Sunday, October 15, 2023

RIP Toshio Naka

Former Chunich Dragons outfielder, coach and manager Toshio Naka passed away last week from pneumonia at the age of 87.  Naka had joined the Dragons in 1955 after graduating from high school and became a regular in 1956.  He pretty much remained a staple of the Dragons' lineup until his final season of 1972.  Along the way, he led the Central League in stolen bases in 1960 and batting in 1967, was elected to five Best 9 awards and made six All Star teams.  He also led the CL in runs twice and triples a record five times.  

He was a player/coach his last two seasons before becoming a hitting coach, first for the farm team (1973-76) and then for the top team (1977).  He replaced Wally Yonamine as manager in 1978 and guided the team for three seasons.  He was a TV commentator for a couple years after being fired as manager before returning to Chunichi as a coach from 1984 to 1986.  He also spent four years as a coach for the Carp (1987-90) and then again became a TV commentator.

Naka changed his registered name a couple of times during his career.  Initially he went by his real name "Toshio Naka", but in 1964 he changed his registered name to "Mitsuo Naka".  The following year he changed it again to "Akio Naka" which he went by until he retired.  After he retired he went back to "Toshio Naka" although he changed the kanji from "中 利夫" to "中 登志雄" during his second stint with the Dragons and his years with the Carp.  

Naka had a number of baseball cards during his playing days, including various menko, bromide, game, candy and gum issues.  He also appears as the Dragons manager in the 1979 TCMA set.  He's been in a handful of BBM and Epoch's OB sets over the last 25 years or so, including the 2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 set, the 2002 BBM All Time Heroes set, the 2021 BBM Dragons History set and BBM's three Dragons Anniversary sets - 2006's 70th, 2011's 75th and 2016's 80th.  Here's a handful of his cards, both from his playing days and more recent ones.  Note that both the 1967 Kabaya-Leaf and 2009 BBM Legends cards show his name as "中 暁生" or "Akio Naka" - not sure why the 2009 card identifies him that way when all the other "modern" cards have him as "Toshio Naka".

1957 Marukami JCM 28a

1959 Doyusha "Game Set"

1960 Tachibana Seika

1967 Kabaya-Leaf #71

1979 TCMA #79

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #336

2006 BBM Dragons 70th Anniversary #27

2009 BBM Legend #039

2021 BBM Dragons History #08

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