THE ENATSU STORY: Long Version

JAPAN’S SANDY KOUFAX: THE YUTAKA ENATSU STORY: By Robert WhitingNot much is known in North America about Yutaka Enatsu, a southpaw who was perhaps the best pitcher who ever played the game in Japan, and that includes Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish. Americans who had the chance to see him throw, certainly never forgot the experience. Red Schoendienst who watched Enatsu dominate his touring St. Louis Cardinals in a good- will exhibition game in 1968, said, “He is one of the best lefthanded pitchers I have ever seen. He could teach Steve Carlton a thing or two.” Said former Yankee Clete Boyer, who batted against Enatsu while playing for the Whales from 1972 to 1975, “He was something else. At his best, he was as good as anyone I ever faced and that includes Bob Gibson. His fastball literally exploded at you.” Jim Lefevre, an ex-Dodger who also played in Japan during that era compared him to Sandy Koufax.”Had Entasu played at a time when there was free agency in Japan and when selling one’s baseball talents to MLB was not considered an act of national betrayal, he would have unquestioningly been a star in the US. He might also have wound up in a federal prison–but more on that later.Enatsu was a starting pitcher for the Central League Hanshin Tigers from 1967-1975, before arm trouble forced him into a closer’s role where he performed for another nine years. At 5’10” 170 pounds, he was not a particularly big man, but he could throw a fastball in the high 90’s and a curve ball in the high 80’s. And he used those two pitches to set a number of records that still stand in Japan: 401 strikeouts in one year (surpassing Sandy Koufax’s American record), 41 consecutive scoreless innings pitched as a starter, 9 strikeouts in a row in an all-star game, 15 in a row over three all-star contests and an 11 inning no-hitter, which he won by hitting a sayonara home run. There was also 14-inning game he pitched during which he retired 34 batters in a row. Converting to a late-inning reliever in 1976, he won two MVP’s, something no other closer has ever done. He finished up with 206 wins and 193 saves and became a successful commentator before dark forces conspired to lay waste to his life. Born in 1948, Enatsu grew up in the Minami, the entertainment section of Osaka, a tough, dense, thicket of bars, night clubs and restaurants. After being kicked off his junior high school baseball team for fighting, he re-focused his energies and went on to become a standout pitcher for Osaka Gakuin High School. Drafted Number 1 by Hanshin at age 19, he led all of Japanese professional baseball in strikeouts in 1967 with 225, the most ever for a rookie just out of high school, while compiling a record of 12-13 and an ERA of 2.74. Remarkably enough, he did it with only one pitch—his fastball. In Enatsu’s second year, 1968, he learned to throw a curve and elevated his game to a higher level. He won 25 games, set a single game strikeout mark of 16, and broke the then single season mark of 353 strikeouts in a way so spectacular that people still talk about in Japan. STRIKING OUT OHThe Hanshin Tigers’ arch-rival was (and still is) the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, the oldest, winningest team in the land, with a history dating back to 1936. Enatsu had developed a special rivalry with the Giants legendary Taiwanese slugger Sadaharu Oh, who, at age 28, was on his way to his 5th straight home run crown and a career total of 868. Knowledgeable American observers compared him favorably to Ted Williams and Hank Aaron.In mid-September, with his strikeout total at 347, and the Tigers going into a four-game series with the Giants locked in a fierce battle for first place, Enatsu brashly announced he would break the record in Game #1 versus the Giants and do it against Oh. The game took place at Koshien Stadium, the cavernous, antiquated home of the Tigers outside Osaka. Before a capacity crowd of 55,000 fans, in stifling, sauna-bath heat, Enatsu struck out Oh in the first inning, on an in-high fastball, and again in the 4th inning on a 1-2 curveball that slid over the plate. It was his 6th strikeout of the game, which put him right at 353. Back in the dugout, his uniform soaked in sweat Enatsu declared to his teammates he would not strike out any more batters until Oh came to bat again. It was incredible thing to say given the circumstances—a scoreless tie in a must-win game–but Enatsu was true to his word. He retired the next eight hitters in a row on infield ground balls and pop flies, and then Oh stepped in, assuming his famous one-foot-in the-air flamingo stance, As Tigers cheer leaders furiously waved their banners and conducted deafening chants of encouragement, Enatsu whiffed Oh on four pitches, the last an inside 95 mile-per-hour fastball at which Oh swung ferociously and missed.That game, won by the Tigers 1-0 in the 12th inning, on a single by Enatsu incidentally, has been