Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Late translator Ushigome served with pride, distinction during long career

by Wayne Graczyk

The Baseball Bullet-In this week would like to remember Tadahiro Ushigome, long-time baseball personality who died in Tokyo last month of a blood disorder at age 79. Although the date of his death was April 9, it was not announced until May 4.

“Tad” or “Ushi,” as he liked to be called, worked for the Taiyo Whales, beginning in 1964. He stayed with the team after it became the Yokohama BayStars, serving a total of 37 years with the organization. He began his career in baseball as an interpreter and later advanced into the team’s front office as a scout and executive. He was well known and respected in baseball circles in Japan as well as internationally.

I met him in 1976 at Kawasaki Stadium, that bandbox of a ballpark that was home to the Taiyo club at the time.

Ushigome was one of the first group of interpreters in Japanese baseball, in the days when the Central and Pacific League teams typically had only one Japanese-English translator, because each club could only carry two foreign players on its roster, and most were Americans.

Ushigome was proud of the many friendships he made with executives from MLB clubs and the foreign players he helped bring to the Whales and later the BayStars. Included among them were three Central League batting champions — Felix Millan (1979), Jim Paciorek (1990) and Bobby Rose (1999).

He was also responsible for bringing on notable players including Clete Boyer, John Sipin, Mike Lum, Carlos Ponce, Doug Loman, Jim Tracy, Larry Sheets and Glenn Braggs, and there were also colorful characters who did not fare so well on the field but made their presence known, such as Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart, Danny Walton, Skip James, Pete LaCock and Joey Meyer.

Ushigome also helped acquire established players in Japan such as Gene Martin in 1979 and Leon Lee in 1983, and he played a part in the decision to give former Nankai Hawks ace Joe Stanka a last crack at Japanese baseball in 1966.

Stanka, now 85 and living in the Houston, Texas, area, wrote in an email: “(Tad) was a very friendly man, spoke good English, and he was very kind to me.”

Stanka’s wife Jean added, “I remember when they wanted Joe to return to Japan. Ushigome and others (from the Taiyo club) came to enlist my help in convincing Joe he should come for another season, but it was Joe’s decision, and his feeling at the time was so sad and low, because of the great loss of our son. They were so very good to me, and Ushigome was a humble man in his manner.”

The Stankas’ 15-year-old son, Joey, died in an accident in Kobe in November of 1965.

Sipin, now 69 and a real estate specialist in California, contributed this:

“I’m sorry to hear of the passing of Tadahiro Ushigome. He was a die-hard baseball man and Japanese-English interpreter working for the Taiyo Whales baseball team when Clete Boyer and I arrived in 1972. I was always a junior in Ushigome’s eye in our relationship, because I was younger than Clete, as per Japanese culture. I felt and understood it but never accepted it.

“We took care of Ushi very well. He actually quit the Whales one year and sold furniture, and we got a new interpreter, but we helped him get his job back when he decided selling lamps was not his passion.

“Ushigome was a very good man and did his best as an English interpreter, growing a lot in vocabulary from the time Boyer and I arrived. He got very excited and used all the English vulgarity and cussing he had learned to a point of embarrassment in some cases when in conversation with a group of Americans.

“He was learning when and what to use when he was around certain people. It was funny at the time, and he got a little frustrated and feeling bad, but he learned the hard way. Ushi was very social and was a popular English-speaking Japanese who will be missed by all who met him. Rest in peace, Ushi. You were a pioneer in Japanese professional baseball.”

Braggs checked in from California with his thoughts about Ushigome, writing, “The thing I remember most about Tad was that he was always there to assist with everything we needed, and he did for others because he loved people. He was the nicest and kindest person I have ever met.”

Rose also sent an email from the U.S. with the words, “For me, Tad was an exceptional man who had a huge connection with the Japanese players as well as the Americans. He had a wide range of relationships that enabled him to bring over the best talent to Japan. He will surely be missed.”

Ushigome left the BayStars in 2000 and became a commentator for MLB games televised in Japan. He also worked with me and the NTV staff on telecasts of postseason major league tours of Japan and MLB opening games in Tokyo.

He continued to help members of the media going from Japan to the U.S. to cover Japanese players by advising them as they prepared for their trips and providing introductions to major and minor league officials, making it easier for reporters to obtain credentials and gain access to American ballparks.

A word he often used was “enjoy.” He enjoyed baseball, he enjoyed life, meeting and helping people, and he enjoyed just about everything he did.

“I really enjoyed my trip,” he would say after returning from visits to major league spring training camps in Florida or Arizona. Someone from a big league club would take him out for an American meal, and he would say how much he enjoyed the food, the company and the conversation.

“Enjoy” is a word I would use to describe my own 40-year friendship with Tad. It was a pleasure to have known him and worked with him, and he will be remembered fondly by many in the world of baseball in and out of Japan.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com

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