|Because several of their all-time
greatest stars played in the 1950s and 1960s, the
Hawks were a dominant team in the Pacific
League's first two decades.
Kazuto Tsuruoka (aka Kazuto
Yamamoto c.1946-1958): A fairly decent player
in his eight professional years with the Nankai
franchise (1939, '46-52), Tsuruoka was probably
elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame on
the merit of his managing record.
Managing a record twenty-three
consecutive seasons for a single team (1946-68),
Tsuruoka led Nankai to two league championships
and nine pennants. As Nankai skipper, he compiled
a lifetime record of 1,807 wins and 1,158 losses
(a .609 percentage).
Incidentally, Tsuruoka apparently
changed names twice in his life. Leading the
league with 10 homers in 1939, most record books
list his home run crown under the name Kazuto
Tsuruoka. Leaving the game during the war and
returning to Nankai (then known as Kinki Great
Ring) as player/manager in 1946, he won the
league RBI title under the name Kazuto Yamamoto.
No longer a player, the Hawks manager changed his
name back to Tsuruoka after the 1958 season.
Retiring as a player in 1952 (with a
career .295 average and 143 stolen bases) while
still known as Yamamoto, most record books list
his lifetime batting record under that name.
Joining the Hall of Fame in 1965 and retiring as
manager in 1968, however, while known as Kazuto
Tsuruoka, most references to him as manager use
Takehiko (Akita) Bessho:
Although probably better know for the twelve
years he played with the Yomiuri Giants
(1949-1960), Takehiko Bessho pitched his first
five seasons (1942-43, 46-48) with the Nankai
Leading the team to a league
championship in 1947, Bessho won the first
Sawamura Award with a 30-19 record, 191
strikeouts, and 1.86 ERA. Not relying on
fastballs, Bessho survived that season after
pitching in 55 games, completing 47 of them, for
an amazing 448 1/3 innings.
On May 26, 1943, Bessho no-hit Daiwa
(the team disbanded at the end of the season)
while surrendering two walks and striking out
Like Kazuto Tsuruoka (see above),
Bessho changed his name midway through his
career. Known as Akita Bessho when he won the
1947 Sawamura Award, he received the same honor
in 1955 under the name Takehiko Bessho.
Katsuya Nomura: Currently the
highly successful manager of the Yakult Swallows,
five-time MVP Katsuya Nomura played from 1954 to
1980. The all-star catcher for the Hawks owns the
career record for games played (3,017). Holding
the Pacific League record with 657 lifetime home
runs, only Giants slugger Sadaharu Oh has hit
more. Nomura also places second with both 2,901
career hits and 1,988 RBIs.
Serving as the Hawks' main catcher
from 1954 to 1977, Nomura played on seven Nankai
championship teams, helping the club win two
Japan Series titles. A five-time MVP, Nomura won
the triple crown for batting in 1965, earned
eight-straight home run crowns (1961-68) and
six-straight RBI titles (1962-67).
From 1970-77, he also managed the
team, leading the Hawks to one Pacific League
pennant in 1973 while compiling a respectable
record of 513 wins and 472 ties (a .521
percentage) as skipper.
Allegedly because his marital
problems were gaining tabloid headlines (read Jim
Allen's 1997 Guide to Japanese Baseball,
page 97, for more details), the Hawks released
Nomura after batting .213 in 1977. The catcher
played three more seasons with Lotte and Seibu
before retiring. Nomura was elected to Japan's
Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, and has managed
the Yakult Swallows to four pennants and three
Japan Series titles since 1990.
Mutsuo Minagawa: Probably the
most successful Nankai pitcher of all-time,
Mutsuo Minagawa played his entire career with the
Hawks from 1954-1971. Earning a lifetime 2.42 ERA
with a 221-139 record (fourteenth on the all-time
wins list), the right-handed pitcher played on
six pennant-winning Nankai teams.
Tadashi Sugiura: Though
perhaps not as successful in the long run as
teammate Mutsuo Minagawa, Tadashi Sugiura burned
more brightly for a shorter period of time.
Pitching for the Hawks from
1958-1970, the right-hander earned the MVP his
sophomore year while leading the league with 38
wins, a 1.40 ERA and 336 strikeouts. That season,
Sugiura pitched more than 370 innings.
The heavy workload enabled Sugiura to
be very successful in his first few years, but
probably caused his arm to burn out at an early
age. In his first four seasons, the young pitcher
earned 116 wins (an average of 29 a year), while
in his remaining nine years he only won 71 games
(roughly eight wins per season).
A perfect example of a good young
pitcher ruined by overwork, Sugiura finally
retired in 1970 with a career 187-106 record and
a 2.39 ERA.
Joe Stanka: Earning the 1964
Pacific League MVP with a 26-7 record and 2.40
ERA, Joe Stanka led the Hawks to a second
straight pennant and a Japan Series championship.
It was the former Chicago White Sox hurler's
finest year. Playing for Nankai from 1960 to
1965, Stanka pitched one final season for the
Taiyo Whales in 1966 before finishing his career
at age thirty-five. While in Japan, the Oklahoma
native earned a lifetime 100-72 record with 887
strikeouts and a 3.03 ERA.
Hiromitsu Kadota: One of
Japan's best sluggers, Hiromitsu Kadota hit 567
home runs (third on the all time list) from
Except for three seasons with Orix
(1989-91), the outfielder played his first and
last years with the Hawks, belting 503 home runs
for the team. In his twenty-year career, the
future Hall of Famer also batted .298 with 1,678
Earning his only MVP in 1988, Kadota
led the Pacific League with 44 home runs and 125
RBIs. It was the aging player's finest season.