the subject of numerous magazine stories and TV documentaries over the years. Here is a video summary:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWkmi0ds-D0A day later, in the type of iron man performance that was becoming typical of him, Enatsu was back on the mound, pitching a 4-hit shutout and fanning 10. His pitching kept the Tigers in the thick of the pennant fight, until the final Giant-Tiger game of the season, a 10-inning contest that Enatsu lost by a 2-1 margin with no days rest. He was voted the Sawamura Award as baseball’s best pitcher after finishing with a mark of 25-12, an ERA of 2.13 and 401 strikeouts over 329 innings pitched. The key to Enatsu’s success was near perfect form and perfect control. Said Tiger catcher Yasuhiko Tsuji, “His curve ball did not have a big break on it, but he threw everything from exactly the same motion. It was impossible to tell what pitch he was throwing. When the breaking ball did come, in the wake of his blinding fastball, it threw the batters off. He also never missed. I could put my glove anywhere, inside high, outside low, and he would always hit it dead center.” Many fans came early just to watch Enatsu play long catch in the outfield in pre-game warm-ups, to see him hit his target time after time from 200 feet away.”Enatsu would go on to win 20 games four times for Hanshin and lead the league in strikeouts four times. In time he became as famous for his off-field behavior as he was for his pitching heroics. He smoked 100 cigarettes a day and spent his nights playing pachinko and mahjong and drinking in Osaka night clubs. With his buzz cut, he was unaffected by the long-haired counterculture youths of his time, many of whom were sniffing glue in back street coffee offices, listening to Simon and Garfunkel. He preferred socializing with yakuza.YAKUZA Osaka was famous for its swaggering tattooed, crew cut gangsters, often with shorn pinkies—evidence of yakuza-style penance for one misdeed or another—who controlled much of the city. Enatsu, as he once confessed, had always had a thing for them. He had grown up admiring the fabled gangland credo of “giri and ninjo”, duty and obligation to the gang, above all, which was based on the old code of the samurai warrior. He liked the authenticity and the intensity of the yakuza life style. When he joined the Tigers, veteran players introduced him to drinking establishments favored by gangland figures.Movie director Kosaku Yamashita, who would cast Enatsu in a supporting role in the 1985 underworld film, “Saigo no Bakuto” (The Last Gambler), said, “You looked at him and he acted like a gangster, a yakuza. He had that swagger. He really fit the part.” In 1970, the commissioner of Japanese Professional Baseball suspended Enatsu when it was discovered that he had accepted an expensive wristwatch from the boss of the powerful Takenaka-Gumi. The relevant article of the Professional Baseball Association Regulations was the one that prohibits “association with habitual gamblers.” An investigation was launched by the Commissioner’s office, and two weeks later, in a ruling that raised many eyebrows, it was determined that the gang boss was not really a “habitual gambler” and Enatsu was reinstated. The decision was at once evidence of how important Enatsu was to professional baseball, and, at the same time, just how tolerant Japanese society had become of traditional yakuza gangs, whose front companies controlled concessions and other business at Japan’s baseball stadiums, among many, many other things. Enatsu’s rebelliousness, which separated him from his compliant teammates, manifested itself in other ways. During one spring camp, in protest of the severe martial-arts style training that Tiger pitchers were required to undergo each spring, which included throwing 3000 pitches over a three and a half week span, he laid down in the outfield, rested his head on his glove and went to sleep, as his teammates obediently circled the field, running laps. . “What’s the point?” he said, “I’m going to pitch, no matter what.”The Hanshin brain trust tried in several ways to cultivate more fighting spirit. In their problem child. During the 1970 off -season, for example, the front office ordered him to take a part-time job in an Osaka department store to learn how to “deal humbly” with people. In the winter of 1971, his manager took him to a mountain zen temple on a spiritual retreat, where he was made to rise at dawn, meditate in seiza fashion for seven hours a day, clean toilets and complete other spirit strengthening exercises. None of these efforts were met with a great deal of success. In May 1971, after a series of sluggish performances in , Enatsu was examined by a team physician and diagnosed with a heart condition. The doctor opined that the pitcher’s macho lifestyle was going to send him to an early grave. The doctor prescribed cortisone and other medicines and told Enatsu that he would have to give up at least one of his four