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Takao Kajimoto

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Takao Kajimoto (梶本 隆夫 [かじもと たかお] Kajimoto Takao)

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Takao Kajimoto was a longtime pitcher with the Hankyu Braves who later was a coach on the team and manager. In his twenty-year playing career, won 254 games and was a 12-time All-Star. After retiring from the field, he spent another twenty years as a coach. He also was the Braves' manager for two seasons. He was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 by the Selection Committee for Players. His younger brother, Yasuo was his teammate for six years.

[edit] Biographical Information

Kajimoto was born in Kofu, but raised in Tajimi, Gifu where he attended Tajimi Kogyo High School. Upon his graduation, he was signed by the Hankyu Braves in 1954 and surprised people in spring training with his fastball, which reached 93 mph. He was so impressive, he was named the Opening Day starter and won. He was 20-12 with a 2.73 ERA as a rookie and became the only rookie in Nippon Pro Baseball history to win 20 games and not be named Rookie of the Year as fellow newcomer Motoji Takuwa won 26. Kajimoto led the Pacific League with 118 walks but made the All-Star team and Hankyu was only 46-58 when other pitchers got the decision.

In 1955, Takao went 18-14 with a 2.86 ERA and was part of a three-way tie for the PL lead with six shutouts. In 1956, Kajimoto was 28-17 with a 2.24 ERA. He struck out 327 and walked 118 in 364 1/3 IP. He led the league in complete games (20), batters faced (1,478), hits allowed (284), hit batters (12), walks, strikeouts and shutouts (5, tied with Katsumi Nakanishi). He made his second All-Star team and his only Best Nine and was 9th in the PL in ERA. Tetsuya Yoneda joined the team that year and the Yonekaji Kombi (Yoneda-Kajimoto duo) became one of the best in the history of Japanese baseball.

1957 presented Kajimoto with a 24-16, 1.92 year in which he whiffed 301 in 337 1/3 IP. An All-Star, he reached 1,000 Ks in just his fourth season. On July 23, he became the first pitcher in NPB history to strike out nine consecutive hitters - a feat that he alone shares with Masayuki Dobashi who accomplished it a year later. He led in complete games (26), strikeouts and his seven shutouts tied Shoichi Ono for the most while he finished fourth in ERA.

In 1958, Takao began to suffer from the heavy workload, falling to 16-18, 2.99. An All-Star for the 4th time, he led the league in homers (18), walks (79) runs (98) and earned runs (88) allowed. On September 14, he threw a one-hitter against the Toei Flyers. He fell to 11-17, with a 3.24 ERA in the next year and failed to make the All-Star squad. In 1960, Kajimoto went 21-18 with a 2.80 ERA and returned to the All-Star rolls. On the downside, he allowed 31 homers, the most in the league. Gordie Windhorn reports that Kajimoto often would start one day then pitch in relief the next, working up to 5 or 6 innings. He would be far less effective on little rest and "the poor guy probably couldn't lift his arm!"

Kajimoto was 17-23, 2.80 in 1961 and made the All-Star team; he was honored the same way the next year and went 14-15, 3.28, leading the PL with seven wild pitches. In 1963, Takao fell to 9-17, 4.33, making his 8th All-Star team but posting the worst ERA of his career. That season, the Hankyu offense was so weak - they barely averaged 3 runs a game - that manager Yukio Nishimoto once batted Kajimoto third. It would be 50 years until another starting pitcher, Shohei Otani, hit in the heart of the order. Overall, Kajimoto hit .204/.248/.263 in his career, with 13 homers and two intentional walks.

Takao rebounded to 9-13, 3.34 in 1964 and became the third NPB pitcher ever to reach 2,000 career strikeouts. In 1965, he went 5-11, 3.61 and made his 9th All-Star squad. Takao began 1966 at 2-0 - and went downhill from there, losing a Nippon Pro Baseball record 15 consecutive decisions to finish the year at 2-15, but with a 3.68 ERA. He was unlucky as the The Braves were bad team too much as Hankyu was 55-58 when other pitchers got the decision.

In 1967, Kajimoto dropped his 16th in a row but went 15-8 afterwards and had a 2.44 ERA in a fine resurgent year. He was an All-Star for the 10th time and reached 200 career victories. At age 32, he was 7th in the league in ERA. Making it to the Nippon Series for the first time, he was toasted, going 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA and losing games three and six when Hankyu split the other four.

Kajimoto had a 12-8, 2.97 year for the 1968 Braves as they won another pennant. He had a 6.35 ERA in the Nippon Series as Hankyu again fell to the Oh-Nagashima Yomiuri Giants dynasty, but Takao did win his only decision in that Series. He also was an All-Star pick that year.

The 34-year-old left-hander won his most games since age 25 in 1969 when he had a 18-10, 2.97 record. Kajimoto led the league with five wild pitches but made his 12th and last All-Star team. He was 0-1 with a 10.12 ERA in the Nippon Series as Hankyu again fell to Yomiuri.

In 1970, Takao beat the Tokyo Orions on May 31 despite allowing 10 runs. He was just 4-9, 4.81 that year as 1969 had marked his last year as a quality starter. The 1971 season had him at 6-8, 3.44 and he pitched one scoreless inning in another loss to the Oh-Nagashima attack in the 1971 Japan Series.

By 1972, the veteran posted a 2-5 record with a 3.65 ERA. In an April 14 game against Toei, Kajimoto was called for a ball while facing Motoya Tsuyusaki on the 20 second rule, the only known instance both before and after that anyone has ever been penalized with it. He went 3-0, 6.30 in 1973 to finish his pitching career.

Kajimoto ended his career with a 254-255 win-loss record, 2.98 ERA with 2,945 strikeouts in 4,208 innings pitched. Through 2006, he is 9th all-time in NPB history in wins, 3rd in losses, 14th in complete games (202), tied with 14th with Kazuhisa Inao in shutouts (43), tied for 22nd in walkless complete games (25), third in games pitched (867), 6th in innings (4,208), 6th in strikeouts, 6th in hits allowed (3,849) and 13th in homers allowed (321).

Kajimoto worked as a coach for Hankyu from 1974 to 1978, where he is credited with helping Yutaro Imai develop by having him drink before pitching (Kajimoto also had been known as a drinker). He became the Braves manager in 1979 and they went 75-44-11, posting the league's best overall record but lost in the playoffs to the second-half champion Kintetsu Buffaloes. In 1980, the Braves fell to 5th (58-67-5) and Kajimoto was replaced at the helm by his predecessor, Toshiharu Ueda.

Kajimoto became a coach again and worked as such from 1981 to 1986. From 1987 to 1988 he was the head of the team's Research and Planning Department. When the Hankyu team became the Orix BlueWave in 1989, Kajimoto returned and coached for five more years.

In 1998, Kajimoto left Orix to become a ni-gun coach for the Chunichi Dragons and remained there for two years. He then worked as a commentator for Daily Sports. While playing in the Masters League, despite being over 60 he threw a pitch at nearly 140 km. Kajimoto died in 2006 of respiratory arrest.

Sources: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland, Remembering Japanese Baseball by Robert Fitts

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