Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Hall Of Famers' Most Random Teams

A couple of weeks ago MLB.com had an article about odd teams that Hall Of Famers briefly played for in their careers.  The first examples it gives are Mike Piazza spending a week playing for the Marlins in 1998 and Ken Griffey Jr. spending a couple months playing for the White Sox ten years later.  The article lists at least one "cameo" appearance by a Hall Of Famer for almost every team.

I thought it might be kind of fun to do something similar for NPB but there were two factors that turned it into a somewhat daunting task.  The first is that players don't switch teams in NPB anywhere near as often as in MLB.  The second is that the Japanese Baseball Hall Of Fame is woefully under populated.  There are any number of players who should be in the Hall but aren't for whatever reason.  No one's been elected on the "Players Division" ballot since 2019 and the "Experts Division" has only elected Koichi Tabuchi in the last two years.  So to make this do-able, I expanded the scope a little.  I decided to include players from the Meikyukai as well as the Hall Of Fame.  I also decided that I'd consider stints longer than the traditional definition of a "short term stop".  My hope is that readers will still go "Oh, yeah, I forgot he played for that team" even if the player in question played for the team for five years.  

Even with expanding the scope as much as I did, one team in particular was difficult.  But we'll get to that.  On the plus side, I was able to come up with 27 examples for the 13 (including Kintetsu) NPB teams and have cards to show for 24 of them.  Obviously that means that I came up with more than one player for several teams.

One note - all players listed are Hall Of Famers unless I specifically mention that they are not.  Not all Hall Of Famers are Meikyukai members but I'm not explicitly mentioning the ones who aren't.  (And for players who are listed multiple times, I'll only mention that they aren't a Hall Of Famer the first time I talk about them.)

Chiba Lotte Marines (including Mainichi/Daimai/Tokyo/Lotte Orions)

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #367
Shigeru Sugishita was a legendary pitcher for the Chunichi Dragons for 10 seasons from 1949 to 1958 before taking over as manager in 1959.  The Dragons fired him after the 1960 season and he joined the Daimai Orions as their new pitching coach for 1961.  He eventually got activated as a player and made 32 appearances, mostly in relief, going 4-6 with 2.44 ERA before retiring for good as a player at the end of the year.

1978 Yamakatsu JY10

Katsuya Nomura had spent 24 seasons with the Nankai Hawks, including the last eight as player-manager, before being fired and released by the team after the 1977 season.  He joined the Lotte Orions for one season in 1978, hitting .226 with just three home runs, before moving on.  We'll be seeing him again later.

2016 BBM The Ballpark Stories #113
Isao Harimoto had spent 21 years playing for the Flyers/Fighters and Giants and was close to 3000 hits when he was released by the Giants after missing about half of the 1979 season due to an eye injury.  He signed with Lotte and became the first (and so far only) NPB player to reach 3000 hits on May 28th, 1980.  He also picked up his 500th home run that season.  All in all he spent two years with the Orions before retiring at the end of the 1981 season.

Chunichi Dragons

1961 Marusan JCM 12d

Wally Yonamine was the first American to play in Japan after World War II.  He joined the Giants in 1951 and spent ten seasons with them.  The Giants let him go after he only hit .226 in 1960 and he joined the Dragons.  He only hit .178 in 76 games in 1961 and .214 in 17 games in 1962 before he retired.  He would go on to manage the Dragons from 1972 to 1977, leading the team to the Nippon Series in 1974 for the first time in 20 years (and also breaking the Giants' consecutive Central League pennant streak at nine).

2015 Epoch Dragons X Mizuno #03

I hesitated on including some of the more recent players but enough time has passed on a couple of these that people may have forgotten that these players were on these teams.  After 16 seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters and Yomiuri Giants, Michihiro Ogasawara finished his career with two seasons with the Dragons.  He was mostly a pinch hitter in those two seasons, hitting .301 in 81 games in 2014 and .294 in 53 games in 2015.  He is the first player I've mentioned so far who is not in the Hall Of Fame.

