Saturday, December 2, 2017

Professional Players From Todai

The University Of Tokyo has a rich heritage.  It was originally chartered in 1877 by the Meiji government and was later known as first the Imperial University (1886) and then the Tokyo Imperial University (1897) before reverting back to its original (and current) name in 1947.  (The school is also referred to as "Todai" which appears to be an abbreviation).  The school has had many prestigious alumni including 15 Prime Ministers of Japan and 12 winners of either a Nobel Prize or a Fields Medal.

What the school doesn't have many of in their alumni is professional baseball players.  Despite being part of the Tokyo Big Six intercollegiate baseball league since its inception in 1925, there have only been six Todai players to ever sign a professional contract.  The most recent player was Kohei Miyadai, who was drafted by the Fighters in the seventh round this fall's NPB draft.  I thought it'd be interesting to write about the previous five players, especially since Deanna Rubin left a comment on my post about the draft to give me a bunch of information on them.  I was lucky in that the 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 set had cards for all five players although I had other cards for four of them.

The first ever professional player from Todai was Shinji Niihara.  Niihara actually went to work for the Taiyo corporation as a salaryman after graduating in 1965 but he managed to convince the owner to let him play baseball for the Whales which Taiyo owned at the time.  He was able to do this as this was the last year before NPB implemented a draft.  He got into 88 games mostly out of the bullpen in four seasons between 1965 and 1968 - the bulk of which were in 1965 (40 games) and 1966 (37).  He went 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA.  After he retired from baseball he continued to work for Taiyo and later was an advisor to the Baystars.  He passed away in 2004.  As far as I know his 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 is his only card ever.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #077
The next Todai professional player was Takashi Ide who was drafted by the Chunichi Dragons in the third round of the fall 1966 draft.  He was originally a pitcher and went 1-4 with 5.13 ERA in 1967.  He converted to the outfield (I think it was due to injury) and by 1970 was back with the top team as a backup outfielder and pinch runner.  He retired after the 1976 after appearing in 359 games, the most for any Todai alum.  He also appeared in the 1974 Nippon Series which I think makes him the only Todai alum to play in a Nippon Series.  He went on to coach the Dragons for two separate sessions (1978-86, 1992-95) as well as working in their front office and as a baseball commentator.  He has at least one card beyond his Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 cards - it's from the 1977 NST Mr Baseball set.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #078

1977 NST #31
It would be a quarter century until another University Of Tokyo player joined NPB.  Itaru Kobayashi was the eighth round pick of the Chiba Lotte Marines in the 1991 draft.  He spent two seasons with Lotte's farm team without making any appearances at the ichi-gun level.  Deanna says that the rumor was that Lotte actually drafted him to get him to join their front office.  He went on to do a number of things including getting an MBA from Columbia University and working the front office of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.  He had a card in the 1993 Tomy set which I think is his only card other than his Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 card.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #080

1993 Tomy #253
The fourth professional Todai player was Ryohei Endoh who was drafted in the seventh round of the 1999 draft by the Nippon-Ham Fighters.  Like Kobayashi, Endoh only spent two years in NPB although he did get into one game with the ichi-gun team in 2001 (although Deanna says it was only his retirement game - he only faced one batter and he gave up a hit).  He's been working in the Fighters front office since then.  Endoh has a card in the 2000 BBM set as well as his 2011 Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 card - I suspect that these are his only cards.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #081

2000 BBM #372
The final Todai professional player prior to Kohei Miyadai was Takahiro Matsuka.  Matsuka was the ninth round pick of the Yokohama Baystars in the 2004 draft.  He didn't pitch at the ichi-gun level until 2009 when he got into nine games and went 0-1 with a 4.60 ERA.  He was traded to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters as part of a six player trade.  He made five appearances with the Fighters in 2010, going 0-0 with an ERA of 4.26.  He spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons exclusively with the farm team and was then released.  He came to the US in early 2013 and unsuccessfully attempted to join the Dodgers and White Sox.  He ended up signing with the Gary Southshore RailCats of the independent American Association.  He made one disastrous appearance with Gary - he face four batters and only got one of them out.  He hit two batters and walked the other one and threw a wild pitch.  Ultimately all three runners scores although only two of the runs were earned so his American Association ERA is a tidy 54.00.  After he retired as a player he became a schoolteacher.  He has the most cards of any Todai alum - besides appearing in BBM's 2005 Rookie Edition and 1st Version sets and the 2010 2nd Version set he also appeared in BBM's team sets for the Baystars between 2005 and 2009 and the Fighters from 2010 to 2012.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #099

2005 BBM Rookie Edition #80

2005 BBM 1st Version #486

2010 BBM 2nd Version #749
In addition to the five cards of professional Todai players the 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 set had cards of two additional players from the school.  I was curious about who they were so I did a little bit of research.  Takeo Azuma attended the school from 1925 to 1929.  He threw the first and what I think may be the only no-hitter in school history in 1927.  After graduation he served in the Imperial Navy in the Philippines and apparently died of disease just after the war ended in November 1945, possibly in a POW camp.  Kensuke Ohkoshi attended Todai from 1981 to 1984.  He went on to a journalism career, mostly covering politics for NHK.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #076

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #079

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