, Yoneda led the league once in each major category, with 231 strikeouts in 1962, 25 wins in 1966, and a 2.47 ERA in 1973.  Also a great batter, Yoneda hit 33 career homeruns.



"I'm working on a new pitch. It's called a strike."
-Jim Kern-