I considered including Norihiro Nakamura here but since he was MVP of the 2007 Nippon Series I decided that people had probably not forgotten he was with the Dragons, even though he only spent two years in Nagoya.

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (including Nankai and Fukuoka Daiei Hawks)

1987 Takara Hawks #7
Hideji Katoh is going to be making multiple appearances in this post.  Katoh had spent 14 years with the Hankyu Braves from 1969 to 1982 and was their star first baseman when they won six Pacific League pennnants and three Nippon Series Championships between 1971 and 1978.  The last five years of his career, however, were spent on four different teams.  He finished his career with the Nankai Hawks in 1987, hitting .260 in 110 games and getting his 2000th hit on May 7th against his former team.  He is not in the Hall Of Fame.

Hanshin Tigers 

2015 Epoch Tigers Champions 1985 #03
Tetsuya Yoneda was a workhorse for the Hankyu Braves starting in 1956 but when his opportunities to pitch lessened in 1975 he agreed to a trade to the crosstown Hanshin Tigers and spent a year and a half with them.  This is somewhat appropriate as he had signed contracts with both Hankyu and Hanshin out of high school and a judge ruled that the Hanshin one was invalid.  Yoneda will be making another appearance in this post.  I don't have a card of him as a player with the Tigers - the above card shows his as a coach with the 1985 Tigers.

1993 BBM #342
Hiromi Matsunaga was another player who was traded from Hankyu to Hanshin - or more accurately from Orix to Hanshin.  Matsunaga had spent 12 seasons with the Hankyu/Orix Braves/BlueWave from 1981 to 1992 before being traded to the Tigers for Koji Noda.  He had an injury plagued year with Hanshin in 1993 and declared for free agency at the end of the season.  He made NPB history when he became the first player to ever switch teams as a free agent, signing a contract with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.  He spent four seasons with the Hawks before attempting to move to MLB.  He attended spring training with the Oakland Athletics in 1998 but he did not make the team and decided to retire.  He finished his career with 1904 hits, 96 hits short of what he would need to qualify for the Meikyukai.  However, he got another 99 hits in the Masters League in the 00's and was considered an "honorary member" of the club.  He was listed as a member on the club's website until the Masters League folded in 2009 whereupon it appears that his "honorary membership" was revoked.  I decided to include him anyway because the story was too good to skip.

Hiroshima Toyo Carp

1983 Calbee #193
I mentioned previously that Hideji Katoh had spent the last five years of his career with four different teams.  That odyssey started when he was traded by Hankyu to the Carp after the 1982 season for Jitsuo Mizutani.  He only spent one year with the Carp, hitting .261 while limited to only 75 games due to a bout with hepatitis.  He was traded again after the season to the next team that I'll be mentioning him with.

2011 BBM Carp #C47
Like Ogasawara, Takuro Ishii's lesser known team is relatively recent and at four years is somewhat longer than any of the other stints I've mentioned.  Ishii had spent 20 years with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales/Baystars - the first several as a pitcher - before the team released him at the end of the 2008 season and he joined the Carp.  He spent most of his four years in Hiroshima as a backup infielder and pinch hitter and retired following the 2012 season.  He is not in the Hall Of Fame.

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

1997 Calbee #023
Hiromitsu Ochiai wrapped up his 20 year NPB career with two seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 1997 and 1998.  He'd been released by the Giants after 1996 when they signed Kazuhiro Kiyohara but managed to stay in the same home ballpark as the Fighters were still in Tokyo and sharing the Tokyo Dome with Yomiuri at the time.  Although he has 2000 hits, he has declined membership to the Meikyukai but since he was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 2011, I didn't have to include him on a technicality.

