And It’s the Hawks! And the Tigers! And the Monkeys.

Once again, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have won the Japan World Series, in six games, over the Yokohama BayStars. This is the third time in the last four seasons that the Hawks have been the Champs.

They Hawks won the first three games of the series against the BayStars, but then dropped two, leading up to game 6. Down 3-1 in the 8th, the Hawks picked up a run on a groundout, and they tied the game up in the ninth on a homer by Uchikawa against closer Yamasaki. Then, in the 11th, a couple of walks set the stage for Kawashima’s two-out Sayonara Single, a drive through the right side of the infield that plated the series winner.

[10 Nov 17 – Well, it looks like the original video had been taken down. But I think this (below) is also the Sayonara Single.]

[11.15.17 – Well, now, that’s gone too. So much for marketing. The Sayonara Single will have to live on in legend. I can say that I saw it. A looping liner into right. Perfect. Sayonara.]

Meanwhile, over in the KBO, the KIA Tigers pounced on the Doosan Bears, winning the series 4 games to 1 on October 30th. The Bears took the first game of the series, 5-3, but then lost four straight. Poor Bears.

And finally, over in the China Professional Baseball League (Taiwan)…

…it looks like the last game was played on October 11th, with the Lamigo Monkeys beating 7-11 by the score of 9-7.

Are they the champions?

I think they are, judging by the game-ending celebration.

 

And I think this means that it’s safe to say that Hot Stove League has begun play.

How ’bout them Monkeys? Could they beat the Bears? Or the Astros? What is an “Astro,” anyway?

 

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2016 Opening Day!

2016 Baseball America Baseball AlmanacThe baseball gods have been chiding me, these last few weeks. Or perhaps prodding would be a better word. I came across a free copy of Baseball America’s 2016 Almanac the other day, for one. I’ve not seen this publication before, and it’s an old-school compendium of everything baseball in 2015, overflowing with detailed statistics on the game at all levels. It may even cover high school ball, I haven’t thoroughly investigated the back pages yet. If I don’t carry it gently, statistics fall out like confetti, leaving a trail of data behind. Best to keep it in a plastic bag. There’s more than anyone could possibly want to know, in here, and in a font that punishes the older crowd with the weak eyes and out-dated eyeglasses. I can’t imagine that they sell a lot of these. It’s a pretty limited market. And isn’t this all online? But I like it, it’s nice to have, it’s got a solid feel to it, and – I don’t know how they did this – but when I flip through the pages I can smell the dark green grass of summer evenings. Honest.

1916 Spalding Baseball GuideAnd I can’t help but nod a bit in the direction of Spalding’s Base Ball Guide of 1916. It would be fun to compare the two. I’ll put that on my ever-growing list of things to blog about.

I also picked up a free copy of David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 just yesterday.

And a few weeks ago I picked up two books, Deadball Stars of the American (and National) League, published by our friends at SABR, and waiting for me on the $2 shelves at my nearby Half-Price Books.

Plus, of course, there’s Spring Training, coming and now going, and I see today that the StarTribune writers have made their forecasts for the coming season.

playing for keepsAnd I just finished, (a couple weeks ago) Goldstein’s Playing for Keeps – A History of Early Baseball. (Rather scholarly, that.)

And I finally acquired a Japanese baseball card I’ve been wanting.

So.

Could I maybe take the time, or make the time, to blog a bit?

Obviously, no, not so much. There is a crushing shortage of available time.

And yet, here I am. I cannot let the season begin without making a prediction.

The local Knights of the Keyboard are not so much impressed by our hometown boys and their 19-11 springtime mark. A couple of the scribes pick them for second, three of them say third place, and one says fourth. The high-water mark on record is the 87-75 prediction, good 2nd place. The doubting Thomas pegs them at 79-83, and a 4th place disaster.

Well, maybe they are right. After all, these are the fellows that follow this club, day and night. They get paid to know all about the Twins.

But, what the heck, it’s Spring, and sometimes you just gotta show a little faith and a little confidence. Maybe they don’t quite have the pitching for a 97 win season. But I’m saying the boys finish first, and win 93 games. 93-69, good enough for first, the Junior Circuit Gonfalon, and a place in the big show against the Cubbies. You heard it here first.

1991 Twins Championship

Ya gotta believe.

Baseball Haiku

baseball-haiku-coverIt’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a baseball book, and when I came across this one at the library I couldn’t pass it up, and soon had to buy my own copy. I love baseball and I love haiku; how did I not find this earlier?

Baseball Haiku is a collection of over 200 haiku written about baseball, from as far back as 1890, fairly soon after baseball came to Japan.

Baseball was brought to Japan in 1872, taught to students at what is now Tokyo University by an American teacher, Horace Wilson. It became very popular with both the students and the staff, and spread to other schools in the Tokyo area, and amateur athletic clubs, and then gradually to the rest of the country.

