Some of the greatest moments in baseball history, in Japan and the major leagues, have taken place during the month of October.
This year, because of all the games not played in March and April following the events of March 11, October offers a full month of NPB action, from exciting pennant race games to the Central and Pacific League Climax Series leading to the 2011 Japan Series to be played entirely in November.
As the month begins, we take a look at how the conclusions of the seasons have evolved from early to late October and beyond, and recall some of the most memorable events and games played by the boys of summer that have taken place during the first full month of autumn.
There was a time when both the World Series and Japan Series were played with all day games staged on dates in October with single digits.
For example, when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 Fall Classic, it occurred on Oct. 8 at Yankee Stadium.
A year earlier, left-hander Johnny Podres gave Brooklyn its only World Series championship when he shut out the Yankees 2-0 in Game 7 on Oct. 4, 1955, also at Yankee Stadium.
The ’55 World Series actually began on Sept. 28 and would have ended on Oct. 1 if there had been a four-game sweep, as there were no travel days between the Bronx and Flatbush.
It seemed Game 7 of the World Series was being played really late on Oct. 13, 1960, when Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates ended one of the most exciting games ever played anywhere at any time — let alone a World Series decider — with his, what we would call today, “walk-off” home run off Ralph Terry of the Yankees at Forbes Field.
In Japan, 1964 was a special year when the Nippon Series between the Hanshin Tigers and Nankai Hawks was concluded on Oct. 10, so the nation’s sports focus could be placed on the Tokyo Olympics which began on that date.
These were times long before anyone had heard of the terms “divisional playoffs,” “league championship series,” “wild cards” and “climax series.” We just had straight pennant races with the league winners going directly into the World Series or Japan Series.
Old-timers will also remember when many of the major league teams shared ballparks with their respective cities’ National Football League teams. By mid-October, the NFL season was in full swing, and the ballparks belonged to the gridiron guys until their schedule was completed.
In later years, two of the most memorable mid-October performances came in 1977-78 when an American League slugger put on a show that resulted in his being tagged with the name of the month.
New York Yankees star Reggie Jackson became forever known as “Mr. October” for his clutch hitting and home run heroics in the World Series those two years against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Another unforgettable moment came in Game 1 of the World Series on Oct. 15, 1988, when Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers could hardly walk on two bum legs but hit a two-run, pinch-hit, walk-off home run off Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. It was one of the most dramatic moments in baseball — any month, any year, and it came right in the middle of October.
Japanese fans might remember Oct. 14 as one of the saddest days in their country’s baseball chronology. It was on that date in 1974 when the beloved “Mr. Giants” and arguably the most popular player to ever swing a bat in Tokyo, Shigeo Nagashima, retired.
His farewell speech brought tears to the eyes of a full house of spectators at Korakuen Stadium on an otherwise beautiful, sunshine-and-blue sky autumn afternoon, a day no doubt similar to the ones at Yankee Stadium or Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field with shadows crossing the diamond as Whitey Ford, Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine pitched in those great Yankees-Dodgers World Series of the early 1950s.
This month, the World Series will open in the home stadium of the National League champion team, by virtue of the NL winning the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Phoenix, Arizona, in July. The Series begins on Oct. 19, and would conclude on Oct. 27, if it goes seven games without a rainout.
Our Japanese postseason participants will not even begin the league Climax Series until Oct. 29, just two days before Halloween.
This year the Yomiuri Giants, because no games could be played at Tokyo Dome until Golden Week, will have a tremendous advantage in October. The Kyojin have 14 games scheduled this month, and 11 of them are at the Big Egg.
The other three will be played at Nagoya Dome against the Chunichi Dragons Oct. 7-9, so they will not have rainouts and only two travel days consisting of the easy 1-hour-and-40-minute Nozomi bullet train ride between Tokyo and Nagoya. With that in mind, the team should be well rested and ready to enjoy the benefits of the home crowd backing.
It remains to be seen who will be this year’s heroes and if one player will succeed Reggie Jackson as “Mr. October” in the U.S. or Japan, but there is a lot of baseball to be played during the month and a good chance someone will add another exciting chapter in the history of baseball in ju-gatsu.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@japanball.com