Pacific League at a Glance

Interleague play begins today! If you are like me, you may not know a whole lot about the teams the Tigers will be facing over the next three weeks. Here is a brief look at each of them, in schedule order:

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

EaglesJoined NPB in: 2005

Also Known Simply As: Rakuten Eagles

Located in: Sendai, Miyagi

Won Championships in: 2013

Current Record (rank): 20-23-2 (5th)

Managed by: Hiromoto “Dave” Okubo

Top Hitter 2015 (avg): Ginji Akaminai (.318)

Top Pitcher 2015 (ERA): Takahiro Shiomi (2.19)

Other Notable Players (position): Kazuo Matsui (MLB returnee), Yuki Matsui (0.43 ERA, 10 saves), Kazuya Fujita (2014 Best 9)

Face Tigers on (where): May 26-28 (Koshien Stadium)

Saitama Seibu Lions

LionsJoined NPB in: 1950

Previously Known as: Nishitetsu Clippers (1950), Nishitetsu Lions (1951-1972), Taiheiyo Club Lions (1973-1976), Crown Lighter Lions (1977-1978), Seibu Lions (1979-2007)

Located in: Tokorozawa, Saitama

Won Championships in: 1956, 1957, 1958, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2004, 2008

Current Record (rank): 24-20-2 (3rd)

Managed by: Norio Tanabe

Top Hitter 2015 (avg): Shogo Akiyama (.346)

Top Pitcher 2015 (ERA): Kazuhisa Makita (2.14)

Other Notable Players (position): Takeya Nakamura (11 HR, 42 RBI so far), Hideto Asamura (.325 avg), Ernesto Mejia (2014 Best 9), Tomomi Takahashi (0.95 ERA, 14 SV)

Face Tigers on (where): May 29-31 (Seibu Dome)

Chiba Lotte Marines

MarinesJoined NPB in: 1950

Previously Known as: Mainichi Orions (1950-1957), Mainichi Daiei Orions (1958-1963), Tokyo Orions (1964-1968), Lotte Orions (1969-1991)

Located in: Chiba City, Chiba

Won Championships in: 1950, 1974, 2005, 2010

Current Record (rank): 21-23-0 (4th)

Managed by: Tsutomu Itoh

Top Hitter 2015 (avg): Ikuhiro Kiyota (.355)

Top Pitcher 2015 (ERA): Hideaki Wakui (2.59)

Other Notable Players (reason): Tadahito Iguchi (MLB returnee), Luis Cruz (11 HR, 40 RBI so far)

Face Tigers on (where): June 2-4 (Koshien Stadium)

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters

FightersJoined NPB in: 1946

Previously Known as: Senators (1946), Tokyu Flyers (1947, 1949-1953), Tokuei Flyers (1948), Toei Flyers (1954-1972), Nittaku Home Flyers (1973), Nippon Ham Fighters (1974-2003)

Located in: Sapporo, Hokkaido

Won Championships in: 1962, 2006

Current Record (rank): 27-19-0 (1st)

Managed by: Hideki Kuriyama

Top Hitter 2015 (avg): Kensuke Kondoh (.323)

Top Pitcher 2015 (ERA): Shohei Ohtani (1.66)

Other Notable Players (position): Sho Nakata (16 home runs already), Kensuke Tanaka (MLB returnee), Mitsuo Yoshikawa (2012 PL MVP)

Face Tigers on (where): June 5-8 (Koshien Stadium)

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

HawksJoined NPB in: 1938

Previously Known as: Nankai (1938-1943), Kinki Nippon (1944), Kinki Great Ring (1945), Nankai Hawks (1946-1988), Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (1989-2004)

Located in: Fukuoka City, Fukuoka

Won Championships in: 1959, 1964, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2014

Current Record (rank): 24-18-3 (2nd)

Managed by: Kimiyasu Kudoh

Top Hitter 2015 (avg): Yuki Yanagita (.356)

Top Pitcher 2015 (ERA): Kenji Ohtonari (2.48)

