Sunday, April 16, 2017

Akinori Iwamura

Akinori Iwamura announced his retirement from baseball last week.  He's spent the last two seasons as player/manager of the Fukushima Hopes of the independent Baseball Challenge (BC) League.  Iwamura was a second round pick of the Yakult Swallows in the fall 1996 draft out of high school.  He debuted with the Swallows in 1998 and became the regular third baseman in 2000.  His best seasons were 2002 when he hit .320 and 2004 when he had 44 home runs with 103 RBIs.  He left the Swallows for MLB following the 2006 season and spent four years in the US - three years with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2007-09 and then he split the 2010 season with the Pirates and A's.  He returned to NPB in 2011 and joined the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.  After two seasons in Sendai he returned to Yakult for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.  He was only a shadow of his former self upon his return to Japan and the Swallows released him at the end of the 2014 season.

He never lead the league in any positive offensive category but he did set a record for most strikeouts in a season in 2004 with 173.  He won Best 9 awards in 2002 and 2006 and Golden Glove Awards in 2000-02 and 2004-06.  He made the All Star team four times - 2001, 2004-06 - and played in the Nippon Series once in 2001 (and won an "Outstanding Player" award).  He played for the Japan National Team in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

His BBM rookie card was #502 in the 1997 set and his first Calbee card was #131 from the 2000 set.

1997 BBM #502

2000 Konami Field Of Nine #FON00T-075

2001 BBM Nippon Series #S15

2003 BBM 1st Version #BN5

2005 BBM 1st Version #GG14

2006 BBM All Stars #A57

2009 Topps WBC #42

2011 BBM 1st Version #149

2013 Topps Tribute WBC #TTWH-AI

2014 BBM 1st Version #315

Card Of The Week April 16

I was rereading Bill Veeck's "The Hustler's Handbook" a few months ago and I cam across an interesting passage.  Veeck was in Tokyo in 1964 to broadcast one of the NPB All Star games for "Wide World Of Sports" and he mentions talking to Jim Marshall of the Dragons:
Jim Marshall told me that the only real adjustment an American player has to make upon coming to Japan is in his thinking.  American hitters are all guess hitters (and I would suppose Japanese hitters are too).  The Oriental mind may not be inscrutable to other Orientals but the Japanese pitcher's patterns are entirely different than those our hitters are used to.
"They get you three-and-nothing," Jim Marshall told me, "and you automatically look for a fast ball.  Not in this league, though.  You're just as liable to get three curve balls in a row.  They'll throw you the good breaking stuff and even change speed on you, and they'll get them all over, too" (p.224 of the 1989 "Fireside Edition")
If you've listened to John Gibson and Jim Allen's Japan Baseball Weekly podcast, this should sound familiar.  It seems like almost every hitter who comes to Japan and appears on the show expresses surprise that there are no fastball counts in NPB.  Here's proof that hitters have been talking about this for over 50 years - it's surprising that no one seems to have done their research before going to Japan.

Marshall had spent three years with Chunichi from 1963 to 1965.  He would later manage the Cubs (1974-76) and A's (1979).  Here's a card of Marshall from the 1964 Marukami JCM 14g menko set:

So what are the odds that I would do two consecutive posts containing cards of Jim Marshall?

NPB Gaijin In The SPBA

Once upon a time there was something called the Senior Professional Baseball Association.  It was the brain child of Jim Morley, who was inspired by the Senior Professional Golf Association and figured that having a league of "old timers" play in Florida during the off season would be very popular.  The league kicked off in November of 1989 with eight teams split into two divisions.  The Northern Division had the Bradenton Explorers, the Orlando Juice, the St Petersburg Pelicans and the Winter Haven Super Sox.  The Southern Division featured the Fort Myers Sun Sox, the Gold Coast Suns, the St. Lucie Legends and the West Palm Beach Tropics.

The minimum age for a player in the league was 35 (32 for catchers).  A number of star players from the 1970's and 80's played in the league - Rollie Fingers, Fergie Jenkins, Luis Tiant, Graig Nettles, Bobby Bonds, Bill Madlock, Bert Campaneris, George Foster, Dan Driessen, Jose Cruz and Toby Harrah all made appearances in the inaugural season.  Earl Weaver managed Gold Coast while Dick Williams managed the Tropics.  The St Petersburg Pelicans won the championship for that first season but the league did not prove as popular as Morley and the team owners had hoped and everyone lost a lot of money.

The second season saw a bunch of changes for the league.  Four of the teams folded (Orlando, Winter Haven, Gold Coast and St. Lucie)  while the Explorers moved from Bradenton to Daytona Beach and the Tropics ended up without a home park after they had a dispute with West Palm Beach.   The league added two expansion teams outside of Florida - the Sun City Rays (in Phoenix) and the San Bernardino Pride.  The league picked up another big name when Jim Rice signed with St Petersburg.  But things didn't improve much financially and the league finally folded right around Christmas of 1990.

Morley had hoped to resurrect the league the following year with a different focus.  In addition to the "senior" players, Major League Baseball would provide both prospects and major league players rehabbing from injury.  This would make the league more of a rival to the Latin American winter leagues.  (I remember talking to someone in the league office back in the spring of 1991 when I was ordering some hats and yearbooks and them saying something along the lines that a major league team would probably prefer to have a top prospect sitting next to Fergie Jenkins rather than playing in Venezuela all winter.)  Even more interesting was the idea that Morley floated in Peter Golenbock's book about the league "The Forever Boys" where he wanted to get Japanese teams involved as well:  "The perfect roster will have ten senior players, five or six major leaguers and five or six Japanese players".  But it was not to be - the league never returned.