favorite activities: drinking, smoking, women and mahjong. Enatsu thought long and hard and replied, “I can’t think of life without my post-game cigarette. I’m too addicted to women and mahjong to give them up . So I guess it will have to be drinking.”Two alcohol-free months later, he started a mid-season all-star game and struck out the first 9 men to face him. He also hit a home run. Enatsu pitched often on two days rest and occasionally on one day’s rest. Once in 1974 he even pitched both ends of a doubleheader. It was something MLB coaches would never allow, but the practice was a requirement for staff aces in Japan where the samurai spirit was a large part of the sports culture. Not surprisingly, like most other stars, he developed arm trouble and had to take pain killers in order to pitch. After compiling won-loss records of 23-8 in 1972 and 24-13 in 1974, the strain of so much pitching eventually caught up with him. He sank to 14-14 in ’74 and 12-12 in 1975. In 1976, he finished with a mark of 6-12. In the process he lost the ability to pitch complete games, and even to go 5 innings. 50 pitches was his maximum.Unable to get along with a new Tigers’ manager, Enatsu was traded to the Nankai Hawks of the Pacific League, where, after much persuasion, he agreed to become a closer—a rarity in Japan where starting pitchers were routinely expected to throw complete games. For Entasu, it was a humiliating turn of events. As he explained to a writer for a Japanese sports daily, , “It’s like you being transferred from the editorial department of your publication to the sales department. It’s a demotion.” FIREMAN OF THE YEARHaving, nonetheless swallowed his pride, he resurrected his career, in the role of reliever garnering 19 saves his first year, and winning the Fireman of the Year award, as the league’s most outstanding reliever, the following season. At the end of the 1978 season Enatsu was dealt to the Hiroshima Carp of the Central League and in 1979 won the C.L. MVP with a with a record of 9-5, an ERA of 2.66 and 22 saves. His performance in the 7th and final game of the 1979 Japan Series between the Carp and the Kintetsu Buffaloes-, -where Enatsu came on in the 9th to protect a one-run lead, loaded the bases and then retired the side, inspired a best-selling non-fiction book entitled 21 Kyu (“21 Pitches”).During Enatsu’s career as a reliever, it was said he developed the ability to read the batter’s mind and anticipate what the batter would do. As Masaichi Kaneda, Japan’s winningest pitcher with 400 wins, put it, “Enatsu was good because he knew how to use the “Ma” (Ma is a term for a dramatic pause in Kabuki). He waited for just the right moment—a lapse of concentration by the batter—to deliver the pitch. In that sense, he could really read the batter’s mind. He is a better pitcher than I ever was.” In 1980, Enatsu helped the Carp win another Japan crown, but after a dispute with his manager he was traded to the Tokyo-based Nippon Ham Fighters of the Pacific League, who were so desperate for a late-inning closer they were willing to surrender their ace Takahashi Naoki. In the 1981 season, Enatsu was named MVP of the Pacific League after leading Nippon Ham to a pennant and compiling a record of 2.82 3-6 and 25 saves. He became the first man to be voted MVP in both leagues.By now, Enatsu, was like a masterless Ronin who traveled the land renting out his services to the lord who made the highest bid—a very fat Ronin for he had ballooned to 220 pounds, caused, he said, by the medication he was taking.In 1983, after leading the league in saves for the 4th year in a row, the Fighters dealt him to the Seibu Lions, in Tokorozawa outside Tokyo. At Seibu he clashed with Lions manager, a notorious disciplinarian and health food advocate Tatsuro Hirooka. Hirooka, unhappy with Enatsu’s weight and his chain smoking, among other things, dispatched him to the farm team in mid-season to get in shape. Enatsu felt so insulted he angrily left the team before the season ended and never returned (leaving a safe full of cash in his cubicle). After an unsuccessful tryout with the Milwaukee Brewers, which was heavily covered by the Japanese media, he retired. He was 36.His final career stats— 206 wins,158 losses, an ERA of 2.49, 2987 strikeouts in 3196 innings pitched, only 936 walks, 193 saves (a record at the time which was later broken by Kazuhiro Sasaki, of the Yokohama Bay Stars, who went on to pitch for the Seattle Mariners)—should have made him a shoo-in for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. But it was not to be. CONQUERING ASTHMA THROUGH SMOKINGAfter undergoing heart surgery to correct his chronic condition, Enatsu found work as a television commentator and columnist for sports dailies. He lent his name to several ghost-written baseball books and, in addition to “Gambler,” appeared in bit parts in movies and TV Dramas. But there were complaints about his demands for special treatment. While visiting baseball spring camps on media assignments for example, he insisted on being chauffered around in a foreign car. He also had some unusual ideas about health as I found out when I first met Enatsu in person in 1987 during a joint appearance on the Ryu Murakami’s TV show, “Ryu’s Bar.”We sat there in the hallway outside the TV studio, exchanging pleasantries. Enatsu 30 pounds overweight, cheeks puffed out like an obese squirrel, potbelly bursting over his belt. He lit up a cigarette and offered me one as well. I declined. I had quit smoking by then and was dealing with a bout of asthma besides. I pulled out a Ventolin inhaler, displayed it for him with a flourish and took a puff.