Other Notable Players (reason): Akira Nakamura (top 5 hitter), Dae-Lee Ho (top 5 hitter), Seiichi Uchikawa (WBC team 2013), Kenta Imamiya (2014 Best 9), Tadashi Settsu (WBC team 2013), Nao Higashihama (my former student)

Face Tigers on (where): June 9-11 (Yafuoku Dome)

Orix Buffaloes

JBuffaloesoined NPB in: 1936

Previously Known as: Hankyu (1936-1946), Hankyu Braves (1947-1988), Orix Braves (1989-1990), Orix Blue Wave (1991-2004)*

Located in: Osaka, Osaka

Won Championships in: 1975, 1976, 1977, 1996

* Merged with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2004.

Current Record (rank): 17-30-1 (6th)

Managed by: Hiroshi Moriwaki

Top Hitter 2015 (avg): Masahiro Nishino (.362)

Top Pitcher 2015 (ERA): Brandon Dickson (1.44)

Other Notable Players (reason): Yoshio Itoi (2014 PL batting champ), Hiroyuki Nakajima (MLB returnee), Chihiro Kaneko (2014 Sawamura Award winner)

Face Tigers on (where): June 12-14 (Kyocera Dome)

Book Review – The Bass Diaries

Of all the foreigners who have played on the Hanshin Tigers baseball club, undoubtedly the most popular and accomplished is first baseman Randy Bass. He played for the team from 1983 to 1988, and won the league Triple Crown two consecutive seasons (1985 and 1986) while establishing the NPB record for highest batting average in a single season (.389 in 1986). Why, then, at age 34, did he suddenly stop playing baseball? What precipitated his sudden departure from NPB? The Bass Diaries (バースの日記) seeks to explain this, as well as give the reader a look into the life of one of NPB’s greatest import players.

The book starts with a foreword from Bass, explaining why he has decided to have his personal diary translated into Japanese and published for people to read. He also explains that he loves the Hanshin Tigers and all of their fans, and has nothing but great memories of being a player for the organization. The book literally is Randy Bass’s diary from 1985 to 1988, although the order in which it is shown is slightly different (1988, 1985, 1986, 1987). The reason for the changed order is because the most important part of the diary is what happened to Bass in the year he was released.

Let’s cut to the chase. Near the start of the 1988 season, Bass’ son, Zach, was diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumor and needed to be treated in the United States. Being the dedicated father that he is, instead of playing out the season while his son underwent treatment, Bass received permission from the team to return to America to be with his son for a month, after which he would return to the team. Unfortunately, treatment became more and more complicated, and although Bass communicated to the team that he needed more time, and despite what he thought was permission to extend his leave, the Tigers suddenly cut their star player loose. Then they insisted they were not responsible for his son’s medical bills, despite the clause in Bass’ contract stating otherwise. These negotiations are quite clearly recorded in his diary, which makes it clear that the organization was in the wrong.

On June 28, 1988, Randy Bass was unconditionally released from the Hanshin Tigers. The reason: he did not return to the team as promised on June 17.

On June 27, 1988, Randy Bass was unconditionally released from the Hanshin Tigers. The reason: he did not return to the team as promised on June 17.

The next chapters detail his (and the team’s) triumphant title run in 1985, his Triple Crown wins, his post-game fun — don’t worry, nothing scandalous about the Oklahoman senator — his investments, his thoughts about various teammates, rivals and coaches. Standing out in particular are his affiliations with foreigners on other teams (Warren Cromartie of the Giants among others) and his disdain for 1988 club manager Minoru Murayama.

Overall, this was a good read. There were definitely parts that could have been left out, though. Even his expressway tolls are recorded, translated and published here — is that really necessary, other than for us to know that the man kept track of his expenses? I really think it would have been better if Bass had taken a little more time and sat down with his translator and turned this into an autobiography or memoirs, rather than a pure translation of his day-to-day thoughts. The diary itself could have been the best source material for the book, which could have used a change of format, really.

