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Takehiko Bessho

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Takehiko Bessho

[edit] Biographical Information

One of the greatest pitchers in the history of Nippon Pro Baseball, Takehiko Bessho was raised only by his mother. A star pitcher in high school, he had one of the most famous performances in the history of the spring Koshien in 1941 when he threw 14 innings despite his left arm being broken and in a sling. He lost the game 2-1 but won widespread recognition for his courage and guts. His catcher had to roll the ball back to him after each pitch and he fielded barehanded. His explanation was "I want to play as much baseball as I can before I die."

Failing the entrance examination for Keio University, Bessho went to vocational classes in Nihon University to avoid the military draft. He began his professional baseball career in 1942, going 0-1, 2.08 in two games for Nankai and hitting .111/.200/.111. While known as a pitcher, his debut actually came while playing left field. The next year, Bessho was 14-23, 2.25 and threw a no-hitter, but led the Japan Baseball League in losses. Playing first base regularly as well, he batted .246/.307/.306. Nankai was the league's weakest team, which didn't help Takehiko's record, but the league was also very low-offense and a 2.25 ERA did not make the top 10. He led the league in walks allowed (a whopping 193 in 319 1/3 innings) and runs allowed (106).

Bessho was drafted into the military in December 1943 and sent to Manchuria. In 1944, he was reassigned to an officers' school in Matsudo, Chiba and later stationed in Kochi Prefecture. He returned to his former team, now known as the Kinki Great Ring in 1946 and was 19-13, 2.46, posting the third-best ERA in the circuit. He batted .253/.299/.412. Somewhere around this time, he faced the Sacramento Solons in the first exhibition series against Americans after World War II and was hit hard.

In 1947, Takehiko threw 448 1/3 innings in 55 games, including a NPB-record 47 complete games. Firing 7 shutouts, he went 30-19 with a 1.86 ERA and had his last 100-walk season. He also led the league in wins, complete games and strikeouts (191) and was fourth in ERA. He made the second Best Nine ever compiled and won the first-ever Sawamura Award for his efforts. At the plate, he hit just .237/.266/.310.

In '48, Bessho hit .340/.363/.487 and went 26-10, 2.05. He again was fourth in the league in ERA and was one win behind co-leaders Hiroshi Nakao and Tokuji Kawasaki and was selected again to the Best Nine. After the year, he entered into a salary dispute with the club (now known as the Nankai Hawks) and went to the Yomiuri Giants, where he would finish his career.

1949 had Bessho at .260/.283/.458 with 12 of his 25 hits going for extra bases and went 14-9, 2.35 on the hill. He was second to Hideo Fujimoto in the ERA race. He missed two months that year after a suspension for the contract-jumping. In 1950, Takehiko had his best offensive season with a .344/.385/.530 line and went 22-11 with a 2.55 ERA. He was third in the new Central League in ERA and led the CL with 8 shutouts.

He improved in 1951 to 21-9, 2.44, though he fell to fourth in ERA. Hitting .244/.278/.417, he homered six times in 127 AB. He was part of a four-way tie for the league shutout lead with Kiyoshi Matsuda, Masaichi Kaneda and Shigeru Sugishita. He tied Kaneda for the complete game lead, with 25, and made the first CL All-Star team picked. He also was chosen for his third Best Nine. In the postseason, he pitched a shutout in game two of the 1951 Japan Series and finished the series 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA.

In '52, the 29-year-old batted .272/.327/.408 and had a 33-13, 1.94 season on the mound. He led the CL in innings (371 1/3), wins, complete games (28) and tied Kaneda for the shutout lead (7). He was picked for his fourth Best Nine and won his first MVP award while being chosen for another All-Star squad. On June 15, he had a perfect game with two outs in the ninth when Yasutaka Kanzaki got the only hit of his career. He was 3-0, 1.64 in the 1952 Japan Series, winning games one, four and six to be named Series MVP.

Bessho hit .240/.260/.360 in 1953 and was 16-8, 2.63 on the mound. He was second in the league in ERA, trailing only Tadayoshi Kajioka. Making his third All-Star club, he had an 0-1, 2.25 record in the 1953 Japan Series, losing game one to his former Nankai teammates.

