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Ex-Carp pitchers Ono, Sotokoba elected into Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

For the second straight season, the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame was left seeing red.

The Hall opened its doors to three more players this year, chief among them former Hiroshima Carp pitchers Yutaka Ono and Yoshiro Sotokoba, who joined former high school standout Kazuo Fukushima as the newest members of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, it was announced on Friday.

Ono was selected by the Players Selection Committee, garnering 273 votes, comfortably above the 75 percent threshold (243 votes) he needed for induction.

“I’m so pleased, but at the same time overwhelmed,” Ono said at a news conference at the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, which is located at Tokyo Dome. “Looking back, I joined the Hiroshima Toyo Carp as a test player and went through so many things, and now this day has come. I’m extremely pleased.”

Sotokoba was chosen from the Expert Division, collecting exactly the 29 votes he needed, while Fukushima was selected from the Special Selection Committee and received 13 votes, two more than he needed for induction.

Among those missing out in the Players Selection Committee vote were former Seibu Lions and Daiei Hawks outfielder Koji Akiyama, who received 235 votes and former Yokohama BayStars and Seattle Mariners reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki, who received 230. Yakult Swallows catching great Atsuya Furuta garnered 147 votes in his first year on the ballot.

Ono pitched for the Carp for 22 seasons, ending his career with a 148-100 record to go along with 138 saves. The left-hander finished his career with a 2.90 ERA and 1,733 strikeouts, was a 10-time All-Star and won the Sawamura Award in 1988, when he went 13-7 with a 1.70 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 183 strikeouts over 185 innings. Ono’s 13 wins that season remain the fewest by a Sawamura winner.

He played alongside Sachio Kinugasa and Koji Yamamoto during the golden age of the Hiroshima franchise, and helped guide the Akaheru (red helmets) to five Central League pennants and Japan Series victories in 1979, ’80 and ’84.

“Mr. (Takeshi) Koba, who was the manager at that time, Koji Yamamoto and Sotokoba, my senior teammates who are actually here today, the rest of my teammates, and the ballclub supported me really well, and I have so much appreciation for them.” Ono said. “As I got the nod today, I would like to work harder and contribute to baseball even more.”

The first three years of the 57-year-old Ono’s career overlapped with the final chapter of Sokotoba’s tenure with the team.

Sotokoba was 131-138 in 20 years with the Carp and was named to six All-Star teams in addition to being the 1975 Sawamura Award winner. The righty finished his career with a 2.88 ERA and 1,678 strikeouts over 2,419 1/3 innings.

“I never thought I would be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Sotokoba said. “So I’m extremely surprised. I’ve been involved in baseball for a long time and I want to reiterate that it was really great to have played for the Hiroshima Carp.”

Sotokoba recorded his first professional victory by throwing a no-hitter against the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium on Oct. 2, 1965. Nearly three years later, Sotokoba struck out an NPB record 16 batters while tossing a perfect game against the Taiyo Whales on Sept. 14, 1968. He threw his third and final no-hitter against the Yomiuri Giants on April, 4, 1972.

Sotokoba’s standout season came in 1975, when he made 40 starts and had a 20-13 record with a 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 193 strikeouts and was an All-Star as well as a CL Best Nine selection.

“Although what I can do may be limited, I’d like to continue to contribute to baseball and its development for as long as I physically can,” the 67-year-old Sotokoba said.

The selection of Ono and Sotokoba marks the second consecutive year a pair of players who spent their entire careers with the Carp were chosen for induction at the same time. Former Hiroshima pitchers Manabu Kitabeppu and Tsunemi Tsuda were inducted in 2012.

Overall 18 Carp have been elected to the Hall of Fame, including Tetsujin Kinugasa (1996), former holder of the world’s consecutive games streak (2,215), and Yamamoto (2008), Mr. Akaheru himself and Japan’s current World Baseball Classic manager.

“Last year it was Kitabeppu and Tsuda, and this year Sotokoba and Ono, “Yamamoto said. “Two years in a row, players from the Hiroshima Carp have been inducted. So it feels like there is a strong wind behind the team. “Obviously I’m from this team, so hopefully that helps us win the WBC.”

Fukushima, who rounds out the class, was a high school pitcher for Fukuoka’s Kokura Junior High, which has since been remained Kokura High School and led the school to summer National High School Baseball Tournament titles in 1947 and 1948.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.