Still, I’m glad I was able to learn a little more about the team’s history from the perspective of a man who is still revered as the equivalent of God and Buddha among Tigers fans (神様、仏様、バース様 – Kamisama, Hotokesama, Ba-su sama).

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An Interview with Gene Bacque

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to chat on FaceTime with Tigers’ legend Gene Bacque. As a rookie Tigers’ fan, I only found out about Mr. Bacque by accident when I was researching the history of the Eiji Sawamura Award. A few Google searches later I found a way to contact him, and we have been corresponding since last September. He is living in Louisiana, where he was born and raised. Here are some of the main highlights of our conversation.


Mr. Gene Bacque and I talking on FaceTime. Looking great, sir! (Please excuse my funny face!)

Mr. Gene Bacque and I talking on FaceTime. Looking great, sir! (Please excuse my funny face!)

You’ve been back in America for a long time now, but I know you have come back to Japan on a few occasions since then. When is the last time you were here?

We got invited over there probably 15 years ago, I guess. I left Japan in 1968, and it was about 10-12 years when I got invited back, and I went back probably 4-5 times after that. And I remember we went back when they had that doggone bad earthquake in Kobe (in 1995). We visited a lot of school children and wished them well, you know. Then I think I went a couple of times after that for some old timers games.

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Mr. Bacque throwing at an old-timer game.

How often to those old timer games come up?

They were every 5 or 6 years, I guess. They’d have about 18 ball players from the US that had played ball in Japan, they would invite all of us and our wives, it was a fantastic trip for us. Now where do you live?

I live in Ashiya, not far from the stadium…

That’s where I lived when I was there, in Yamate-cho.

Oh yeah, up on the mountain. I used to work in that area. Anyways, I heard from you awhile back that your friend (and former teammate Kingo) Motoyashiki lives in Ashiya as well.

Yeah, he lives in Ashiya. If you see him or get a hold of him, you tell him hello for me. I think about them all the time. I visited him and his wife in his home when we went over for one of those old-timer games.

I was thinking, it would be fun to do a FaceTime session between you and him.

That would be great. He doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Japanese, but we got along really well. He was the guy that played second base when I pitched that no-hit no-run game. He was the one who caught the last out when Oh hit that last pop fly.

bacquenohitter

Gene Bacque threw a no-hitter against the Yomiuri Giants at Koshien on June 28, 1965.

So the final out of that game was Sadaharu Oh?

Yeah. I didn’t realize I had a no-hitter until about the sixth inning. And then most of the players, I could notice they weren’t talking to me too much. I guess they didn’t want to break the routine or something. Then finally in the ninth inning I realized, yeah I have a no-hitter. The closest I came to not having it was when Nagashima hit a line drive to the third baseman. It was right at him, thank God, otherwise it would have been the first hit. I was very lucky.

Nagashima and Oh were a pretty deadly back-to-back punch that the Giants had, eh?

Oh, they were excellent ball players. I mean, Nagashima was one of the best third basemen I have ever seen. And a good hitter. Oh was a little bit more powerful than him, and of course Oh was left-handed compared when I’m pitching I’m right-handed, I preferred pitching to Nagashima than Oh because of the fact that Oh was left-handed, whereas Nagashima was right-handed.

Would you say Oh was the hardest hitter you ever faced or were there other guys who made it really hard on you throughout your career?

The guy that was the most difficult for me to get out was a guy with the Taiyo Whales, by the name of Gondo. The way he swung the bat, I don’t know if it distracted me or what, but he always got a hit off me, or two or three! He was also a left-handed hitter.

I read in Robert Whiting’s book The Chrysanthemum and the Bat, that you liked to talk to the batters while you pitched to them…

Yeah, I tried to psych them out. And then the catcher, I would tell the catcher to try to talk to them a little, too. I’d brush them back quite a bit. I tried to come inside. Because in Japan, very few pitchers did… now it’s different, but when I was playing, very few pitchers would pitch inside. But I felt like if you could pitch them inside get them away from the plate, then by the time you threw the ball on the outside part of the plate, you had a little bit better chance of getting them out. I’d talk to them, sort of laugh at them, try to have them think differently about what they were doing.