Orix Buffaloes (including Hankyu Braves and Orix Braves/BlueWave)

1989 Lotte #40
At the end of the 1988 season, the Nankai Hawks were sold to the Daiei corporation who moved the team from Osaka to Fukuoka.  40 year old Hiromitsu Kadota, the team's star designated hitter who had hit 44 home runs to lead the Pacific League that year as well as win the MVP award, decided that he didn't want to move west to Kyushu.  The Hawks accommodated him, trading him to the Orix Braves for three players.  He spent two productive seasons with Orix, hitting .305 with 33 home runs in 1989 and .280 with 31 home runs in 1990.  He moved west to rejoin the Hawks in 1991 and retired after the 1992 season.

2006 SCM #65
Norihiro Nakamura had spent 13 seasons with the Kintetsu Buffaloes before leaving for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for the 2005 season.  He decided to return to Japan for the 2006 season and was convinced by Akira Ohgi who had been Nakamura's manager with Kintetsu in the early 1990's and had managed the new Orix Buffaloes (born of the "merger" between the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave after the 2004 season) in 2005 to join his team.  Tragically, however, Ohgi passed away suddenly in December of 2005 and Nakamura had an injury plagued season in 2006, hitting just .232 in 85 games.  He was released by Orix when they couldn't agree on a contract for 2007 and joined the Dragons first as an ikusei player in February, 2007 before making the official 70 man roster the following month.  Nakamura is not in the Hall Of Fame.  He'll appear again in this post. 

2006 Calbee #025
Nakamura wasn't the only player who'd made his name with another team joining Orix in 2006.  Kazuhiro Kiyohara had already played in NPB for 20 years (11 with the Lions and 9 with the Giants) and had reached both the 2000 hit and 500 home run milestones before becoming a Buffalo.  He'd had injury issues during most of his tenure with Yomiuri and had been released after the 2005 season.  His issues continued in his three seasons with Orix, limiting him to just 89 games over three seasons before he retired after the 2008 season.  Kiyohara is not in the Hall Of Fame and his 2016 arrest for possession of illegal drugs makes it unlikely that he ever will be.

Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes

2016 BBM Fusion #092
When the Tigers released Yoneda in 1976 he signed on with the Kintetsu Buffaloes (who were managed by former Hankyu manager Yukio Nishimoto) for one last season.  He went 2-2 in only 12 games but it was enough for him to finish his career with 350 wins (becoming only the second pitcher to reach that milestone) and 949 appearances, passing Masaichi Kaneda for most all time (a record that he held until he was passed by Hitoki Iwase in 2016).

I don't have a card for it but the Buffaloes were the next stop after the Carp on Hideji Katoh's five year walk-about through NPB.  Healthy again, he spent two seasons with Kintetsu and played pretty well, hitting .253 in 130 games in 1984 and .286 with 26 home runs in 129 games as a full time DH in 1985 before switching teams again.

Saitama Seibu Lions (including Nishitetsu/Taiheiyo Club/Crown Lighter Lions)

1974/75 Calbee #860
Shinichi Eto had a similar multi-team odyssey to Hideji Katoh.  After an 11 year career with the Chunichi Dragons, Eto was traded to the Lotte Orions in time for the 1970 season.  After two years with Lotte he moved on to the Taiyo Whales in a trade and spent three seasons with them in Kawasaki.  He was traded again to the Taiheiyo Club Lions and was named player-manager for them for the 1975 season.  He didn't have a very good season on the field that year, hitting .228 in 88 games (although he reached the 2000 hit milestone that season) and the team went 58-62-10, finishing third overall in the Pacific League although that doesn't tell the whole story.  The Pacific League used a split season format from 1973 to 1982.  The Lions went 30-29-6 in the first half of 1975 which put them in second place six games behind first place Hankyu.  In the second half, however, they slumped to fourth place with a 28-33-4 record, finishing 12 1/2 games behind the first place Kintetsu Buffaloes.  Eto was fired as manager and released as a player.  The Lions had actually hired Leo Durocher to replace him but Durocher's poor health eventually caused him to not take the position.  Eto finished his career in 1976 back with the Lotte Orions.

