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Former NPB star pitcher, manager Senichi Hoshino dies at 70

Kyodo

Senichi Hoshino, the last Japanese manager of New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and a Hall of Famer, has died, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles said Saturday. He was 70.

Hoshino, the vice chairman of the Pacific League’s Eagles and a former star pitcher of the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons, died Thursday after battling pancreatic cancer, the Eagles said.

He joined the Dragons out of Meiji University in 1969 and won a Sawamura Award as the most impressive starting pitcher in 1974, posting a 146-121 record with 34 saves in his 14-year career with the team.

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, the Dragons, the Hanshin Tigers and the Eagles.

The Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture native managed the Eagles for four years from 2011 and led the club to its first league pennant and Japan Series championship in 2013 with Tanaka, then the team’s ace pitcher. Tanaka posted a 24-0 record that season before joining the Yankees.

“It is such a surprise, I can hardly believe it,” said Tanaka, who recorded the final out of the 2013 Japan Series in relief after his Game 6 complete-game defeat.

“Winning Japan’s championship, and throwing manager Hoshino in the air in the doage celebration are important memories of my baseball career. He supported my playing in the majors and I am filled with gratitude.”

Hoshino also managed the Japan national team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was inducted into Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame last year.

According to the Eagles, Hoshino was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis in July 2016.

A fiery star pitcher with the Dragons, Hoshino mixed his gruff sentimentality with occasionally abusive behavior as a manager.

Three times Hoshino turned around the fortunes of stalled teams, and in 2013, became the first to take three different clubs to the Japan Series. Hoshino lost the Japan Series as skipper of the Dragons in 1988 and 1999, and again with the CL’s Hanshin Tigers in 2003 — when he quit abruptly after the series due to health issues.

“I was in the team hotel (with Hanshin in 2003) when I collapsed,” Hoshino told Kyodo News in 2013. “The stress of managing was putting me in danger, the doctors said. But a couple of years ago, my doctors decided it was just a temporary thing and had been resolved by a brief rest.

“If I had known that at the time, I never would have quit then.”

Affectionately known as “Sen-chan,” Hoshino was serving as the Tigers’ senior director when he managed Japan in the Beijing Games. Having failed to win a medal, he turned down an offer to skipper the national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, saying he’d already done his bit in Beijing.

But when the Eagles called about his managing their team from 2011, Hoshino was ready to return.

In his two stints as Dragons manager, Hoshino was known to punch players in practice and torment umpires — Atsushi Kittaka suffered a broken rib in May 2000, when Hoshino and a gang of Dragons mobbed the ump over a disputed call at Nagoya Dome.

But with the Eagles, Hoshino mellowed out and said as much. “Of course I’m calm! I’m old. That’s what happens when you get old,” he told Kyodo News.

After one Japan Series failure as a pitcher and three as a manager, Hoshino won his first Japan Series championship with the Eagles in 2013.

Hoshino is remembered fondly overseas.

“Baseball fans in Japan have lost one of their most popular players, managers and commentators with the passing of Senichi Hoshino,” Peter O’Malley, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ owner from 1970 to 1998 said in a statement.

“My earliest recollection of him is when he very successfully pitched for the Chunichi Dragons against the Yomiuri Giants in the 1970s. After he retired as a player, he was by my side in Tianjin, China when we opened the Dodger Goodwill Baseball Field at Tianjin University in 1986.

“He was a lifetime friend and I have great memories of when, under his leadership, he brought the Dragons to Dodgertown — Vero Beach, Florida, in 1988 for spring training. I will miss talking international baseball with him and my thoughts are with his family.”