Now did a lot of them talk back to you, or did you feel like “Yeah I’m really getting under this guy’s skin!”

Some of them would talk back. A lot of times they’d talk to me in Japanese, and I didn’t understand Japanese, and being from Louisiana, I spoke French, so I would talk back to them in French, so they didn’t know what I was saying, I didn’t know what they were saying.

So about your time in Japan, you came over with your wife, and did you have any kids when you came over?

No. We came in August ’62 and we got married in April ’62 in Hawaii. I was with the AAA ball club with the Detroit Tigers with a team called the Hawaii Islanders. They released me and made me a free agent. That’s when I decided if I got an opportunity I’d go to Japan. And this really good friend of mine in Hawaii, he was able to get me a tryout in Japan. And that’s how I got to Japan.

bacquebatting

Bacque once hit two home runs in one game.

Was your friend in Hawaii affiliated with the Hanshin Tigers, then?

Not really, he wasn’t affiliated with the Tigers or anything. His name was Angel Maehara. He had a semi-pro team there in Hawaii. And I was lucky enough to get on with this team and help him out with his ball club. As a matter of fact, we were able to win the pennant in the summer league with his ball club. Then he got me a tryout in Japan. When I got there, they thought I had come over there as a hitter! Yeah, I could hit! I wasn’t a hitter, but they wanted me to hit the ball for them. I remember one time when I hit a home run against the Giants, and I was rounding first base, I said to Oh, “Anata to boku wa home run onaji desu ne!” We were the same type of home run hitters. He laughed. He was a good guy. He was a nice guy. Even after the altercation we had (see photo below), he was a nice guy. It was just one of those things that happened in a ball game. But he was a wonderful guy. Him, Nagashima, Kaneda, all those guys were real professionals.

Late in the 1967 season, two straight brush-back pitches to Sadaharu Oh of the Giants had both benches cleared and in the ensuing brawl, Bacque broke his right thumb, was ejected from the game and missed the rest of the season.  He would be traded in the offseason.

Late in the 1967 season, two straight brush-back pitches to Sadaharu Oh of the Giants had both benches cleared and in the ensuing brawl, Bacque broke his right thumb, was ejected from the game and missed the rest of the season. He would be traded in the offseason.

So were you able to get to know them through the old-timer games?

Yeah, we got together at banquets before or after that game. It was nice, it was wonderful. I enjoyed it.

Did you have an interpreter with you to help with communication?

Yeah, most of the time. Well, when I first got to Japan I didn’t have an interpreter. I was fortunate enough to get with a guy who had been there awhile and he had married a Japanese girl. He was in the army and had signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. His name was Mike Solomko, and he still lives in Japan to this day. He lives north of Tokyo if I’m not mistaken, built a beautiful home on his father-in-law’s property, I think. I talk to him whenever he comes to Hawaii. If ever you see Mike Solomko, please convey my regards to him.

If you can find out from me, someone told me he died, but I wonder what happened to my friend Yamauchi-san. (Editor’s Note: Kazuhiro Yamauchi passed away in 2009.) He used to take me deer hunting in the offseason when I didn’t go home in the offseason. Another guy is Koyama. He’s the one who taught me the bad words in Japanese. And then of course Yoshida, my shortstop. I was very fortunate to have two of the best shortstops when I was playing there. Yoshida and Taira Fujita. Then another guy with the Hiroshima Carp, he was a nice guy, I can’t remember his name, though. (Editor’s note: He’s talking about Sachio Kinugasa.) He played in… I don’t know how many consecutive games. (It was 2215 games, from 1970-1987.) He was like Cal Ripken over here. I don’t know how many consecutive games he played without getting hurt or without coming out of the game. Him and Koba, I remember from Hiroshima. Koba was a good player, too. I think he played the outfield.

