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The legend of Eiji Sawamura

Posted by: Peter Abraham - Posted in Misc on Apr 09, 2009 Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

One of the best parts of covering baseball is getting a chance to meet players, writers and fans from different countries and learn how baseball is treasured there.

Asian baseball has been a particular interest of mine. In writing about Baltimore starter Koji Uehara on Tuesday, I learned that he was a two-time winner of the Sawamura Award, the equivalent of our Cy Young Award.

I asked a Japanese writer, Gaku Tashiro, who Sawamura was. He gave me the basics and then I did some more research on line.

What a story. Eiji Sawamura was 17 when he faced a team of visiting American stars in 1934. Pitching in relief, he allowed one run over five innings and at one point struck out Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in succession. Japan lost 1-0 as Sawamura hung a curveball and allowed a home run to Gehrig, although some believe it was Ruth who hit the shot.

The American manager, Connie Mack, tried to sign Sawamura on the spot. But the kid didn’t want to leave home. He instead joined the Yomiuri Giants in 1936 and quickly became an ace, throwing the first no-hitter in the history of the Japanese League.

In 1937 alone, he was 33-10 with a 1.38 ERA. He finished his career 63-22, 1.74.

Sawamura’s career, as you might expect, was interrupted by World War II. Sawamura served in the Imperial Navy and was killed when his ship was torpedoed in 1944 near Taiwan. The Sawamura Award was given for the first time in 1947. His No. 14 was retired the Giants, the first player so honored.

So there you have it. That’s who Eiji Sawamura was.

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57 Responses to “The legend of Eiji Sawamura”

  1. JimT April 9th, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Pretty cool, thanks for the insight Pete.

  2. Tseng April 9th, 2009 at 9:07 am

    What a shame that his career was prematurely ended.

  3. Mike B. April 9th, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Pete this was very interesting to read. Thanks for sharing what you learned about Sawamura. By the way, have you given any thought to getting the book published that you wrote about Wang that never made it to the states?

  4. Johnny Pinstripes April 9th, 2009 at 9:17 am

    wow, Pete, what a story! Great work and thanks for the insight.

  5. Clay Buchholz Loves Laptops - Latest Blog Entry: My Interview With Bill Gallo April 9th, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Very interesting. Also very ironic, since he was killed by Americans (or American allies).

  6. Old(Brittany doesn't wear panties!!!)YanksFan April 9th, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Very nicely done Pete. Real journalism. My compliments.

  7. S.A.--It's a marathon, not a sprint April 9th, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Cool story. Thanks Pete

  8. ditmars1929 April 9th, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Excellent story. Too bad he didn’t want to leave home for America.

    Pete, I apologize if this is too terribly off topic, but I’ve seen Japanese baseball before and I’ve always wondered – how come when a team’s name is spelled out on the front of their jerseys it’s always in English?

  9. JohnBlacksox (24 +1) April 9th, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Cool story, thanks…

    What was the story about the American team visiting Japan in the 30′s? I never heard about that.

  10. Lorenzo April 9th, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Great POST! thanks for the insight Pete!

  11. Joey's Poodle April 9th, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for the great info, Pete. Many believe that baseball got its start in Japan during the Occupation after Japan’s defeat in WWII, but obviously baseball was thriving there already at least by the 30′s.

  12. Patrick April 9th, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Really fascinating, thanks Pete.

  13. klem April 9th, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Great read, Pete. Thanks!

  14. EricS April 9th, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Great story!

  15. Pauly April 9th, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Sawamura’s career, as you might expect, was interrupted by World War II. Sawamura served in the Imperial Navy and was killed when his ship was torpedoed in 1944 near Taiwan.

    Atta boy Yogi!!

  16. JR April 9th, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Wonder how much Mack was going to pay? By then he’d reached his serious cheapskate years. Any guesses who won Sawamura in 2003?

    Moe Berg would go on those tours and spy for the US. None of the stars on the team could figure out why a benchwarmer was part of the tour

  17. bdog375 April 9th, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Wow, very interesting. Thanks Pete.

  18. Tseng April 9th, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Jr- Kei?

  19. Frank Solares April 9th, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Pete,

    Are the Japanese players as aware of the history of japanese BB as say our fans are about our pitchers of the past. Working for a Japanese company I have some Memorabilia I can give you. Email me the lo hud address and I send u some.

  20. blee April 9th, 2009 at 10:45 am

    great story..
    damn wars.

  21. lordbyron April 9th, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Great stuff – thanks!

  22. Ralow April 9th, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Interesting story.

    War sucks.

  23. JimT April 9th, 2009 at 11:14 am

    JR beat me to the punch by mentioning Moe Berg and his contributions to the American cause during one of these barnstorming trips.

    I’ve got to say that its eye opening to see the play of these Asian stars. They are really adding to the quality and depth of MLB.

  24. jimmy1138 April 9th, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Actually the tour of MLB stars jumpstarted Japanese pro baseball with the Giants being basically the Allstar team of Japan which they remained for a long time. Only in recent decades the Giants’ dominance has been broken.
    The Sawamura award also is a bit different than the Cy Young which was actually introduced later (1956): only one pitcher (out of both the Central and Pacific League) gets it (as it used to be with the Cy Young pre 1967) and in some years nobody gets it as the award is linked with reaching at least 4 out of 7 milestones (25 starts, 15 wins, .600 win percentage, 200 IP, 150K, 10 complete games, ERA below 2.50)

  25. Skippy April 9th, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Great post, just the kind of thing I like to learn.

    Yes, JimT and JR, love the Moe Berg story. The other players probably just thought he was there because he could speak Japanese, considering the rep he had for linguistics.

  26. Jed Judd April 9th, 2009 at 11:56 am

    “So there you have it. That’s who Eiji Sawamura was.”

    Very artful conclusion there, Pete.

  27. saucY April 9th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    nice. thanks Pete!

  28. radnom April 9th, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    “Very nicely done Pete. Real journalism. My compliments.”

    ha. Interesting post, but it is basically a paraphrase of the wikipedia article on this guy, only with less detail.
    “Real Journalism”

  29. t April 9th, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    enjoyed this, and hope to see more like this.

  30. Peter Abraham April 9th, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Random:

    As I explained in the post, I researched it on line. I never pretended otherwise.

  31. Matt in Maine April 9th, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Nice post Pete. No need to hate on a quick wikipedia reference. I’d rather have Pete spending his time covering the Yanks then doing book reports.

  32. NJ NYY April 9th, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Great post, Pete. That was interesting and a great example of how many wonderful stories there are in baseball.
    The fact that people took time to make obnoxious negative posts is sad. That’s the Internet, I suppose.
    Thanks for passing the info along.

  33. GZZ April 10th, 2009 at 1:48 am

    Wow. Cool.

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