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Kudo, Saito lead Class of ’16 into Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame

by

Staff Writer

Masaki Saito and Kimiyasu Kudo, a pair of former MVP hurlers, were voted into the Japanese baseball Hall of Fame, the organization announced on Monday.

Saito, an ex-Yomiuri Giants right-hander, garnered 84.6 percent of the 337 valid ballots from the Players Selection Committee, easily above the 75 percent threshold (285 votes), in his ninth year of eligibility.

Kudo was selected in his first year on the ballot. A player becomes eligible five years after his retirement from Nippon Professional Baseball. The southpaw collected 76.6 percent of the votes.

Kudo is only the fourth first-year Hall of Famer, following former Giants pitcher Victor Starffin, Japan’s all-time home run king Sadaharu Oh and ex-MLBer Hideo Nomo.

Saito, a three-time Eiji Sawamura Award recipient who posted back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1989 and 1990, said that switching from a traditional overhanded way of pitching to side-arming, on the advice of late manager Motoji Fujita, who had two stints with Yomiuri, triggered his later success as an ace pitcher for the most storied club in Japanese baseball.

“In his second tenure, Fujita was patient with me, and it led to my national record for winning in consecutive complete games,” said Saito, who recorded 11 straight complete-game victories during the 1989 season, at a news conference at Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.

Despite the numerous accolades and records he achieved, including a Central League MVP in 1990, Saito, now 50, wasn’t able to reach the 200 wins needed for inclusion in the Golden Players Club, as he was hampered by injuries later in his career. Saito retired with a 180-96 record with a 2.77 ERA in 18 years.

Tsuneo Horiuchi, who was a pitching coach for Saito and the Giants, made a speech for Saito and said that it left a bitter taste in his mouth that he and the team compelled Saito to pitch despite his injuries, and that it contributed to him coming up short of the 200-win milestone.

“I thought that he could reach 200 wins but didn’t,” Horiuchi said. “And as a pitching coach (at the time), that’s something I regret.”

Saito was the winningest pitcher in the CL five times. That’s the second most in NPB history, only behind Starffin’s six.

Saito will be the manager of the Giants’ ni-gun team during the 2016 season.

Kudo had been thought of as a shoo-in for induction sooner or later because of his colorful track record. Kudo pitched for four different NPB clubs (Seibu Lions, Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, the Giants and Yokohama BayStars) and was part of 11 Japan Series winners — Kudo competed in the Japan Series 14 times during his 29-season career.

Kudo, 52, was humble and said he was fortunate to have joined the Lions in the early 1980s, when the Pacific League club was about to enter its heyday. Starting in 1982, Seibu would advance to the Japan Series almost every single year until the mid-1990s.

“I grew a lot as I was acquired by a competitive team that could aim at the championship,” said Kudo, who was a sixth-round draft pick out of Nagoya’s Aikodai Meiden High School in 1981. “And after the golden time at Seibu, I played for Daiei, the Giants, Yokohama and Seibu in the end. So I played baseball in different places, playing with younger guys. That helped me, too.”

Kudo, who guided the Hawks to the Japan Series championship last year as their manager, posted a 224-142 career record and was the PL MVP in 1993 and 1999.

Two-time batting champion Kihachi Enomoto was selected by the Expert Selection Committee. Enomoto, who played for the Mainichi Orions (the predecessor of the Chiba Lotte Marines) and died four years ago, amassed 2,314 hits in his pro career. He’s the youngest hitter to have reached 2,000 hits, achieving the milestone at 31 years, 7 months.

Takizo Matsumoto, a former member of the House of the Representatives, and Masatake Yamanaka, who was the manager for the Japan national team, were chosen by the Special Selection Committee.

Matsumoto, a former Meiji University professor, helped invite the San Francisco Seals to Japan to play against Japanese clubs in 1949 as an administrator.

Yamanaka, a famous amateur baseball skipper on the Sumitomo Metal team and Hosei University, guided Team Japan to a bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The five will officially be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this year. The date will be announced later.