Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The God Of Batting

Today is Tetsuharu Kawakami's 90th birthday. Kawakami was a star for the Giants from 1938 until 1958, missing a couple seasons due to service in the military during World War II. He was manager of the Giants from 1961 to 1974, winning 11 Nippon Series championships including nine in a row from 1965 until 1973 (the V9 Giants). According to his bio on Japan Baseball Daily, he was the first batter in Japan to reach 2000 hits. Oddly enough, however, he is not a member of the Meikyukai as he was born in the Taisho Era and Meikyukai membership is restricted to those born in the Showa Era. He is the only batter who is disqualified because of when he was born. (There are a bunch of pitchers - Victor Starffin, Takehiko Bessho, Jiro Noguchi, Tadashi Wakabayashi, Shigeru Sugishita, Hiroshi Nakao, and Hideo Fujimoto - who are likewise excluded.)

Kawakami once starred in a movie about his life. It would be perfect if that movie had been directed by Akira Kurosawa since today would have been his 100th birthday, but, alas, it wasn't.

This is the only card I have of Kawakami from when he was actually playing. It's a 1949 bromide card that apparently shows him playing in some sort of All Star game - the "E" on his back stands for "East" (I think):

This is card #008 from the 2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball set. I suspect that this is a picture from his rookie year of 1938. The uniform he's wearing looks like the uniform the Giants wore in 1937 (according to "The History Of Uniform"), so I'm wondering if the Giants were still wearing those uniforms in spring training of 1938.

A couple portraits. This is card #78 from the 1978 NST set:

I like this card from the 2004 BBM Glorious Stars set (#011) because I think it's the only picture I've ever seen of him smiling or laughing:

The Giants retired his number 16 when he retired as a player in 1958. This card is from the 2001 BBM sets' "Retired Number" subset (#533):

Here's a card from the 1997 BBM Giants set (#G89) showing him celebrating the 1973 Nippon Series Championship (his last). That's Shigeo Nagashima on the left, who would replace him as manager following the 1974 season.

An 84 year old Kawakami throwing out the first pitch at a Giants game on April 2, 2004 (2004 BBM 2nd Version #837):


Deanna said...

That is pretty awesome. It's funny, I'm not even sure I realized Kawakami was still alive -- he just seems like a guy from such a remote era that he should be long gone. Which isn't really true.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a link to the "History of Uniform"?

NPB Card Guy said...

Sorry, but I don't. It's a book published by BBM in early 2005. I bought it from YakyuShop in the fall of 2007 (and it wasn't cheap - maybe $80). I took a quick look around and I can't see a link for it anywhere.

drbillellis said...

The History of Uniform is available on the Japanese Amazon site: http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/switch-language/product/4583038070/ref=dp_change_lang?ie=UTF8&language=en_JP


NPB Card Guy said...

Thanks for the link. If anyone is interested in ordering the book, drop a line to kuboTen and see if they can help you out.