Jyun Hirota

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Jyun Hirota (Curly)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 7", Weight 165 lb.

Biographical Information[edit]

Jyun Hirota was a Hawaiian catcher of Japanese descent. He grew up on Ewa Plantation near Pearl Harbor and was nicknamed "Curly" for his full head of wavy hair. At McKinley High School, he played varsity baseball but was cut from the football team because of his small size. He then entered the University of Hawaii, joining the ROTC and the Varsity Victory Volunteers, a group of Nisei students. Jyun played both baseball and football for this group, stationed at Schofield Barracks. He played against Joe DiMaggio and Dom DiMaggio and caught Joe Page. After World War II, he returned to college on a football and baseball scholarship.

Hirota did not play professional ball in the United States, playing locally in Hawaii instead and earning a reputation as the top Nisei catcher. In 1950, the Pacific Citizen reported that Jyun had signed to play with the Toei Flyers, but he remained home instead. Hirota wound up playing from 1952 through 1956 with the Yomiuri Giants, where he was a teammate of Wally Yonamine, among others. Yonamine helped bring his old friend on board. Although Jyun was small, he was tough. He was known for his strong arm, and Yomiuri's starting catcher in 1951, Yasuo Kasunoki, did not throw well. Hirota was the second American to sign with a Japanese club after World War II, following Yonamine, though several others quickly followed suit.

Hirota brought American-style receiving to Japan, returning the ball to the pitcher from his crouch. Wally Yonamine had exploited the previous Japanese habit of taking two steps toward the pitcher, taking off on delayed steals. Stolen base attempts declined after Japanese catching mechanics changed thanks to Hirota. Unlike many Japanese-Americans who played in Nippon Pro Baseball, Jyun was fluent in Japanese, even able to read the difficult language.

Hirota once tore up the skin between two fingers yet stayed in the game despite requests from his teammates to take it easy; the wound needed at least six stitches.

In his first year in Japan, 1952, he hit .277/.341/.349 and made the Central League All-Star team. He batted .353/.476/.529 in the 1952 Japan Series as one of the top Giant performers, helping them to the title. In 1953, he hit .242/.311/.325, was an All-Star and was named to the Best Nine for the first time. He was only 3 for 25 in the 1953 Japan Series but Yomiuri still took the title.

A popular false anecdote about Hirota came from this period in an offseason exhibition against the New York Giants. John Holway wrote in a 1954 book that Leo Durocher was vocally requesting that a player steal, unaware that Hirota could speak English; Hirota ordered a pitch-out and threw out the runner as per Holway. Durocher, though, had spoken to Hirota prior to the game. In fact, Durocher taught Hirota to hide his signals better.

Hirota made the All-Star team and Best Nine in 1954, batting .262/.311/.372 with a career-high 9 home runs in 344 AB. In 1955, he hit .222/.312/.327 yet still was an All-Star and Best Nine. He was 1 for 11 in the 1955 Japan Series.

In 1956, though, he lost his position as starting catcher to Shigeru Fujio. Hirota hit .290/.319/.420 in 30 games that year, then was 0 for 2 in the 1956 Japan Series. The Giants released Jyun that winter. His five-year totals with the bat were 26 homers, 144 RBIs, and a .251/.317/.354 batting line in 439 games.

Hirota got offers from other teams in Japan but he decided to end his baseball career, wanting to spend more time with his wife and kids.

Hirota retired to a business career in the stocks and bonds department of Bishop Trust in Hawaii. He coached the Asahi ballclub, a local Japanese-American institution, and also for the University of Hawaii (1963 and 1965). Later on, however, he returned to Japan. In the early 1970s, he was with the Kintetsu Buffaloes as a farm team manager and also scouted for Kintetsu. He roomed with Jim Qualls and served as the American's interpreter. Hirota also worked as events manager at Aloha Stadium and scouted local ballplayers, including Joey Meyer.

Further Reading[edit]