Joe Donald Stanka
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 6", Weight 201 lb.
- School Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College
- Debut September 2, 1959
- Final Game September 5, 1959
- Born July 23, 1931 in Hammon, OK USA
In the Brooklyn system
Joe Stanka signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. After an inauspicious 2-11 rookie season in professional ball, he improved to 16-5 with a 2.53 ERA for the 1951 Ponca City Dodgers. He tied for third in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League in victories and was approximately third in ERA. He fell to 7-11 with a 4.65 ERA when moving up to the Western League's Pueblo Dodgers the next season.
Three fine years in the Cubs chain
Stanka was acquired by the Chicago Cubs in 1952 through the minor league draft. He spent the 1953 season in their organization with three teams, going 13-11. The bulk of the year was in the Three-I League for the Cedar Rapids Indians, where he had a 12-8 record and a 2.35 earned run average, the best mark in the circuit. He moved up to the South Atlantic League in 1954 and had his third very good minor league season in the prior four years when he won 16 contests and lost only 5. His ERA was 2.99 for the Macon Peaches and he was 4th in the SAL in victories. In 1955 he returned to the Western League, now with the Des Moines Bruins and went 17-9 with a 3.43 ERA. He was fourth in the WL in complete games (17), tied for third with three shutouts, won the most games and struck out 148 (second-most). In his last five minor league seasons he had gone 69-41 and led his loops in both wins and ERA, but had yet to move beyond class A for more than a few games.
The Sacramento Solons seasons
The Cubs, not too impressed with that record for some reason, sold him to the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League. He struggled his first year in the PCL, going 5-14 with a 4.31 ERA, then 10-14, 3.51 in 1957 (when Sacramento was just 63-105 and provided the worst offense in the PCL) and 10-14, 3.65 in 1958. He went 12-12 with a 3.26 ERA in his fourth season with the Solons, ending his minor league career at 108-106.
To the majors
Sacramento sold him to the Chicago White Sox late in the 1959 season. Stanka finally made his major league debut that year, going 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two games and escaping from the Sacramento stay that had caused a promising career to go stagnant.
Stanka went to Nippon Pro Baseball in 1960; playing for the Nankai Hawks, he went 17-12 with a 2.48 ERA in 38 games, finishing sixth in ERA and making the Pacific League All-Star team. In 1961, he went 15-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 41 games. Joe fell to 8-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 1962. He rebounded in 1963, going 14-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 34 games. He was part of a three-way tie for the PL lead with four shutouts.
Stanka had his best year in 1964, as he posted a 26-7 record with a 2.40 ERA in 47 games. As a result Stanka became the first American pitcher of non-Japanese descent to win an MVP award in NPB. His six shutouts led the league, he was second to reliever Yoshiro Tsumajima (2.15) among the ERA leaders and was four wins behind PL leader Masaaki Koyama. Despite winning the MVP award, he lost the Sawamura Award to the only American to win it as of 2005, Gene Bacque of the Central League Hanshin Tigers. Stanka also was the MVP of the Japan Series that season. After shutting out Hanshin in the opener and beating Minoru Murayama by a 2-0 score, he dropped game three 5-4 to Midori Ishikawa. In game six, with the Hawks on the ropes and trailing three games to two, Joe came back to beat Bacque 4-0 with his second shutout. When Nankai skipper Kazuto Tsuruoka asked him if he would be willing to work game seven the next day, Stanka agreed. Despite his fatigue, he threw nothing but goose eggs again, with a 3-0 shutout win over Murayama. He had gone 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in the Series.
During Stanka's final year with Nankai, he went 14-12 with a 3.28 ERA in 34 games. Stanka joined the Taiyo Whales in 1966, where he slipped to 6-13 with a 4.16 ERA in 32 games. Stanka was the first American pitcher to win 100 games in the NPB. His record overall there was 100-72 with a 3.03 ERA.
After retiring, he worked for an insurance company in Houston, TX.