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Desire to beat Giants spurred Hall of Famers to glory

by

Kyodo

In many ways, the fates have tied Senichi Hoshino and Masaji Hiramatsu together in their careers, and on Monday they shared another thing — membership in Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

Born roughly four months apart in Okayama Prefecture, the two were familiar with each other from their high school days, and both became ace pitchers as pros. But it was being spurned by the almighty Yomiuri Giants that shaped their careers and eventually brought them together again in the Hall of Fame.

After winning the national spring invitational high school tourney, Hiramatsu turned down the Chunichi Dragons in 1965 in Nippon Professional Baseball’s first draft to play corporate league ball. And after winning the prestigious Toshi Taiko intercity championship, he was courted by the Giants.

“They were on the phone every day, saying, ‘We want you to play for us,’ ” Hiramatsu said. “And I wanted to play for them. It had been my dream since I was a boy to play for the Giants. (Third baseman) Shigeo Nagashima was my idol. At that time, they were the only team whose games were broadcast nationally.”

But when Hiramatsu’s time came in the autumn of 1966, the Giants, then in the middle of their “V9 era” of nine straight Japan Series championship seasons, looked elsewhere.

“That was the most painful thing in my life up to that point,” he said. “When I pitched against them, that feeling became a part of me. It was not a conscious thing. You just naturally concentrated more against them.”

Although the Giants were the most dominant team during Hiramatsu’s career, during which the Taiyo Whales’ best finish was second place in 1979, he went 51-47 against Yomiuri.

Kiyoshi Doi, who caught Hiramatsu during the pitcher’s first two years with the Whales and later managed him, said, “He always had a pleasant demeanor, but on the mound against the Giants, his face changed.”

In 1968, it was Hoshino’s turn to feel the sting. Despite Yomiuri’s interest in the Meiji University ace, the Giants selected high school pitcher Osamu Shimano instead.

Hoshino, who was famous for remarking, “I thought they mistakenly wrote (the first character as) ‘Shima’ instead of ‘Hoshi,’ ” went instead to the Chunichi Dragons, where his career soon revolved around beating the Giants.

“In my mind, everything was about the Giants, pitching against them for all I was worth,” said Hoshino, who won the Sawamura Award in 1974, when Chunichi ended the Giants’ run of consecutive Central League pennants at nine.

Hoshino clinched the pennant with a complete-game victory over the Whales in which he allowed four hits and doubled in the game’s first run. In the subsequent Japan Series, Hoshino went 1-2, allowing six runs in nine innings as the Dragons fell to the Lotte Orions in six games.

Shigeru Sugishita, the Dragons ace in their previous CL championship season 20 years before that, said Hoshino’s failing — if one would call it that — was that having conquered the Giants, he lost interest, a pattern that carried over into his managing career.

As a skipper, Hoshino got the better of the Giants three times, winning the CL pennant with the Dragons in 1988 and 1999, and the Hanshin Tigers in 2003. But all three times he lost in the Japan Series.

“The Japan Series seemed like a nuisance — that if he beat the Giants that was all that mattered,” Sugishita said.

That changed in 2013, when he took the Pacific League’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles to their first Pacific League pennant, and drew the Giants in the Japan Series and beat them to bring Sendai its first overall Japan championship.

“He prayed the Giants would be his opponent, but had it been some other team, his zeal would probably only have been about 70 percent of what it was,” Sugishita said with a laugh.

Hiramatsu said, “The Giants were simply the team you had to beat. I think Hoshino felt much the same as I did. Beat them and you’re on TV and in the newspapers.”