With Baseball Reference adding Japanese stats, it’s time to look at some of the coolest stuff from it.
First off, of course, there is arguably the greatest Japanese player ever and one of the greatest hitters on any continent: Sadaharu Oh. You probably know about his 868 HRs, but you probably didn’t know about his impressive 2786 hits. Going on a tangent here, I remember reading somewhere that, after statistical conversions between the leagues, it’s thought that Oh would have had a career in MLB similar to Mel Ott.
Much like how Babe Ruth had Lou Gehrig behind him, Oh had Shigeo Nagashima, who formed the N in what was called the Yomiuri Giants’ “O-N Cannon”. Together, they helped the “Yankees of Japan” win nine straight titles.
However, had you looked hard enough, you probably could have found their statistics elsewhere, and the same probably goes for Americans and other westerners who spent time in Japan since the 1970s, like Charlie Manuel and Randy Bass and recent Japanese imports like Yu Darvish. What makes the Baseball Reference data awesome is that it goes beyond that to Japanese baseball’s earliest professional seasons.
For example, I can’t ever remember seeing the stats of Wally Yonamine, the first American to play in Japan post-WWII. Nor do I ever remember seeing statistics for Eiji Sawamura, the ace pitcher (Japan’s Cy Young Award equivalent is named for him) who once struck out Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in succession during one of Ruth’s famous tours of Japan, but whose career ended premature when he died during WWII.
As a third example of a early-years Japanese player who has interesting stats to look at: Victor Starfin (sometimes spelled Starffin). The first pitcher to win 300 games in Japan, Starfin was able to (mostly) avoid WWII’s effects on Japanese baseball. Well, until he was released in 1944 due to “security concerns” and thrown into a detention camp for being a foreign national. That, by the way, is like the fourth most interesting thing in his SABR biography. Seriously, it starts with his family fleeing the Russian Revolution and ends with him tragically dying in a drunk-driving accident in January, 1957- not long after his final season (1955).
Those just scratch the surface of the treasures in Baseball Reference’s new Japanese pages… go check them out.