Futoshi Nakanishi

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Futoshi Nakanishi (中西 太)
(Young One With Power)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Futoshi Nakanishi almost won four Triple Crowns in an impressive career.

As a kid with nothing to do when school could not meet during World War II, Nakanishi was the star at sumo wrestling, running and fighting. When the war ended, his teachers advised him to take up baseball and he did so in junior high school. Despite lacking balls and other basic equipment, they had to prepare mentally for games. Like his idol Fumio Fujimura, Nakanishi became a third baseman.

After a fine high school career, Futoshi wanted to go to Waseda University but his parents arranged a deal for a 700,000-yen signing bonus and 35,000 yen per month with the Nishitetsu Lions without telling him. He had a fine rookie campaign in 1952, hitting .281/.327/.464 and winning Pacific League rookie of the year honors. In '53, he switched his batting style to focus on power, relying on a sharp twist to his form to provide power. He avoided any notion of a sophomore slump and hit .314/.370/.619. He led the PL in slugging, runs (92), hits (146), homers (36), total bases (288) and RBI (86) while stealing 36 in 52 tries. It was the third .300-30-30 year in Nippon Pro Baseball history. On August 29, he set a record (since broken) for the longest NPB homer, taking Yoshikazu Hayashi out of the ballpark for an estimated 520'. He outhomered both the Daiei Stars and Kintetsu Pearls that year. He made the first of seven All-Star teams and made his first Best Nine. He missed the Triple Crown that year by two hits, as Isami Okamoto edged him for the batting title.

In 1954, Futoshi hit .296/.364/.574 and at age 21 led the PL in homers (31) and slugging, making his second All-Star team and Best Nine. Noboru Aota said he hit one rising shot that almost hit the pitcher - then almost left Kurume Stadium. He outhomered Kintetsu again; it would be 57 years until another player, Takeya Nakamura, outhomered a whole team. In the 1954 Japan Series, he batted .320/.357/.320. In '55, Nakanishi put up a .332/.419/.630 season with 96 runs, 35 homers, 98 RBI and 298 total bases. He led in average, total bases and homers and made the Best Nine and All-Star team. He missed the RBI title and Triple Crown by one as Kazuhiro Yamauchi drove in 99. He was the only player in the 20th Century to lead the league in home runs and hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the same season; Takahiro Okada would do it 55 years later.

The 1956 season continued his stardom with a .325/.393/.593 year. He led in slugging, homers (29) and RBI (95) and lost the batting crown by .0005 to Yasumitsu Toyoda. Nakanishi had sat out two games after his team clinched their first PL pennant and some felt that he had let teammate Toyoda beat him out; he said it was only an individual title and that the team's success mattered most. He made the Best Nine but missed the All-Star team. His four straight PL home run titles have only been beaten (or matched) by Katsuya Nomura. He won his only MVP award that season. In the 1956 Japan Series, they stunned the Yomiuri Giants and Nakanishi hit .273/.320/.545 with two homers and six RBI in six games. He also got married that year - to manager Osamu Mihara's daughter.

In 1957, still just 24, the third baseman put up a .317/.379/.541 batting line and missed the home run title; he hit 24, six less than Nomura. He drove in a league-high 100 (his third and final time leading in RBI), hits (154) and doubles (31), made his fourth straight Best Nine and All-Star team. He only hit .238/.273/.238 in the 1957 Japan Series, which the Lions win. In '58, Futoshi batted .294/.387/.510, won his fifth and last home run crown (23), his second and last batting title and also led in walks (60); his 84 RBI were one behind league leader Takao Katsuragi. He was again a Best Nine pick and All-Star. In the 1958 Japan Series, he hit an impressive .292/.414/.708 with three homers and 8 RBI in seven games to help Nishitetsu to a third consecutive Series title. On November 4, he was part of a Japanese All-Star team that faced the St. Louis Cardinals; in that contest, he hit a pinch-hit grand slam.

Nakanishi, though still young, had reached the end of his glory days. He hit .294/.387/.510 but was limited to 153 AB in 1959 as he suffered an injury when he was spiked by another player. The next year, he was diagnosed with tendonitis. Instead of resting his wrist, he worked even harder and thinks he may have damaged it further; he never recovered. He batted .362/.426/.511 in '60 but only got 47 at-bats. In 1961, he recovered enough to make his 7th and last Best Nine and the All-Star team with a .304/.405/.585 year with 21 homers in 253 AB.

Futoshi became a player-manager in '62, replacing Tokuji Kawasaki at the helm. Nakanishi opines that the team felt sorry for him due to his injuries and says that he relied heavily on pitching coach Tadashi Wakabayashi for advice at first. Nishitetsu went 62-68-6 that year and he hit .268/.354/.366 in 71 AB.

In his last season as a semi-regular, Nakanishi hit .282/.357/.468 at age 30 in 1963 in 216 AB and made his last All-Star team. Nishitetsu went 86-60-4 to win the pennant and lost the 1963 Japan Series in seven games. He was 3 for six in the series. Nakanishi says that his success was due to how well he worked with gaijin players Jim Baumer, George Wilson and Tony Roig.

Nishitetsu slipped to fifth place and 63-81-6 in 1964 and Nakanishi batted only .150/.261/.200 in 40 AB. In '65, they were 65-58-4 and he hit .294/.362/.451 in 58 AB. A year later, the pinch-hitting specialist was at .275/.309/.667 with six homers in 51 AB in 51 games while the team had a 75-55-8 record, finishing second to the Nankai Hawks. In 1967, Nakanishi hit .278/.350/.583 in 36 AB and the team's 66-64-10 record was still good enough for second place.

In '68, Futoshi had a .400/.464/.520 line in 25 AB in 26 games and the Lions' record was 56-74-3. The 1969 season produced no hits in his last six at-bats and a 37-68-4 record before he was fired as manager; his former star pitcher Kazuhisa Inao replaced him as manager.

Overall, Nakanishi had hit .307/.379/.553 with 244 HR in 4,116 AB. He is 11th in Nippon Pro Baseball history through 2005 in average among players with 4,000+ AB, 7th among Japanese natives. Had he remained healthy his whole career, 500 home runs is certainly a reasonable projection.

In 1974, he returned as the first manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters and guided them to a 49-75-6 last place finish and they remained last at 55-63-12 the next year. Keiji Osawa replaced him as manager. In 1980, he was hired to manage the Hanshin Tigers and led them to a 41-54-9 record after replacing Don Blasingame early in the year. Hanshin was 67-58-5 for third place the next year, but Motoo Ando got the job for 1982. Overall, his managerial record was 748-811-81.

Nakanishi then had several jobs as a hitting coach, for the Kintetsu Buffaloes (1985-90), the Yomiuri Giants (1992), Chiba Lotte Marines (1994) and Orix Blue Wave (1995), meaning that he had been a manager or coach of seven teams in the 12-team NPB. He also briefly managed Chiba Lotte in 1994, taking over the helm after Soroku Yagisawa was axed on July 31. He later worked as a consultant for the Yakult Swallows and helped Roberto Petagine adjust to Japanese baseball.

In 1999, Nakanishi was voted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sources: Remembering Japanese Baseball by Robert Fitts, Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland

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