Sounds like you met a lot of great people throughout your career in Japan.

I had the most wonderful time in Japan. I always wanted to play ball since I was nine years old. And I was fortunate enough to sign here in the States out of my university with the Detroit organization. But I played with them for six years in the minor leagues, then they released me and wanted to send me back to Class A-ball, and I said, no after six years, they’d given up on me. That’s when I decided to give it a try in Japan. That’s the best decision I ever made. The wife enjoyed it, she really loved it in Japan. She was one of the few wives who liked Japan. She tried to learn the language, she raised four kids in Japan. We had some wonderful times.

You mentioned about spending off-seasons here… did you spend all your off-seasons here, or just parts of them?

No, the first year I came back, and then in ’63 I stayed over and instead of coming back, the wife and I took a little vacation to Hong Kong, I think. Then in ’64 I had the really good year when I won 29 and lost 9, and I think we came back that year. And then we went back, I hadn’t signed my contract, so we came back and negotiated my contract for ’65.

Gene Bacque's 1964 numbers: 29 W, 9 L, 24 CG, 353.1 IP, 200 K, 1.89 ERA, 1.06 WHIP. His last 4 wins were in the final week of the season as the team made a miraculous comeback to capture the Central League pennant.

Gene Bacque’s 1964 numbers: 29 W, 9 L, 24 CG, 353.1 IP, 200 K, 1.89 ERA, 1.06 WHIP. His last 4 wins were in the final week of the season as the team made a miraculous comeback to capture the Central League pennant.

Now, in ’64 when you won the Sawamura Award, did you know at the time you were the first foreigner to win it?

I was the first foreigner and as far as I know, I’m the only foreigner to ever win the award. I have it here. It’s the most prestigious thing I’ve ever had in my life. And to think that this award was given to me… of course, this is what Oh said. Oh that year hit 50-some-odd home runs. And he came up to me and said, “Bacque-san, you deserve the Sawamura Award, but you also deserve the MVP because you were instrumental in having Hanshin win the pennant that year.” I said to him, “Well Oh-san, maybe so, but that’s how they voted, and I’m completely satisfied. I’m more satisfied with this award than the MVP.” This means more to me knowing that this man (after whom the award was named) fought for his country, died for his country, and that our country was basically instrumental in terminating his life, and yet, I was able to know that he would probably agree that I win this particular award. It was heart-warming for me. It was really… it was very, very special. And I hope that somebody later on can win that award, and I’m so thankful that I am the first and only [foreigner] so far to win the award. I was there in ’62… the war had been over for awhile, and there was no animosity or anything, but they sometimes talked to me about how hard it was after the war. How they didn’t have any paper… one of the coaches said, “Man I’m glad the war ended. I was next in line to go bomb those ships…” What do you call it? Kamikaze?

Let’s change the subject a little. What kind of food did you like while you were here?

I've been to Miyasu and Mr. Bacque is not kidding. Amazing steaks. Pricy but amazing.

I’ve been to Miyasu and Mr. Bacque is not kidding. Amazing steaks. Pricy but amazing.

The grapes in Himeji, we always stopped on our way to Hiroshima to enjoy the huge muscat fruit, the 20th-century pears, man they take such good care of their fruit in Japan. The peaches were good too… pretty much any fruit that they had was great. My wife would cook really good. We ate donburi, okonomiyaki, and the steaks, ohhhh man. If ever you’re in Kobe, you have got to go to a place called Miyasu. It’s expensive but let me tell you, their steaks, bar none, are the best. If you ever go there, you tell his son (who’s now running the place) that Bacque says hi.

The conversation went on from this point for another 15 minutes or so, but instead of talking baseball, we exchanged information about each other’s families, he chatted with my wife and son for awhile, and he even extended me an invitation to visit and stay with him down in Louisiana sometime. It was such a wonderful time, just getting to know a man who left a mark on the Japanese game 50 years ago but still holds a special place in the hearts of Hanshin Tigers fans.