The man who wrote the first baseball haiku was Matsaoka Shiki. He went to Tokyo to go to school in 1884, at age 17, and fell in love with baseball, teaching the game to his friends, and bringing back with him to his home town, introducing the game to the island of Shikoku.masaoka Shiki - baseball b

Shiki played on his school team, was a left-handed pitcher and catcher, but seemed to prefer catcher. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1889, and was no longer able to play. He remained a fan, though, and was one of the first to popularize the sport in Japan with his writing, poetry, fiction, and essays about the game. In 1896 he wrote an article for the newspaper Nippon, describing the game and the equipment, translating terms into Japanese.

Shiki wrote both Haiku and Tanka about baseball. (Haiku traditionally consisted of a brief poem of three lines and 17 syllables, in a 5-7-5 pattern, (this is obviously a way simple definition,) while tanka consisted of five lines and 31 syllables, in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern.) Shiki wrote the first four baseball haiku in 1890, and nine total, which are all included in this book. He also wrote ten tanka on baseball, in 1898 or ’99. Here’s one of his first haiku:

spring breeze
this grassy field makes me
want to play catch

and one of his tanka:

under a faraway sky
the people of America
began baseball
I can watch it
forever

Masaoka Shiki b

Shiki was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002, for his contributions to baseball. In the Shiki Memorial Haiku Museum in Matsuyama there is a large picture of him as a schoolboy, in his baseball uniform, displayed in a glass wall case with copies of his poetry about baseball.

Shiki was the leadoff hitter in the Haiku batting order. (Not often that the catcher hits leadoff, but it happens.) Following Shiki’s lead, many other Japanese and American poet baseball fans have stepped up to the plate to take their swings, and this small volume gives us a full dugout of haiku-masters, with brief biographical sketches of the authors. Most are from the U.S., where there seems to be a thriving haiku culture. Jack Kerouac was one of the early American haiku writers, and Jack took a healthy cut at the ball:

Empty baseball field
—  A robin,
Hops along the bench

The book is edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. Van den Heuvel is editor of the Haiku Anthology; he was born in Maine and is a Red Sox fan. He also won the Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Prize for his writing and editing efforts, and he’s included a few of his own works in the volume, including:

after the game
a full moon rises over
the left field fence

and

baseball cards
spread out on the bed
April rain

Finally, here’s one from Mizuhara Shuoshi:

the player takes
his position in the outfield
a cricket’s cry

All in all, this was a nice little book, and a most welcome respite from the dark and cold November night. Maybe it will inspire me to try some baseball haiku.

Oh!

Gotta love Sadaharu Oh. He played 22 years for the Yomiuri Giants, was five time batting champion, led the league in home runs 15 times, ending his career with a .301 average and 868 home runs.

sadaharu oh m gaus

I thought of Oh when I came across this quote the other day:

My baseball career was a long, long initiation into a single secret: At the heart of all things is love.
– Sadaharu Oh

and then found this nice video of his landmark home runs. (There’s a lot to love there!)

Oh is 70 years old now, and lives in Sumida, Tokyo, Japan. Good game, Sadaharu.

There’s been some question as to whether Oh belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I say yes. His accomplishments speak for themselves. Let’s open up the Hall of Fame to great ball players everywhere.

 

Japanese Baseball Cards

nine billion g webI came upon this site this morning, Japanese Baseball Cards – An English Guide to Baseball Cards from Japan, which takes a look, obviously, at baseball cards in Japan. What more needs to be said?

While the site looks at both current and vintage cards, it is more focused on the current issues, and to me the current issues are not that interesting or unusual; they could be Topps cards if they were in English.

03 BBM AS Iwakuma

The Vintage cards, though, I find much more fun, with the Japanese flavor of the art work.

japanese cards

This blog has been around since 2007, so it’s got some staying power. I suspect that this is probably the only English language site on this topic; I wonder how many Japanese language web sites might be devoted to this? (Knowing the Internet, probably a billion or so.)

Okay, I’m wrong. The blog provides links to a few other blogs on Japanese baseball, including this one, Japanese Vintage Baseball Cards. This blog just started this year, and, while there’s not a lot of posts yet, there are some interesting old Japanese baseball pictures. I’m looking forward to seeing more.

japanese cards -kagome setAnd it turns out that Vintage Japanese Baseball Cards is the work of Rob Fitts, who has written extensively about Japanese baseball, and has a nice history of Japanese baseball cards on his website. Thanks Rob!

 

 

a little bit of pitching

This morning, a nice animated GIF from FanGraphs (thanks!) which lets us compare the movement on five different pitches from Yu Darvish.

DarvishGIFIt also seems like this could be an image from a hitter’s nightmare. (I don’t see this guy making contact with any of those pitches.)

Darvish is a young (26) Japanese pitcher with the Rangers. Widely considered the best pitcher in Japanese ball, he signed with the Rangers in 2012, and went 16-9, with a 3.90 era.