Japanese sports papers and various Web sites on Aug. 17 reported the death of former Central League umpire Kiyoshi Hirako.
The news was released a week after Hirako’s death from complications of lung cancer in a Tokyo hospital on Aug. 9. The native of Gifu Prefecture was 73.
After serving as the baseball club manager while a student at Tokyo’s Keio University, Hirako began his CL career in 1965. He worked a total of 3,061 regular season games and called plays in five Japan Series and seven All-Star series. He was a supervisor of umpires from 1990 to 1992, working on the transformation from the six-umpire crews to the four-umpire system before retiring.
In recent years, Hirako, a man with a deep resonant voice, worked as a guest commentator on major league games televised in Japan, and he could be seen at pro games at several Japanese ballparks in his capacity as a columnist for a local newspaper based in
He spoke English well and, when he showed up at Giants games at Tokyo Dome, he would often sit in the last row of the press box where
there are “club seats” (not assigned to any specific media organization) next to the assigned positions of The Japan Times and
other English-language publications.
Sometimes he would treat all of us to coffee, bringing in a polystyrene foam holder full of cups of java and passing them around with packets of sugar and cream.
He enjoyed chatting with the foreign writers about what’s going on in the world of baseball, both in Japan and the major leagues.
“Wayne-san, I have a question …,” he would say, opening a conversation
His favorite topics of discussion centered around controversies involving umpires, such as the infamous questionable calls by arbiter
Bob Davidson in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
I asked him one time if he ever got into arguments in English with American players in Japan, and his answer was similar to one used
by another former Central League umpire who spoke English fluently, Hiroya “Tommy” Tomizawa.
“No,” he said, adding semi-jokingly. “They never argued my calls.”
Hirako took pride in his profession and his nearly three decades calling balls and strikes, pointing out fair and foul balls and
deciding if runners were safe or out. He viewed the brotherhood of umpires as a fraternity and maintained friendships with his colleagues
in Japan as well as past and present major league umpires at whose homes Hirako was invited to stay as a guest during trips to the U.S.
Sadly, Hirako was not seen at the ballparks after the 2009 season, because the Nagoya paper folded in November of that year, and
he no longer had an ID card to enter the stadiums, despite his long association with the game.
He will be remembered as a good umpire, an all-around good guy and a good friend. Sayonara, Hirako-san, and thanks for the coffee and
The Saitama Seibu Lions recently released a pair of American players after placing them on waivers. Long-time Japan relief pitcher
Brian Sikorski and outfielder Dee Brown are now on
jiyu keiyaku or “free contract” status.
Brown was in his second year with the Lions and, although he hit 21 home runs in 2010 for Seibu, he never established
himself as a regular and was used as a part-time outfielder and designated hitter. He was also a “yo-yo” player here, riding the
string up and down between the Seibu varsity and the Lions farm team.
The club asked waivers on the New York native Aug. 7.
Sikorski, meanwhile, spent the better part of a decade in Japan, playing for four teams and exciting fans with his hyperactivity and
hustle in getting to the mound from the bullpen. He was placed on waivers July 21.
He first played here in 2001, joining the Chiba Lotte Marines at the age of 26 after a stint in 2000 with the American League Texas
Rangers. After three years as a starter and reliever with Lotte, he transferred to the Central League and the Yomiuri Giants in 2004 where
he worked as a middle reliever and set-up man for two seasons.
In 2006, he decided to try the majors again and pitched for the San Diego Padres and Cleveland Indians and their Triple-A minor league
Sikorski found himself back in Tokyo midway through the 2007 campaign — this time with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and in 2008 he was back
in Chiba with the Marines where he played through 2009. He crossed over to the Lions den last season, emerging as Seibu’s closer and
leading the Pacific League with 33 saves.
This year he started his 10th season in Japan on a high note, but elbow problems caused him to return to the U.S. for examination
and subsequent season-ending — possibly career-ending — surgery which he underwent May 23.
Sikorski is one of the more colorful players ever to perform in the pro baseball wars in Japan. His crowd-pleasing trademarks are his “windmill” arm-cranking warmup after taking the mound and his habit of sprinting to and from the mound, “flying” over the foul line on his way.
He just turned 37 on July 27, so don’t rule out a return to a bullpen in Japan in 2012 for battling Brian. Hopefully, this is not the end for the hard-throwing right-hander from Michigan. After all, there are still eight Central and Pacific League teams for which he has still not played.