There were four different card sets that were issued for the league's inaugural season.  The largest one (at 220 cards) was issued by Pacific Trading Cards. This was the only set issued in packs.  The other three were all box sets issued by T&M (121 cards), Topps (132 cards) and Elite (126 cards).  IIRC the Elite cards included a logo magnet for one of the teams.  Pacific was the only manufacturer to issue cards for the second season - they did a 165 card set that was again issued in packs.

So what does all this have to do with Japanese baseball?  I had reread the two books published about the league a year or so ago ("Extra Innings" by David Whitford and the previously mentioned Peter Golenbock book) and realized that a number of the players that they talked about had spent time in Japan during the 1980's.  I decided to attempt to make a list of all the SPBA players and managers who had played, coached or managed in Japan.  This ended up being a bit harder than I thought - there's no complete statistical record for the league anywhere I could find.  I thought I had one somewhere in my office - I had bought a publication from SABR years ago called "The Senior Professional Baseball Association" by Edward M. Hathaway that I thought had the complete stats but when I finally found the booklet last weekend I discovered that it only had the qualifiers for the batting and pitching leaders - and there were a lot of guys who played in the league who didn't get enough at bats or innings pitched to qualify for the batting crown or ERA lead.  Luckily I still had all the card sets so I was able to go through them.  And I had to go through every one of them because each of the four sets for the inaugural season has players that the other three don't have.  I cam up with a list of 36 players and managers total.  33 of these players played in Japan prior to playing in the SPBA.  One player (Bert Campaneris) coached for the Seibu Lions in 1987 and 1988.  Another player (Lenn Sakata) would later coach for the Chiba Lotte Marines on two separate occasions (1995-98 and 2008-09).  And lastly one player would go on to manager the Lotte Giants in the KBO in 2008-09 - Jerry Royster.  There may be other players with a KBO connection but I don't have a list of foreign players in Korea during the 1980's.  And I could have missed other NPB players.  But here's the list I came up with.  For each player I'll show an SPBA card for each season the player was in the league and a Japanese card for the player if I have one.

Name 89-90 Card 90-91 Card NPB Experience NPB Card
Kim Allen
1989-90 Topps #53
1990-91 Pacific #99
Tigers 1982-83
Randy Bass
1989-90 Elite #49
Tigers 1983-88
1984 Calbee #59
Clete Boyer
1989-90 T&M #12
1990-91 Pacific #43
Whales 1972-75
1975/76 Calbee #374
Bert Campaneris
1989-90 Elite #78
Lions 1987-88 (coach)
Mark Corey
1989-90 Pacific #195
Buffaloes 1984
Hector Cruz
1990-91 Pacific #60
Giants 1983
Ron Davis
1990-91 Pacific #115
Swallows 1989
Taylor Duncan
1989-90 Pacific #70
Lions 1980
Mike Easler
1989-90 Elite #19
Fighters 1988-89
1989 Lotte #29
Juan Eichelberger
1989-90 T&M #32
1990-91 Pacific #119
Swallows 1989
2013 BBM Deep Impact #21
Rich Gale
1989-90 Pacific #95
1990-91 Pacific #19
Tigers 1985-86
2013 BBM Greatest Games 10-16-1985 Swallows vs Tigers #10
Wayne Garrett
1989-90 T&M #39
Dragons 1979-80
1979 TCMA #77
Larry Harlow
1989-90 Topps #103
1990-91 Pacific #20
Swallows 1982
Joe Hicks
1989-90 Topps #105
Braves 1985
Dave Hilton
1989-90 Elite #113
1990-91 Pacific #124
Swallows 1978-79, Tigers 1980
1979 Yamakatsu JY8 #16
Tim Ireland
1989-90 Elite #69
Carp 1983-84
1984 Takara Carp #4
Randy Johnson
1989-90 Elite #23
Carp 1987-88
1987 Play Ball #12
Bob Jones
1989-90 Elite #71
1990-91 Pacific #59
Dragons 1979-80
1979 TCMA #78
Mike Kekich
1989-90 T&M #57
Fighters 1974
Pete Lacock
1989-90 Elite #98
1990-91 Pacific #120
Whales 1981
Rick Lancellotti
1990-91 Pacific #122
Carp 1987-88
1987 Calbee #343
Bill Madlock
1989-90 Elite #116
Orions 1988
2013 BBM Deep Impact #18
Jim Marshall
1990-91 Pacific #127
Dragons 1963-65
1963 Marukami JCM 14f
Felix Millan
1989-90 Topps #85
Whales 1978-80
1979 TCMA #52
Jim Nettles
1989-90 Elite #44
Hawks 1975
Steve Ontiveros
1989-90 Elite #117
Lions 1980-85
1984 Calbee #76
Pat Putnam
1989-90 T&M #87
Fighters 1986-87
1987 Takara Fighters #6
Dave Rajsich
1989-90 Pacific #3
1990-91 Pacific #154
Carp 1984
1984 Takara Carp #44
Gary Rajsich
1989-90 Elite #12
1990-91 Pacific #156
Dragons 1986-88
1987 Play Ball #14
Jerry Royster
1989-90 Elite #47
Lotte Giants (KBO) 2008-09 (Mgr)
Lenn Sakata
1990-91 Pacific #91
Marines 1995-98 (Coach), 2008-09 (Coach)
Bobby Tolan
1989-90 Elite #2
1990-91 Pacific #152
Hawks 1978
Jim Tracy
1990-91 Pacific #70
Whales 1983-84
1983 Calbee #169
George Vukovich
1990-91 Pacific #45
Lions 1986-87
2014 BBM Lions Legend #64
Jerry White
1989-90 Elite #32
1990-91 Pacific #3
Lions 1984, Whales 1985
Walt Williams
1989-90 Topps #126
Fighters 1976-77