“Zensoku” I said using the Japanese word for asthma.He shook his head in disgust. “That’s no way to deal with zensoku,” he said, “Smoke cigarettes like I do. Use konjo, the power of spirit, to conquer your lungs.”In retirement, there were complaints in the sports media world about Enatsu’s underworld friends, whom, according to the Sankei Shimbun, he would bring to the ballpark and ensconce in the press box . They would also accompany him on golf excursions. Then, after his wife of 9 years left him in 1984 amid accusations of infidelity, dark suspicions of drug use arose. Enatsu was seen sleep in the press box on more than one occasion and once, when Enatsu was two hours late to a coaching session with the Nippon H am Fighters, his worried co-workers had his hotel door pried open only to find him in a deep drug-induced stupor.PRISONOn March 3, 1993, the police raided his apartment in Meguro and discovered 16 hypodermic needles and several milligrams of a certain type of methamphetamine. Enatsu was arrested, along with his girl friend at the time. Police determined that he had received his drugs from a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest criminal organization. The next month, he was sentenced to 2 years and 4 months in prison in Shizuoka. He was 44 years old.Some context: Enatsu Yutaka was caught with 52 grams in his possession, a relatively small amount. Music star ASKA was caught with 400mg of the illegal stimulant MDMA in 2014 and he only received a suspended sentence, entering a rehab hospital West of Tokyo). Singer Noriko Sakai , who was caught with 8 micrograms of stimulant drugs in 2009, spent 39 days in jail and after being released on bail received a suspended sentence. However, Enatsu refused to name his source. So there was no probation for him.Prison in Japan is not an easy thing. Prisoners are intentionally deprived of heat in Japan’s frigid winters and air conditioning during its stifling summers. Talking is severely restricted, the food barely edible, baths and showers were limited to once a week. He was installed in a cell at the farthest end of a corridor in a special confinement area, holding a group of 20 people, whose average was 75, all underworld figures. As much as possible, Enatsu kept to himself. More than once he was beaten for insubordination. But some guards were former fans. They solicited autographs and allowed him to listen to baseball broadcasts on the radio. “When I climbed into the futon at night,” said Enatsu, “All I thought about was baseball. I remembered all 829 games in which I pitched.” He lost 10 kilograms during his incarceration.Enatsu served his full term and never named any names. On his release Yamaguchi-gumi bosses were waiting to thank him. A STATE OF GRACEIn an attempt to start from a clean slate, he threw away all his trophies. He also burned the diaries that he kept during his pro career. Then he tried to put his broken life back together. He married his girl friend, his co-arrestee who was also out of prison on probation. He appeared in old-timers games. He wrote a column in the Daily Sports and slowly rehabilitated his image. It did not hurt when in the year 2000 two separate nationwide fan surveys named him as starting pitcher on the All-Century Japan baseball team.More recently, he has written several books, including “Enatsu No Outlaw Yakyu Ron” (Enatsu’s Outlaw Baseball Philosophy).and “Message from Enatsu Yutaka to Daisuke Matsuzaka.” In them he expresses his belief that a man should pitch until his arm falls off” and that the most important thing in sports and life is proper form. “ “Form is everything,” he said, “From proper form, everything else flows. If you have proper form, your face is different, you character is different, your body structure is different, even your dreams are different,. That’s why it follows that if you have proper for, your life will be different.”He reached a certain state of grace when in 2015 and 2016 he was invited to the Hanshin Tigers spring training camp as a coach. He remarked that nothing was quite as satisfying as wearing that Tigers uniform once more.END https://asia.nikkei.com/Life-Arts/Life/Lessons-from-a-Japanese-baseball-maverickYOUTUBE.COM江夏豊の”ドクターK伝説”1968年Attachments area

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