Close call for Aizawa brings phrase into question


The Japanese translation of HBP, where a batter gets hit by a pitch, is “dead ball.” I wish they would change that, eliminate the word “dead” and adopt the English phrase “hit by pitch.”

We almost had a dead player in a recent game after a hitter took a 148-kph fast ball in the head below his helmet.

It was Hiroshima Carp reserve catcher and pinch hitter Tsubasa Aizawa who got nailed directly below his left eye by Yokohama Baystars closer Shun Yamaguchi in the ninth inning of a game at Yokohama Stadium Aug. 2.

Fan Ray Denny from Yokosuka was at the game and said, “There were some very scary moments. Aizawa was unable to move away from Yamaguchi’s fastball which smacked him right in the face. He did not move for several minutes, and it seemed to

take more than 20 minutes to get an ambulance to home plate to scoop him up.

“I never did see him flinch after he got beaned, and I briefly thought he was dead. It was the quietest Yokohama Stadium I have ever seen, even though the Baystars won after the 30-minute delay. There was no celebration whatsoever; everyone just

went home, and there was a nice show of respect by the fans.

“Yamaguchi is a darned good pitcher but sometimes wild as he was that night of the beaning,” said Denny.

Japanese fan Teruko Genda of Kawasaki, also at the game, said, “I was so frightened. When I saw the ambulance come onto the field and the attendants strapped Aizawa onto the stretcher and secured his neck and head, I thought it was a matter of

life and death. I am a Baystars fan, but I prayed for him as the ambulance drove him to the hospital,” she said.

The incident brings to mind the case of Ray Chapman, the Cleveland Indians shortstop who died in the hospital 12 hours after being hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays of the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds in New York on Aug. 16,

1920. Those were days when batters did not wear helmets.

Chapman was 29 years old and is said to be the only player in the majors ever to have died as a result of an injury sustained during a game.

Then there was a more recent incident involving young star Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Sox.

“Tony C” was hit in the face by a high hard one thrown by Jack Hamilton of the California Angels on Aug. 18, 1967. Though he was wearing a helmet, Conigliaro’s left cheekbone was broken, his jaw dislocated, and there was substantial damage to his

left retina, causing dizziness and blurred vision.

A photo of Conigilaro taken a few days after the accident showed him with his eye swollen completely shut and blackened like a piece of an eggplant left on the fire for a half hour at a yakiniku party.

It was thought he might never play again but, miraculously, he returned to the Red Sox and turned in his best season in 1970, posting career highs of 36 home runs and 116 RBIs.

Despite those numbers, he was subsequently traded to the Angels where, apparently, effects of his injuries returned, and he retired in 1975 at the age of 30.

In 1982, he suffered a heart attack and a stroke which left him in a vegetative state until he died in February of 1990. He was 45.

It would seem the beaning, in spite of his comeback and the 15 years that passed between the accident and his becoming ill, had a lot to do with his poor health condition and eventual death at such a young age.

Hopefully Aizawa, an up-and-comer at age 24, will be able to return and not suffer the after-effects of his beaning as did Conigliaro. He’s got a fractured nasal bone and was expected to miss three to four weeks of action, but his recovery has been

nothing short of amazing so far.

Aizawa actually left the Yokohama hospital and returned to Hiroshima the day after he was hit, and he began practicing again on Aug. 5, less than 72 hours after some fans thought he might have died. So far, he appears to be OK.

As for the term “dead ball,” it is believed the words got into the Japanese baseball vocabulary when the game was being introduced in this country by American missionaries.

With a runner on first base, a batter was hit by a pitch and, when the ball rolled away, the runner from first continued on to third base. It was then explained the batter would be awarded first base, and the runner originally on first had to go back to second because “it is a dead ball,” meaning the ball is not in play.

But the Japanese understood “dead ball” to mean the official description of what happened. In box scores and on stats sheets, the kanji character to symbolize the play is the same as the one used when a person dies.

It is time for a more accurate and less ominous terminology, and the English “hit by pitch” should be substituted for “dead ball.”

I call upon Nippon Professional Baseball as well as the Japanese print, online and broadcast media to start a campaign to kill the term “dead ball.”

In the meantime, let’s see what happens with Aizawa as he recovers from the injury and returns to action.

Diamond Dust: Last week, in mentioning foreign players signed by Japanese teams prior to the July 31 deadline, we neglected to cite the Nippon Ham Fighters bringing in pitcher Dustin Molleken.

The Canadian right-hander comes from the Colorado Rockies farm system and was introduced in Sapporo on July 21.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com