Thank you for taking time to talk with me, Mr. Bacque. I hope we can do this again sometime soon. I wish you all the best and continued good health.

Great Tiger Moments 4: August 30, 1973

As the season was heading into its final month and the Tigers fighting to catch the Yomiuri Giants (who had won 8 straight Nippon Series at this point), the Tigers faced the Chunichi Dragons at Koshien Stadium. Young ace Yutaka Enatsu (25) was on the mound, and he pitched a game for the ages. In fact, through nine innings he was holding onto a no-hitter. Unfortunately for him, the nine Tigers hitters (himself included) could not plate a single base runner, and the game went into extra innings. Enatsu trotted out to the mound in the 10th, shut out the Dragons, and sat in the dugout as the home team again got shut out in the bottom half. Once again, the ace mowed down the Dragons, completing an unthinkable 11 innings of no-hit ball.

The bottom of inning saw Enatsu slated to lead off. Pitchers are rarely good hitters, and Enatsu was no exception (he finished the year batting .133). Rather than subbing in a pinch hitter, manager Masayasu Kaneda let him step into the batter’s box. The result:

Unbelievable. After the game, an elated Enatsu was quoted as saying, “I guess one person can win a baseball game on his own!” Truly on this night, he was right. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they finished the year just 0.5 games out of first place, and just 1.0 ahead of third-place Chunichi. The Giants went on to win their ninth straight Nippon Series, but the streak ended the following year when the Chunichi Dragons ousted them, led by manager Wally Yonamine.

Book Review – Yoshida’s “Hanshin Tigers”

yoshidabook

As I perused the baseball section at the local library, this book seemed like one I should read. Nothing about the cover or the title would compel anyone to read it, but the author’s name might make you feel like you should. Yoshio Yoshida was not only the manager of the 1985 championship team (the only one in the team’s 79 year history) but also quite possibly its best shortstop as well. Written in 2003 as the team was capturing its first Central League title in 18 years, Yoshida recounts the team’s then-70-year history from his perspective – one that included being involved with the club in some form for 50 years. This book is more than a chronicle of the team’s past – it serves as the memoirs of one of the most celebrated Hanshin Tigers ever.

Yoshida begins his book by talking about why the 2003 Tigers is the start of a new “Golden Age” for the team. He attributes this to the hiring of then-manager Sen’ichi Hoshino, who adopted more of a western approach to managing – giving his coaches plenty of opportunity to do what they are paid to do, and having the power to dictate which players he wanted ownership to pursue. This was rather uncommon at the time, and Yoshida believed it would usher in a prosperous run for the team, one that would possibly help the supplant the Yomiuri Giants as “the team to beat.”

From here, he begins his own story, one of a boy who grew up idolizing the Hanshin (Osaka) Tigers, helped lead his team to the All Japan High School tournament as a junior in high school, got drafted by the Tigers as a sophomore in college, and who won the starting position at shortstop in his rookie season. He spent the year carrying around legend Fumio Fujimura’s equipment bag, and learned a lot just by being in close proximity with the original “Mr. Tigers.”

yoshidaplayer

Yoshio Yoshida’s #23 is one of three numbers retired by the club. The other two are Fumio Fujimura (10) and Minoru Murayama (11).

Each chapter introduces a new chapter in his own life, and he touches on his relationships with various players including the team’s best foreign and domestic pitchers, Gene Bacque and Minoru Murayama. Often the subject of rumors in the press, he addresses his real feelings about Murayama as well as his sentiments on the trade that sent the team’s “true ace” (in his opinion) Koyama to the Orions. He talks about various managers (namely Fujimura and Murayama) who failed to excel as they had on the field, and then moves on to his own three terms as manager.

The second of these was the one that brought the team its lone Nippon Series championship, and featured the fearsome lineup that included Masayuki Kakefu, Randy Bass, Akinobu Okada, and others. He gives special attention to Bass, who has arguably become the most famous player in team history. Bass was quite outspoken but Yoshida tolerated it as he knew his star player meant well and had some valuable input.

