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The legend of Eiji Sawamura

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[2]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.