1979 TCMA #13
After his one season with Lotte in 1978, Katsuya Nomura moved onto the Lions.  The Lions themselves were on the move, having been purchased that winter by Seibu and moved from Fukuoka to Kanto.  Nomura spent two seasons in Tokorozawa, hitting .222 in 74 games in 1979 and .217 in 52 games in 1980.  He was named to the All Star team in 1980 which made him the only player to ever play in an All Star game in four different decades (50's, 60's, 70's and 80's).  He retired after 1980, bringing to an end a playing career that had started in 1954.

1984 Takara Kids Lions #18
Yutaka Entasu is one of the most fascinating players in NPB history.  I did a post on him a few years back that listed all the amazing things he did in his career.  His final season was in 1984 with the Seibu Lions.  He was the closer for the first half of the season and went 1-2 with 8 saves and a 3.65 ERA in 20 games.  He wasn't healthy that year and when the Lions dropped out of contention, the team decided to go with younger players for the second half and Enatsu made his final appearance on July 12th.  While he had announced his retirement while with Seibu, he made an attempt to continue his career the following spring with the Milwaukee Brewers.  He retired when he didn't make the team - he reportedly was one of the Brew Crew's final cuts that spring.  Despite all his achievements Enatsu is not in the Hall Of Fame - like Kiyohara, he was arrested for illegal stimulants although unlike Kiyohara, Enatsu actually served time in prison.  I believe at one point he had renounced his Meikyukai membership because of the arrest but their website currently shows him as a member.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

2009 BBM 1st Version #169
After two seasons with the Dragons, Norihiro Nakamura moved on to the Eagles for the 2009 season.  He was the first free agent ever signed by Rakuten.  Back issues limited him to a .221 average in only 77 games in 2009 but he bounced back somewhat in 2010, hitting .266 with 13 home runs in 129 games.  He got hurt again towards the end of the season and the Eagles let him go when the season was done.  He moved on to play for the Baystars for the last four years of his career.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows

I'm going to be honest here - it was impossible to find a "short term stint" for a Hall Of Famer or Meikyukai member with the Swallows.  Almost every Swallow I could come up with - Masaichi Kaneda, Atsuya Furuta, Tsutomu Wakamatsu, Katsuo Osugi, Atsunori Inaba, and Shinya Miyamoto - spent at least nine years with the team - if not their entire career.  I ended up going with two guys who are questionable - one who played SEVEN years with the team and the other who is an active player.

2001 BBM #339
It's unlikely, but I'm kind of hoping that everyone has forgotten that Alex Ramirez started his Japanese career with the Swallows.  He played for them from 2001 to 2007 before moving on the Giants (2008-11) and Baystars (2012-13).  He's the only foreign player in the Meikyukai.  He is not in the Hall Of Fame.

2021 BBM 1st Version #311
It's pretty unlikely that anyone is going to have forgotten that Seiichi Uchikawa was a Swallow given that he's currently on the team.  He joined them this past winter after a 20 year career with the Baystars (2001-10) and Hawks (2011-20).  At the time of this post, he's only played in five games and is hitting .238.  He's (obviously) not in the Hall Of Fame.

Yokohama DeNA Baystars (including Taiyo Whales, Yokohama Taiyo Whales, Yokahama Baystars)

Masaaki Koyama had retired at the end of the 1972 season after a 20 year career with the Tigers (1953-63) and Orions (1964-72) and become the pitching coach for the Taiyo Whales.  Midway through the season though he was pressed into returning to active service and went 4-4 with an ERA of 2.54 in 15 games before hanging up his spikes for good.  I don't have a card of him with the Whales.

