Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Former Hanshin Tigers great, Sawamura Award winner Gene Bacque dies at 82

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Former Hanshin Tigers ace Gene Bacque, the first foreign recipient of the Sawamura Award, passed away on Saturday night at the age of 82, multiple outlets in his home state of Louisiana have reported. Bacque died after complications from a surgical procedure.

A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, Bacque was one of the greatest foreign pitchers in NPB history, pitching for the Tigers from 1962-68 and the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 1969.

Bacque went 100-80 with a 2.34 ERA in Japan. He’s one of only four foreign pitchers to reach 100 wins in NPB. Bacque and former Nankai Hawks star Joe Stanka, who also finished with 100 wins, share the record for the most victories by an American pitcher.

Bacque got off to a rough start in Japan in 1962, but was better in his second year in 1963.

He put everything together the following season, embarking on a historic campaign in 1964.

Bacque went 29-9 with a 1.89 ERA in 353⅓ innings that season. He also threw 24 complete games and finished with 200 strikeouts and a 1.06 walks plus hits per innings pitched.

The American was later named the Sawamura Award winner as the most outstanding pitcher that season. Bacque would remain the only foreign recipient of the Sawamura Award until 2016, when the Hiroshima Carp’s Kris Johnson earned the honor.

His efforts helped the Tigers reach the 1964 Japan Series, where the team fell against Stanka’s Hawks in seven games. Bacque made five appearances in the series, including a complete-game victory in Game 2. He and Stanka met as opposing starters in Game 6, with the Nankai hurler, who would later be named the series MVP, getting the better of that meeting of foreign greats.

Bacque was a five-time All-Star in Japan and also threw a no-hitter against the Yomiuri Giants in 1965.

Before coming to Japan, Bacque pitched for the University of Southwestern Louisiana, which has since been renamed the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL) from 1956-57. He was then drafted by the Detroit Tigers and spent several seasons in the minors.

After his career in Japan, he returned to the school and was a member of the coaching staff from 1971-78. In 2013, he was inducted into the UL Athletics Hall of Fame.

Bacque remained popular in Japan, where the news of his passing was reported Sunday morning, and had hoped to visit the country again. He also kept in touch with current Tigers pitcher Randy Messenger, who earlier this week revealed his intention to retire after the season.

Messenger is two wins away from Bacque’s team record for wins by a foreign pitcher, a mark the older man had been actively cheering for him to break.