Saturday, October 20, 2018

RIP Joe Stanka

1964 Nippon Series MVP Joe Stanka has passed away at age 87.  Stanka was originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 and spent three years in their organization before being drafted by the Cubs.  After three years in the Cubs organization they sold him to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League which at the time was pretty much still an independent organization (both the team and the league).  He spent four years in Sacramento before being sold to the White Sox in late 1959 where he made his major league debut (and his only major league appearances) during Chicago's September pennant drive, going 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 5 1/3 innings pitched in relief over two games  He did not appear in the World Series for the White Sox that year.

Following the 1959 season he signed with the Nankai Hawks.  He spent the next six seasons with Nankai, going 94-59 over that time.  His best season was 1964, when he went 26-7 with a 2.40 ERA (both marks were second in the Pacific League that season) while leading the league with six shutouts.  He threw three more shutouts in the Nippon Series that year against the Hanshin Tigers, winning Games One, Six and Seven.  He was named MVP of the Series and also MVP for the Pacific League, becoming the first non-Japanese American to win the award. 

Stanka and his family returned to the US after the tragic death of his teenage son in the off season after the 1965 season - his son was asphyxiated by a faulty gas heater while taking a shower.  Stanka was initially unsure if he wanted to return to baseball for 1966 and by the time he decided to come back, Nankai had already filled their foreign player slots.  He ended up with the Taiyo Whales and went 6-13 with an ERA of 4.17 in his final professional season.  Those six wins with the Whales gave him a total of 100 for his NPB career - he was the first American pitcher to reach that milestone.

Stanka made the Best 9 team in 1964 and was selected for the Pacific League All Star team in 1960 and 1964. 

Stanka had a number of cards issued for him while he was in Japan - mostly menko and bromide cards.  You'll notice something odd about this first card - it's from the JBR 5 set that Engel lists as being from 1959.  But Stanka didn't join Nankai until 1960 so either it's not Stanka or the set's not from 1959.

1959 JBR 5 (Stanka's on the right)

1960 JBR 6 (Stanka's in the upper right)  

1964 Marukami JCM 14g
He's had several modern cards, all from BBM:

1994 BBM $545

2008 BBM Hawks 70th Anniversary #22

2013 BBM Hawks 75th Anniversary #14

2013 BBM Legendary Foreigners #02

2014 BBM 80th Anniversary Pitchers Edition #25

2018 BBM Hawks 80th Anniversary #08
Besides the Japan Times article linked at the top of this post, I also used his biographies at the Baseball-Reference Bullpen and SABR's Biography project as well as his Japanese Wikipedia page.


SumoMenkoMan said...

Dang, that is sad to hear. There are no equivalent JBR 5 sets in the sumo arena so no help in trying to narrow down the date beyond 1959, but it doesn’t surprise me it is incorrect since there are so many unknown cards still in that set. You would have thought that Stanka would have been a dead giveaway on the date, though.

NPB Card Guy said...

I don't know what all goes into determining a date on a set - especially when Engel and company were doing it 30 years later. It could be the set was initially issued in 1959 and had cards added to it later. Or there were actually two nearly identical sets - one in 1959 and one in 1960.

I've pointed something like this out before - there's supposedly a card of Wally Yonamine with the Dragons in the JBR 6 set that is thought to be from 1960. But Yonamine didn't join the Dragons until 1961. So is it not Yonamine (which is what Rob Fitts has told me he thinks) or is the set not from 1960?