2009 BBM Baystars #YB28
Kimiyasu Kudoh had already been playing for 25 years before he joined the Yokohama Baystars in 2007 - 13 years with the Lions, five with the Hawks and seven with the Giants.  His first season in Yokohama wasn't bad, going 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 19 games but his recovery from off-season elbow surgery limited him to just three games in 2008 in which he went 0-2 with a 5.27 ERA.  He moved into the bullpen for 2009 and went 2-3 with an ERA of 6.51 in 46 games (but just 37 1/3 innings).  The Baystars released him at the end of the year and he rejoined the Lions for one final season in 2010.

Yomiuri Giants

1981 Calbee #328
Makoto Matsubara had spent 19 years with the Whales when he was traded to the Giants prior to the 1981 season.  New Giants manager Motoshi Fujita said that Matsubara would be the only guy who could take over at first base for the team after Tetsuharu Kawakami and Sadaharu Oh.  Matsubara would actually only play 27 games at first - Kiyoshi Nakahata and (the other) Koji Yamamoto would play in 75 games at first that year.  In total, Matsubara would only play in 36 games, hitting .233 with only one home run.  He hit another home run in the Nippon Series that fall though - the only Nippon Series he would play in - and retired a champion at the end of the season.  He is not in the Hall Of Fame.

I don't have a card of him with the Giants, but Hideji Katoh spent one season with Yomiuri in 1986 - in between his two years with Kintetsu and his final year with Nankai.  He hit .219 in 68 games and was released at the end of the season.

2004 BBM Giants #G047
When people compare the Yomiuri Giants to the New York Yankees, I usually counter that the Giants have pulled stuff that the Yankees can only dream of.  The Hiroki Kokubo episode is one of the examples I'll use.  Kokubo was in his ninth season with the  Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in 2003 when he suffered a season ending knee injury in a collision in a spring training game.  He spent the year getting ready to return in 2004 when he was unexpectedly traded to the Yomiuri Giants that fall for nothing.  You read that right - nothing.  The Hawks gave the Kokubo to the Giants for free.  Sure, it was a bit of  gamble for Yomiuri as there was no way to know for sure how a 32 year old would bounce back after being out for a year with a knee injury but still - for nothing?  The speculation has always been that Daiei was planning on selling the team and wanted to ensure that the Giants would vote to approve the sale.  And sure enough, Daiei sold the Hawks to Softbank after the 2004 season and the Giants voted to approve it.  Kokubo bounced back with a fine season in 2004, hitting .314 with 41 home runs and 96 RBIs.  His 2005 numbers were a little lower at .281 with 34 home runs and 87 RBIs.  He missed about a third or so of the 2006 season with a thumb injury and hit only .256 with 19 home runs in 88 games.  He left the Giants as a free agent after that year and rejoined the Hawks for the remaining six years of his career.  He is not in the Hall Of Fame.


Fuji said...

Great post. Not familiar with most of these guys and likely will forget much of the interesting information you presented... but I love the cards. I need to add a vintage Yonamine to my collection one day. That 1961 Marusan JCM is gorgeous. And that 1984 Takara Kids Lions card of Entasu is awesome too.

NPB Card Guy said...

Thanks, Fuji! You know, I'm not a huge fan of 1980's Takara sets in general because all the photos are mug shots but the Takara Kids sets are kind of neat. They were printed on thicker cardboard so they have a menko feel to them. Even have a "rock-paper-scissors" graphic on the back.

> likely will forget much of the interesting information you presented
Me too, that's why I write this stuff down!

Sean said...

Really great post!

I wonder if you might also have mentioned Larry Doby's stint on the Dragons - he isn't a HOFer in Japan but he is in the US!

NPB Card Guy said...

Thanks, Sean! I thought about both Doby and Rich Gossage, who spent part of 1990 with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks but I don't have cards of them - not sure if either of them have any cards. I also could have included the Meikyukai-eligible Alfonso Soriano but I don't know of any cards for his stint with the Carp.

Sean said...

Not sure about Gossage (I forgot about him!), but I do know Doby has at least two menko cards from his Dragons days. Unfortunately they both cost as much as a decent recent model used car, so I don't have either!