Overall, this book was an outstanding read. Yoshida was at the stage in his life where he could reflect on a variety of things quite calmly and frankly, and his writing style is easy to follow and really helps the reader feel what he feels. In fact, after borrowing the book once without even cracking open the cover, I took it out a second time, this time waiting until 3 days before it was due to open it up. I could not put it down though, got through the first ⅔ of it, and decided instead of renewing it, I would just buy it. It will serve as a great reference book for me.

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Great Tiger Moments 3: April 17, 1985

Other than winning the championship in 1985, this is probably the most talked about moment in Hanshin Tigers history. At this point, the team had a 50 year history and still no championship to speak of. However, it boasted one of its finest hitting lineups ever.

Having started the season on the road, the Tigers were in game two of their first homestand. The opponents: their arch nemesis Yomiuri Giants. Game one featured an interesting come-from-behind victory by the Tigers, but its drama paled in comparison to this one. Down by two runs in the seventh, the team managed to get a two runners aboard for first baseman Randy Bass.

Bass, who had a decent first two years with the team, but who started the season quite cold, was 0-for-2 in this one to this point. Journalists report that before the game, he didn’t even take batting practice. Instead, he watched video footage of his batting stance. And apparently, something clicked, because…

This would be Bass’ first homerun of the season, one in which he hit 54 and went on to win the Triple Crown. Kakefu was already hitting well and obviously took advantage of a shaken pitcher who had just surrendered a late lead. Okada’s blast sent the crowd into hysterics. As the announcers said, “Koshien wa matsuri desu!” Koshien is in festival mode!

As we all know, the team won its first and only championship that October. This day can be said to be the one that sparked the Tigers’ magical ride to glory.

Great Tiger Moments 2: June 26, 1986

I’m reading a book right now called 巨人ー阪神論 (Kyojin-Hanshin Ron — Giants/Tigers Discourse). Basically it’s a guided conversation between 1980s Giants ace Suguru Egawa and 1980s Tigers cleanup hitter Masayuki Kakefu. They discuss everything from their playing days and beyond. Still halfway through but I came across a bit about this moment:

June 26, 1986. Tigers legend Randy Bass has hit home runs in six straight games. One more and he ties the record set by home run king Sadaharu Oh. Korakuen is full and the Giants have their best pitcher in the mound. On this day, he’s not exactly at his best, giving up 5 runs through 7 innings including a bomb to Kakefu. Enter the 8th, score tied up. Egawa looks at the on deck circle. Bass. He’s managed to focus all his energy on the Colonel so far, leaving him hitless in 4 at bats.

This time, Bass sits back in the batter’s box a little more than usual. Egawa sees this and, against his catcher’s call, delivers a heater high and inside. Check the result below:

Hit clear out of the park. Tigers lead 6-5 and hold on to win. Egawa was not told by his manager (guess who? Oh himself) to pitch around Bass, but he had heard whispers throughout the day from press and teammates that he should not let his manager’s record be tied. Still, Egawa says, he couldn’t resist trying to beat the man with his go-to pitch.

The Tigers would finish the year in third but on this night, it looked like 1985 all over again.

Great Tiger Moments 1: April 30, 2009

The 2009 season was not a good one for the Hanshin Tigers. They did not make the playoffs, finishing 4th in the Central League with a 67-73-4 record. For one magical night, though, fans rejoiced as though the team had won it all.

At Koshien Stadium on April 30, 2009, the team was facing the pathetic (last-place) Yokohama Baystars. This particular series was tied 1-1, and the third match looked to be wrapped up by the visiting team. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the score was 2-0. The Tigers brought in a pinch hitter (Imaoka) in place of the pitcher, though it seemed like it could easily end with his at bat. Instead, the unthinkable happened:

That’s right. Five straight hits (Imaoka single, Hirano triple, Sekimoto single, Toritani single, Kanemoto walk-off single) and the Tigers walked off the field winners and owners of a 11-11-1 record to end the opening month. Exciting baseball, is it not?