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Tadashi Wakabayashi

From BR Bullpen

TadashiWakabayashi.jpg

Henry Tadashi Wakabayashi (若林 忠志) (Bozo)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 9", Weight 171 lbs.

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Biographical Information[edit]

Tadashi Wakabayashi played 17 years and won more than 200 games in Nippon Pro Baseball.

Wakabayashi was a star in the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League. He pitched all 15 games for Hosei University in 1934, and collected 11 wins. When the Japanese Professional Baseball League was founded in 1936, the Osaka Tigers signed Wakabayashi and he soon became their ace. Although he was 27 years old when turning pro, he had a long career and remained active until he was 45. Wakabayashi won 10 games in his rookie year, and improved to 17-6 in 1937. However, he suffered a shoulder injury, and missed most of the 1938 season.

The Hawaii native came back and won his first JPBL ERA title in 1939. He was 28-7 with a 1.09 ERA, ranked 3rd in wins (14 behind Victor Starffin) and 10th in Ks (183 behind Starffin). He was still productive in 1940 as he got 22 wins with a 1.81 ERA and ranked 6th in wins (16 behind Starffin). He was 18-17 with a 1.45 ERA in 1941, and went 26-12 with a 1.60 ERA in 1942. Since the JPBL was a pitcher-friendly league at that times, although Wakabayashi's stats seem elite, he still didn't get any pitching titles; he was 5th in ERA in '41 (between Starffin and Akira Kawamura) and 9th in '42 (between Shigeo Ishihara and Takao Misono). The 34-year-old veteran also started to serve as player-manager in 1942.

Wakabayashi didn't lose a step in 1943 as he collected 24 wins with a 1.06 ERA. He was 3rd in ERA (.33 behind Hideo Fujimoto), 6th in strikeouts (156 behind Fujimoto) and 3rd in wins (10 behind Fujimoto). The ace of the Tigers had a career year in 1944, as he set the NPB record when he pitched in 14 straight games (still the NPB record as of 2023 and seemingly impossible to break). He was 22-4 with a 1.56 ERA, and led the league in wins, ERA, complete games, shutouts and winning percentage. He also won his first JPBL MVP.

After World War II, the 40-year-old Wakabayashi returned to the mound because of his teammate Fumio Fujimoto's persuasion. The veteran was still solid in 1947 although he was a player-manager, as he went 26-12 with a 2.09 ERA, and led the league with 10 shutouts. He ranked 3rd in wins (4 behind Takehiko Bessho), and 10th in ERA (.35 behind Giichiro Shiraki). Wakabayashi became the oldest pitcher to win 20 games, and became the first player to win a NPB Most Valuable Player Award when he is older than 40. (Hiromitsu Kadota won a PL MVP when he was 41 in 1988 and broke Wakabayashi's record for oldest MVP). He collected his 200th career win on November 3, and became the second pitcher to reach that milestone, following Starffin.

Wakabayashi was sill solid in the next year as he went 17-20 with a 2.48 ERA, but he slumped to 15-14 with a 3.29 ERA in 1949. When the JPBL split into two leagues, Wakabayashi jumped to the Mainichi Orions with many teammates such as Hall-of-Famers Kaoru Betto and Shosei Go. He was a player-coach with the Orions, and only had 27 appearances combined in the next three years. He was the starter of the Orions in the first game of the first Nippon Series - the 1950 Nippon Series - and he completed the game with only 2 runs allowed to beat Nobuo Oshima and the Shochiku Robins. He was the first pitcher over 40 to win a game in a Nippon Series, and the next would be 70 years later - Masanori Ishikawa in 2021. He started in Game 4 and completed it, but he allowed 5 runs and lost to Oshima. His last appearance in the Series was in Game 6, as he relieved Atsushi Aramaki and pitched 3 2/3 innings with 2 runs allowed. The Orions beat the Robins with Juzo Sanada's error, and Wakabayashi won his only title. After collecting his 1,000th career strikeout, he announced his retirement after the 1953 season.

Wakabayashi was a player-manager in 1953, but he left the team after retiring as a pitcher. The Tombo Unions hired him as their bench coach in 1955, but he resigned after the Unions had a terrible .300 winning percentage. He was also the bench coach of the Nishitetsu Lions from 1963 to 1964. Wakabayashi was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.

Overall, Wakabayashi was 237-144 with a 1.99 ERA, struck out 1,000 and pitched 3,557 1/3 innings in 16 years in NPB. Through 2023, he ranks 11th in wins (163 behind Masaichi Kaneda), 7th in complete games (102 behind Kaneda), 9th in shutouts (26 behind Starffin), 11 in innings pitched (1,969 1/3 behind Kaneda) and 4th in ERA (.09 behind Fujimoto). He was 390-324-26 with 2 pennants as a manager.


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