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Ito, Hoshino, Hiramatsu inducted into Hall of Fame

Kyodo

Catcher Tsutomu Ito and pitchers Senichi Hoshino and Masaji Hiramatsu were inducted into Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday.

Ito, the catcher for the Seibu Lions’ Pacific League dynasty of the 1980s and 1990s, was elected in the players division. The Chiba Lotte Marines skipper was named on 265 ballots, 79.6 percent of the 333 cast by reporters who have covered baseball for 15-plus years. A candidate must receive 75 percent of the valid ballots.

“I feel the need to offer an apology,” Ito said. “I ask myself, ‘Am I really worthy of this?’ I think of the legends who influenced me as a player such as Tetsuharu Kawakami, Tatsuro Hirooka and Wally Yonamine, and am filled with gratitude that so many thought I should be in here, a step closer to them.

“I’m from (earthquake ravaged) Kumamoto. People have suffered there and are still suffering. So if this provides a spark of good news, I am grateful.”

Hoshino and Hiramatsu, contemporaries from Okayama Prefecture, both gained admission through the experts division, whose voters include the Hall’s directors and Hall of Fame members who were voted in as players. Hiramatsu received the minimum of 84 votes needed to get in, while Hoshino received 88.

Hiramatsu, a high school and corporate league star before turning pro with the Taiyo Whales, the predecessors of today’s Yokohama BayStars, was renowned for his running fastball that he threw inside to terrorize the Central League’s right-handed hitters.

“Is this a dream?” Hiramatsu began his acceptance speech. “It’s a dream inside a dream. As a child, my ambition was to play pro ball. I got there with a great amount of natural talent, some effort and most of all amazing teachers. And then being here is a dream after that one. I owe it all my teachers, my wife and my family.”

Hoshino came out of Meiji University and like Hiramatsu, won a Sawamura Award as the most impressive starting pitcher in the CL. Despite being a larger-than-life character as a pitcher, Hoshino found his real calling as a manager, winning four league pennants with three different teams.

“This is an honor for which I’m ill suited,” said Hoshino, who is currently the vice director of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, whom he managed to their first Japan Series title in 2013. “Honestly speaking, I was an OK player. And as a manager, I was fortunate to have great players who played their hearts out for me. They earned this,” he said.

“I’m 70, or at least I will be in a few days, and feel overjoyed to have spent a life in baseball. Now I live for the game, so that it may thrive, not just my club, but all clubs, and all levels.”