Motoshi Fujita

From BR Bullpen


Motoshi Fujita

BR NPB page

Amateur career[edit]

Despite a small frame (weighing just 140 pounds), Motoshi Fujita pitched over 1,700 innings in Nippon Pro Baseball, including two years over 330. Fujita was an all-around athlete - in high school he was on the 200-meter track team and set a Ehime prefecture record in the javelin throw. Known for his temper, he would fight with fans from other teams and opposing players. Despite poor grades in high school, Fujita passed an entrance exam to the academically exclusive Keio University. He went 31-19 in the Tokyo Big Six University League, throwing a no-hitter against Tokyo University once. As of 2005, his 31 wins are the second-most in Keio's long history. Losing his youthful anger, Motoshi became known for his calm presence on the field.

Industrial leagues[edit]

Surprisingly not picked up by a NPB team after his collegiate success, the lightweight hurler went to the Nihon Skeiyu (Japan Oil Company) club in the industrial leagues and spent four years toiling there. Yomiuri Giants manager Shigeru Mizuhara brought Fujita to the Yomiuri team in 1957 and he became an instant star.

Reaching his peak[edit]

A rookie at age 25-26, Fujita went 17-13 with a 2.48 ERA. He was 10th in the Central League in ERA and named Rookie of the Year, as well as being named to the CL All-Star team. Losing his only decision in the Japan Series, he saw his team fall 4 games to 0 to the Nishitetsu Lions. Adding a shuuto pitch to his repertoire, Motoshi improved the next season from that strong start and won 29 games while losing just 13. He had a 1.53 ERA in 359 innings over 58 games, including 24 complete games and 7 shutouts. He allowed only 251 hits and struck out 199 batters in a career year. Fujita led the CL in innings, complete games, walks (114) and wild pitches (11). He was second to the legendary Masaichi Kaneda (31-14, 1.30) in both ERA and wins. He beat Kazuhisa Inao 1-0 in game 3 of the Japan Series but lost games 4 and 6 to Inao. He had a 1.09 ERA in the Series that year but had gone just 1-2; he was given the Fighting Spirit Award. Additionally he won the Central League's MVP award that year.

Fujita repeated as CL MVP in 1959, becoming the first player to win that honor in consecutive seasons. He had a 27-11, 1.83 season with another league-leading 24 complete games and 330 innings (not the most). He won more games than any other CL pitcher and was second to Minoru Murayama in ERA. His post-season woes continued with two losses to Tadashi Sugiura and a 4.09 ERA as Yomiuri fell for the third straight year; Fujita was just 1-5 in the Series to that point.

The decline phase[edit]

In 1960 the heavy workload of Japanese pitchers of the era took its toll and Fujita hurt his shoulder. He fell to 7-12, 3.06 and would never lead the league in anything again. He was 8-13, 2.74 in 1961 and was again toasted in the Series (0-1, 6.75); he had fallen to 1-6 in the Series and his five consecutive Series losses are tied for the most all-time as of 2005.

He bounced back a bit in 1962 to 13-11, 2.03 at age 30-31 and was sixth in the Central League in ERA. He won 10 of 14 decisions and had an ERA of 2.48 in 1963 and would have been fifth in ERA had he finished among the qualifiers for that title. His losing skid in the Series came to an end with a 1-0, 4.00 post-season in which he got very good offensive support. In 1964 he made his fourth All-Star team and his first since the injury; overall he was 8-11, 2.73 and retired with a career record of 119-88 with a 2.20 ERA.

Coaching and scouting career[edit]

After retiring as a pitcher, Fujita was hired as Yomiuri's pitching coach by Tetsuharu Kawakami; the team won a record nine consecutive Japan Series during Motoshi's tenure in that role. After Kawakami retired, Fujita moved to the Taiyo Whales to fill the same job but only lasted there two years as the club met with no success. Fired from that job, he became a Yomiuri scout in 1977.

Managerial career[edit]

In 1980 Fujita was hired by Toru Shoriki as the new Yomiuri Giants manager. The club excelled his first season (1981), going 71-48-9 and winning the Japan Series; he won the Matsutaro Shoriki Award that year. After a second-place 66-50-14 turn, Motoshi again guided the team to a CL pennant in 1983 at 72-50-8. The team lost the Japan Series 4 games to 3 to the Seibu Lions. Frustrated by a lack of support from fans clamoring for the rehiring of Shigeo Nagashima and heart problems, Fujita retired and was replaced by Sadaharu Oh, his assistant.

Six years later, Fujita was brought back to replace Oh. In 1989 he guided the club to an 84-44-2 record and a Japan Series victory over the Kintetsu Buffaloes in which they rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take the final four games. He won his second Matsutaro Shoriki Award, following Tatsuro Hirooka as a two-time winner. The team went 88-42 the next season and Fujita captured his fourth pennant in five years as a manager, but his team fell in the Series to Seibu. In 1990 Yomiuri went 66-64 and fell to fourth place. That year, Fujita successfully fought to reduce a penalty against Masumi Kuwata for supposed association with gangsters and taking money from them; instead of a full-season suspension, Kuwata was only suspended a month and fined 10 million yen. Yomiuri bounced back to second in 1991 with a 67-63 record but Nagashima's adoring fans in the stands and front office brought him back, letting Fujita go with an excellent career 516-361-33 record as a manager, pennants four of seven years and no sub-.500 seasons.

Post-managerial career[edit]

After finishing as a manager, Fujita became a commentator for NHK and helped serve on the committee that picked the Shoriki Award winner. In 1996 he was voted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. His health declined further in the late 1990s and early 21st century, having heart surgery in 1996, abdominal surgery in 1999 and in December 2005 getting end-stage renal disease and going on dialysis. Beset by blood pressure problems and gallstones as well, he died on February 9, 2006 in a Tokyo-area hospital.

Source: by Gary Garland