Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Nankai Hawks ace Joe Stanka, hero of 1964 Japan Series, dies at 87

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Former Nankai Hawks great Joe Stanka, the 1964 Pacific League MVP who famously threw three shutouts during that season’s Japan Series, died of heart failure on Oct. 15, his grandson Josh told The Japan Times

Stanka, 87, passed away at his home in Katy, Texas.

A native of Hammon, Oklahoma, Stanka spent seven seasons in Japan, pitching for the Hawks from 1960-1965 and returning for a final season with the Taiyo Whales in 1966. The right-hander also appeared in two games for the Chicago White Sox in 1959 before arriving in Japan.

Stanka, a two-time All-Star, was 100-72 in Japan and is tied with former Hanshin Tigers pitcher Gene Bacque for the third-most (or fourth, depending on how ethnic Russian Victor Starfin is classified) wins by a foreign pitcher in Japanese baseball history.

Stanka is one of only four foreign pitchers (excluding Starfin) with at least 100 wins — the Hanshin Tigers’ Randy Messenger will join that group with five more victories.

His best season was in 1964, when he finished 26-7 with a 2.40 ERA in 277⅔ innings. Stanka made 47 appearances with 15 complete games among his 43 starts. He would go on to be named the Pacific League MVP.

The Hawks captured the PL pennant that season and in the Japan Series came up against the Central League champion Hanshin Tigers, led by Bacque who had gone 29-9 with a 1.89 ERA. Bacque would become the first foreign Sawamura Award winner that season.

Stanka, throwing to catching legend Katsuya Nomura, began the Japan Series with a three-hit shutout. Bacque went the distance for Hanshin in a Game 2 victory and Stanka started and took a loss in Game 3.

The teams split the next two contests and arrived at Koshien Stadium with the Tigers needing a victory in one of the last two games to claim the title.

Stanka took the mound on the road in Game 6 in front of a crowd of 25,471 and with Bacque pitching for Hanshin. The Hawks star struck out eight and walked none, limiting the Tigers to a pair of singles in a 99-pitch shutout. He also had two hits and an RBI.

In Game 7, Stanka got the call again and clinched the title with his third shutout of the series, holding the Tigers to five hits (four singles and a double) and two walks.

He was named Japan Series MVP after his performance.

A memorial service for the former pitcher, who was married to his wife Jean for 69 years, was scheduled for Saturday in Katy, Texas.