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Samurai Japan’s 78-year-old pitching coach Hiroshi Gondo has done an excellent job of getting Japan in position to advance to the World Baseball Classic semifinals as he’s worked well with a very deep bullpen to cover up lesser talent in the starting rotation.
But Gondo’s extremely lengthy coaching career (he’s been involved in the game at a high level since John F. Kennedy was president) is still less notable than Gondo’s rookie year in Nippon Professional Baseball.
When we talk about pitching workloads in the 21st century, we discuss whether 120 pitches is too many in one outing. But in 1961 when Gondo took the mound as a 22-year-old rookie, he shouldered a workload that would make anyone other than Old Hoss Radborn blush.
Chunichi—Gondo’s club—played 128 games that season, and he pitched in more than half of them. He was the team’s ace, making 44 starts (taking the ball every third game). When he started, he finished. He had 32 complete games in 44 starts. But on those days he wasn’t starting, he was the team’s best reliever as well. Japan didn’t keep track of saves in 1961 (understandably, as the stat hadn’t been invented yet). But Gondo finished 24 games where he entered as a reliever in 25 relief appearances. Gondo threw 36.4 percent of Chunichi’s innings that season.
His final stats for that season simply defy comprehension by modern standards. 35-19, 1.70, 32 complete games, 12 shutouts, 429.1 innings pitched, 321 hits allowed, 70 walks, 310 strikeouts and a 0.911 WHIP. His Baseball Reference page has numbers that look like someone’s career stats, not the stats of one amazing season.
But what’s even more amazing is that Gondo wasn’t an outlier. He was just your run-of-the-mill NPB ace of the time. Gondo didn’t lead the league in strikeouts. He was topped by 24-year-old Kazuhisa Inao, who struck out 353 in 404 innings. Inao’s 42 wins that season also easily bested Gondo.
Gondo couldn’t shoulder that workload for long. As a 23-year-old the next year, he was nearly as effective in 363 innings, but his shoulder was shot by 1963. He struggled through two middling, injury-plagued seasons in 1963 and 1964 and tried to make a comeback as a 28-year-old in 1968, but his career was largely left on the mound in that amazing 1961 season. Because of that, he has been more concerned about pitching workloads than the average Japanese coach during his long coaching career.
Inao actually managed to survive a workload that could crush a mortal man for quite a while. Inao had six seasons where he worked more than 300 innings. He won 276 games despite being finished as a 32-year-old. His 3,599 innings pitched is more than any active MLB pitcher has thrown in his career.
We know better in 2017 than to allow a pitcher to become the team’s No. 1 starter and closer while pitching on short rest regularly. But it doesn’t mean we can’t be amazed than any pitcher managed to survive it, even for just a year.
Thanks to Baseball Reference and @.