Sunday, January 7, 2018

Card Of The Week January 7

The first player to ever bat as a Designated Hitter in an official game in MLB was Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees.  Ever wonder who the first DH in an official NPB game was?  It was Toshizo Sakamoto of the Nippon-Ham Fighters.  The Pacific League adopted the DH in 1975, two years after the American League did it.

Sakamoto had kind of an unusual career - he only played for 14 seasons but he played for four different teams!  He was drafted from Kawai Musical Instruments of the industrial leagues in the fifth round of the 1966 draft by the Hankyu Braves.  He quickly established himself as the starting shortstop for the Braves and won the Best 9 award at the position from 1968 to 1971.  He led the PL in steals in 1969 with 47 and was elected to the All Star team each year from 1968 to 1971.  There was apparently an incident in Game 3 of the 1971 Nippon Series that may have cost him his future with the Braves.  The Braves were leading the game 1-0 going into the bottom of the ninth against the Giants at Korakuen Stadium.  The Series was tied at a game apiece so a Braves win would put them up 2-1.  With two outs and a runner on first (Isao Shibata), Shigeo Nagashima hit a slow ground ball a little to the left of up the middle that Sakamoto could not quite get to - it rolled into the outfield with Shibata going all the way to third.  Sakamoto apparently had taken a step in the opposite direction when the ball was hit which prevented him from reaching the ball.  All of this would have been forgotten except that the next batter, Sadaharu Oh, hit a three run sayonara home run to win the game for the Giants.  Oh's home run is considered a turning point for the Giants who went on to win the next two games 7-4 and 6-1 and win the Series 4 games to 1.  It would be the Giants' seventh consecutive Nippon Series title of the V9 era.  It was also the fourth time in five years that the Giants had beaten the Braves in the Nippon Series - they would do it again in 1972.

I found a clip on YouTube of the main events in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3.  Nagashima's ground ball happens around the 1 minute, 19 second mark - you can't see Sakamoto breaking the wrong way but you can see how close he got to fielding it:

As I mentioned, the Braves made the Nippon Series again in 1972 but they did it without Sakamoto - he was traded with Koji Okamoto and Seigo Sasaki to the Toei Flyers for Masayuki Tanemo and Yutaka Ohashi.  He made the All Star team again in 1972.  In 1973 the team (now called the Nittaku Home Flyers) moved him to third base.  By 1975 the now Nippon-Ham Fighters had moved him to second base - looking at his numbers it looks like he played 94 of the 96 games he played in 1975 at second so despite being the first DH he didn't DH more than two games that season.

He was traded for a second time after the 1975 season - going to the Kintetsu Buffaloes with Kenichi Yaezawa for Toshikazu Hattori and Yozo Nagabuchi.  After three years with the Buffaloes he again switched teams - this time going to the Nankai Hawks (not sure if there was a trade, a sale or if he was released by Kintetsu).  He spent two years with the Hawks - the last one as player-coach - and retired following the 1980 season. 

Sakamoto doesn't have a lot of baseball cards.  There's only three I know of that were issued during his career and they were all American issues - he's in a couple of the mid 70's Broder sets and he's in the 1979 TCMA set.  He has no Calbee or Yamakatsu cards that I'm aware of.  He's shown up in just a couple of the recent BBM OB sets - he's in the 2009 Hankyu Braves Memorial set, the 2011 Legend of the Bs set (he actually has two cards in the set - one as a Brave and one as a Buffalo) and the 2013 The Trade Stories set.  He also appeared in Epoch's high end "Hankyu Braves Greats" set last year.  Since his first DH at bat was as a Fighter I wanted to show him in a Fighters uniform however the best I could do was showing him in a Toei Flyers uniform:

2013 BBM The Trade Stories #08

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