In 1954, Takehiko slipped to .228/.246/.325 and was no longer being used in the field when not pitching. On the mound, he went 26-12 with a 1.80 ERA. He was third in the league in ERA and made his fourth All-Star team in four opportunities. Bessho went 23-8, 1.33 in 1955 while hitting .221/.233/.283. He threw 49 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings during the campaign and won his only ERA crown, beating Katsuhiko Ishikawa by 0.11 in a low-scoring season. After his fifth All-Star appearance, he also pitched in his fourth Japan Series. Winning game one against Nankai, he lost game four, but came back a day later to win the fifth contest and two days later (on October 24) threw a 4-0 shutout victory to go 3-1, 1.17 overall. He was named MVP of the 1955 Japan Series, becoming the first two-time Japan Series MVP. Additionally, he was awarded a car for his superb series. He got his fifth Best Nine selection.

In 1956, Takehiko hit .243/.252/.296 and went 27-15 with a 1.93 ERA. He tied Noboru Akiyama for the league lead with 26 complete games (his fourth and final time leading in that category) and won his third and last lead in victories. Making his sixth and final All-Star appearance, he was picked to the Best Nine for the sixth time. His six Best Nine selections remain a NPB record as of 2006. He also won his second MVP Award and finished 8th in the league in ERA. While he hit one home run in the 1956 Japan Series, it was clearly his worst, losing game two, game three 2 days later and the finale in game six. Overall, he was 0-3 with a 10.38 ERA in the series, allowing 19 hits and 3 homers to the Nishitetsu Lions in just 8 2/3 innings over four games.

Past his prime, Bessho hit .221/.250/.312 in 1957 and went 14-11 with a 2.50 ERA. He did not finish in the top 10 in ERA for the first time and missed the All-Star team for the first time. The 34-year-old only saw limited work in the 1957 Japan Series. The next year, he had a .268/.268/.341 batting line and went 9-5, 2.55 and was not even used in the 1958 Japan Series.

In 1959, the veteran was just 3 for 40 at the plate at .075/.073/.075. On the hill, he was 7-7, 2.86 for his first season without a winning record in 16 years. Bessho pitched twice in the 1959 Japan Series, registering no decision and having a 2.70 ERA. 1960 was the last year for Bessho, who hit .179/.200/.308 and went 9-4, 3.05 on the mound. That year, he also reached 304 career wins, taking the all-time lead from Victor Starfin.

Known as a competitive player, Bessho also was known for his excessive drinking. His fastball was so powerful, catchers wore sponges in their mitt to protect their hands. He also threw a curveball and was known for challenging hitters.

Bessho retired with a career offensive line of .254/.287/.369 with 31 home runs hit as a pitcher, third-most all-time in NPB. As a pitcher, he went 310-178 with a 2.18 ERA. Entering 2006, he is 5th all-time in Japan in victories, 12th in losses, fourth with 335 complete games, 4th with 72 shutouts, 5th with 43 walkless complete games, 18th with 662 games pitched, 5th with 4,350 2/3 innings, 22nd with 1,934 strikeouts, 6th with 1,206 walks, 7th in hits allowed (3,629) and 7th in ERA. He was 7-5 in the Japan Series. A two-time Sawamura Award winner, two-time MVP, two-time Japan Series MVP, six-time All-Star, six-time Best Nine pick, Bessho had completed one great career.

Bessho became a coach for Yomiuri but was fired after he beat up a player for having a beer in his hotel room, an odd reaction for a man known for his personal alcohol intake. Takehiko also coached for the Taiyo Whales. In 1968, he was hired as manager of the Sankei Atoms and guided them to a 64-66-4, fourth-place finish. In '69, Bessho's team was renamed the Atoms and later the Yakult Atoms and they went 58-69-3, only one and a half games out of last. In 1970, Yakult was just 21-55-2 when Bessho lost his job on August 18. Overall, his managerial record was 143-190-9.

[edit] Sources

You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting, Remembering Japanese Baseball by Rob Fitts, Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland

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