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A trip down memory-dori on 1956 tour by Dodgers

by Wayne Graczyk

Our good friend John Gilmore of Baseball International tipped us off through Bob Bavasi’s JapanBall.com about an Internet home page highlighting former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers owner — and international baseball devotee — Walter O’Malley.

On the 50th anniversary of the (Brooklyn) Dodgers’ 1956 Goodwill Tour to Japan, the official O’Malley Web site has added a feature about the 19-game trip, including a game-by-game summary and photographs.

I checked it out, and it is a wonderful trip down memory lane, full of nostalgia, great pictures and interesting facts about the Bums from Flatbush and their time in Dai Nippon — even before I got here.

The Boys of Summer who came on that fall tour included four guys who later played for Japanese teams: Don Newcombe, Bob Aspromonte, Jim Gentile and Don Zimmer.

Other big names on the trip were Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Junior Gilliam, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gino Cimoli, Carl Erskine, Roger Craig, Ralph Branca and a young Don Drysdale.

The Dodgers, managed by Walter Alston, played games in such towns as Utsunomiya, Gifu, Kofu, Shimonoseki and Mito, as well as the regular big-city stops.

They came right after losing the World Series to the rival New York Yankees, still smarting from the embarrassment of having been no-hit by perfect game pitcher Don Larsen.

There is also a re-cap on the site of the 1956 Japanese season when there were 14 teams here, six in the Central League and eight in the Pacific, and it is interesting to note none of those PL teams still exist with the same name.

You can turn the clock back a half-century by logging online to: www.walteromalley.com/hist_intl_page17.php

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A couple of obituaries: Sad to hear of the death of San Francisco Giants executive and former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Pat Dobson.

He was 64 when he died Nov. 22, a day after being diagnosed with leukemia.

Dobson was one of four 20-game winners on the 1971 Orioles staff, the others being Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer.

The Baltimore club also made a post-season Japan tour that year, coming to Tokyo a few days after losing an exciting seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Not only did all four 20-game winners make the trip, but also every player on the Orioles roster traveled to play an 18-game series throughout the country, from Hokkaido to Kyushu.

These included infielders Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, Mark Belanger and Brooks Robinson, outfielders Don Buford, Paul Blair and Frank Robinson and catcher Elrod Hendricks.

The O’s were managed by Earl Weaver, and Johnson and Buford later played here for Japanese teams.

It is unlikely we will ever again see a quartet of 20-game winning pitchers in the same season on any team anywhere. In fact, there were no 20-victory hurlers at all in the majors or Japanese baseball in 2006.

Another who died recently is a player old-timers in Japan may remember, Buddy Peterson, an infielder who played in only 13 major league games with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles in the 1950s.

He made his mark in Osaka, however, playing three seasons (1961-63) with the Nankai Hawks as a teammate of star American pitcher Joe Stanka.

Known here as “Pete,” Peterson had his best year in 1962 with 22 home runs, 75 RBIs and a batting average of .290.

He died in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 19 at the age of 81.

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Why did the Tokyo Yakult Swallows not make a move to sign Michihiro Ogasawara?

That club needs another infielder and left-handed batter to take the place of third baseman Akinori Iwamura, headed for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and they could have used the posting money for Iwamura to pay part of Ogasawara’s salary.

If they had him, manager Atsuya Furuta could have had a choice to play “Guts” at first or third base, and Americans Adam Riggs and Greg LaRocca can play first, second or third.

But, with Ogasawara having signed last week with the Yomiuri Giants, it’s too late now.

At least one Japanese sports paper is saying the often-injured LaRocca may not be returning anyway, and Furuta may find his club severely weaker when spring camp opens Feb. 1.

Unless Yakult can make a couple of good trades and some of their draft choices pan out, it could be a long season coming up for the Swallows and their fans.

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Semi-finally this week, I hear they are already selling Red Sox T-shirts on street corners in Boston with the No. 18 on the back under the name “Matsuzaka,” even though Daisuke has not been signed yet by the Bosox.

According to MLB Japan, official major league licensed Matsuzaka goods cannot go on sale until after he appears in his first game in the majors.

That is when he becomes a member of the MLB Players Association.

I am reminded of the time in November of 2000, during that autumn’s major league All-Star tour of Japan, when a fan in the stands at Tokyo Dome wore a Seattle Mariners shirt with the No. 51 on the back under the name of “Ichiro.”

That was the very day it was announced Seattle had made the highest posting bid for the former Orix BlueWave star.

How did the guy get the shirt so fast?

Simple.

He took an old Randy Johnson Mariners jersey, stripped off the name “Johnson” and stitched on Ichiro’s name in its place.

Recall the “Big Unit” wore No. 51 before the Japanese star joined Seattle.

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Finally this week, I would like to welcome Mike Ghiglione and the nice folks at Executive Support International, a new sponsor to the column.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com