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Jiro Noguchi

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Jiro Noguchi

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 9", Weight 140 lb.

One of the greatest early pitchers in Nippon Pro Baseball history and rated by analyst Jim Albright as the 12th-best player ever in NPB, Jiro Noguchi was the younger brother of Akira Noguchi and the older brother of Noboru Noguchi and Wataru Noguchi.

He was a catcher in elementary school and a third baseman in high school. When the staff ace was injured, he became a pitcher, a role he would star in. The school won two Koshien Tournament titles under his leadership. In the summer Koshien of 1937, he beat a team that included future Hall-of-Famers Tetsuharu Kawakami and Masaki Yoshiwara. He tossed four straight shutouts in the 1938 spring Koshien to win the second title.

He began his professional career with the 1939 Tokyo Senators. A workhorse, he was 33-19, 2.04 on the mound, throwing 459 innings over 69 games. He was sixth in the Japan Baseball League in ERA, slightly edged Victor Starfin for the IP lead, threw in the most contests, completed the most games (38) and led in hits (364) and homers (17) given up. He hit .251/.315/.301 at the plate, playing the field regularly (at 1B and OF) when not pitching. He set the rookie record for wins in Nippon Pro Baseball, broken 22 years later by Hiroshi Gondo.

In 1940, the 20-year-old improved to 30-11, 0.93 and led the JBL in ERA, edging Starfin by 0.04. He hit .260/.307/.290. In 1941, Noguchi hit just .185/.249/.222 but won another ERA title (25-12, 0.88), beating Hirotaro Mori by 0.01. He became the only pitcher in NPB history to have sub-1 ERAs twice in a row. 1942 ended his ERA crown streak but he still led in wins (40-17), shutouts (19, the NPB seasonal record to this date; Hideo Fujimoto later tied it) and strikeouts (264), throwing 527 1/3 innings in 66 games. His ERA was 1.19, fifth in the league. He hit .216/.245/.251. On May 23, he threw a one-hitter and went out drinking to relieve the sadness of missing out on a no-hitter. He then pitched the next day as well, throwing a NPB-record 28 innings in a 4-4 tie against Nagoya, allowing no runs over the final 19 frames. The opposing hurler, Michio Nishizawa, also went the distance. He threw 344 pitches in that game.

The 1943 season had Jiro at .253/.311/.283 and 25-12, 1.45. He was still 7th in ERA but led the league in gopher balls given up (9) in an overall unexceptional season given what he had done his first four years. He was then drafted into the military and served during World War II.

In 1946, Jiro added an offensive record to the pitching one he held when he hit successfully in 31 straight games (from August 29 through October 26), a NPB record that stood for 25 years until Atsushi Nagaike did one better. Noguchi hit .298/.330/.378 overall on the year and finished 9th in the league in batting average. He was also fifth in ERA but fell under .500 (13-14, 2.67) for the Hankyu Braves. In 1947, the still-just-27-year-old player slipped to .217/.280/.280 but had his sixth 20-win season at 24-17, 2.26. For the first time ever, he failed to make the league's top 10 in ERA. 1948 was another record-setting year as he had 13 walkless complete games, an NPB mark. He was 14-16 with a 2.94 ERA and hit .261/.310/.319, plus stole 18 bases in 22 tries. The next season, Jiro batted .277/.329/.335 and won 10 of 16 decisions, while his ERA rose to 3.56.

1950 had Noguchi going 15-9, 3.16 for his last good year and he also hit .259/.279/.340. He finished sixth in the new Pacific League in ERA and went 54 1/3 innings without issuing a walk or hitting a batter - he walked just 14 in 181 2/3 frames over the course of the season. In 1951, Jiro hit .222/.251/.250 and had a 4-5, 4.74 line on the hill. 1952 was no better - .200/.294/.229 and 1-1, 4.14. After going just 1 for 7 and not pitching in 1953, Noguchi retired.

After retirement, Noguchi worked as a manager in the minor league system of the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He also coached for the Hankyu Braves and Mainichi Orions.

For his career, he had hit .248/.295/.299 and gone 237-139 with a 1.96 ERA, walking 647 and striking out 1,395 in 3,447 1/3 innings. As of 2005, he is tied for 11th all-time in wins in NPB, 9th in complete games (259), sixth with 65 shutouts, third in walkless complete games (57, trailing Keishi Suzuki and Masaaki Koyama; he had once held the record), 12th in innings and second in ERA (0.06 behind Hideo Fujimoto). In 1989, the former star pitcher was voted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2007, he died of pneumonia. He was survived by a son, Makoto.

Sources: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland, Notice of Noguchi's death

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