As you might imagine, this was a big deal. The teams lined up on the field prior to the game and bowed to the Emperor. Both teams were tense. As Rob Fitts related in his biography of Wally Yonamine, who played in the game: "For many of the players, performing in front of the Emperor was more significant than playing in the Japan Series".
|1959 Marusan JCM 12A Motoshi Fujita (left) & Kazuhisa Inao (right)|
|1963 Marukami JCM 14F Masaaki Koyama|
|1958 Yamakatsu JCM 33A Shigeo Nagashima|
|1958 Marukami JCM 31B Kazuhiko Sakazaki|
|1958 Who Am I? JCM 54 Katsumi Fujimoto|
|1964 Marukami JCM 14G Sadaharu Oh|
|1962 JCM 141 Minoru Murayama|
Murayama was flawless as he set the Giants down in the 8th; and in the 9th the Tigers failed to score. With Murayama at the peak of his form, it was beginning to look like extra innings. If so, the Imperial Couple, whose scheduled time of departure was 9:30, would miss the end of the game. No one wanted that to happen.
The Emperor stayed to see Nagashima bat one last time. He only had to watch five more pitches. With the count at 2-2, Nagashima took a deep breath as Murayama went into his windup and threw the most famous pitch of his career--an inside fastball that Nagashima saw coming all the way. The Emperor leaned forward in his seat and watched the ball sail ten rows into the leftfield stands. Rounding second base, Nagashima glanced up at the royal box and then trotted on to home plate to be mobbed by his teammates. Everyone wanted to touch him, as if some of his incredible magic might rub off on them.
The Emperor and Empress stood in their box and smiled. Then, bowing ever so slightly towards the players milling around home plate, they prepared to leave the stadium. The scoreboard clock read 9:40. The greatest game ever played in Japan was history. And Shigeo Nagashima had won it for his team.
A quick note here - the times Whiting mentions are not accurate. According to the Japanese Wikipedia page about the game, the bottom of the ninth started a little after nine and the Imperial Couple needed to leave at 9:15. Nagashima hit the home run at 9:12.
Here's the only video I could find of the game (and you'll notice the scoreboard clock does not match Whiting's account):
It had to be Nagashima to hit that home run. When he hit that ball to left field, he didn't know if it was going to be fair or foul, so he just stood at home plate and watched. Then, when he figured that the ball would be fair, he started running. Nagashima was the best clutch hitter in Japan. In an important game like that, he would always come through for us.Murayama would go on to win the Sawamura award that year and ultimately won 222 games in his career. He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 1993. But he would go to his grave (at an untimely age of 61 in 1998) insisting that the ball was foul.
-- Wally Yonamine
You would think that a game this famous must have been commemorated on many baseball cards. And you might be right about that. But I have only been able to track down two. In Calbee's 1974/75 set there is a large subset devoted to Nagshima's career (tying in with his retirement in October of 1974). One card in this subset is devoted to this game, but I'm not sure which one. This particular card, however, was featured in Calbee's ON subset in 2000 where they reprinted a bunch of Oh and Nagashima cards from the 1970's. I don't have this card myself, but Ryan does and he let me swipe the image to show here:
|2000 Calbee ON-07|
|2014 Epoch/JPBA Shigeo Nagashima Memorial Treasures #02|
I used the following references in making this post - Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball by Rob Fitts, Sadaharu Oh - A Zen Way Of Baseball by Sadaharu Oh and David Faulkner and The Chrysanthemum And The Bat by Robert Whiting as well as the afore-mentioned Japanese Wikipedia entry for the game.
And just another note - Whiting says the game took place in May of 1959. Oh says it was June 26, 1959. It was, in fact, June 25, 1959.