Shigeru Chiba (千葉 茂) (The Wild Buffalo)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 6", Weight 140 lb.
- High School Matsuyama Commercial High School
Shigeru Chiba was the star second baseman for the Yomiuri Giants in the early days of the club. He led the league four times in walks and made seven Best Nine selections, a record for second basemen that has been tied by Morimichi Takagi but not broken. This is even more remarkable as the Best Nine was not awarded for four seasons early in Chiba's career; had it been, he could well be the undisputed all-time leader. He later managed the Kintetsu club, which got its name Kintetsu Buffalo name from him. The name remains in use today as the Orix Buffaloes. Chiba was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.
Chiba was on national tournament winners in both elementary high school and high school (the 1935 summer Koshien). He debuted professionally in 1938. The teenager batted .295/.329/.443 in the spring season. As a rookie, he was 10th in average and led the Japanese Professional Baseball League in triples (7). In the fall campaign, he hit .225/.409/.310 and drew a league-leading 43 walks.
Chiba put up a .305/.416/.367 line in 1939. He was 4th in the league in average and may have led in OBP. At age 21, he batted .281/.402/.362 and stole 16 bases. He was again fourth in average and possibly first in OBP. In 1941, the infielder put up a .234/.342/.291 line and swiped 15 bags. Offensive levels had fallen and he was 9th in the league in average. His 44 runs tied Shigeru Mizuhara and Tetsuharu Kawakami for the lead.
Chiba then entered the military and served during World War II.
1946-1954: Post-World War II stardom
Returning to action in 1946, Shigeru hit .288/.388/.405 and he batted .299/.380/.399 the next year. He was 5th in average in 1947. The Best Nine became an annual feature that year (it had been selected once before, in 1940) and Chiba was named the top second baseman in Japan. He would win 7 straight Best Nines starting with that year.
In 1948, Shigeru batted .284/.352/.431 and was 9th in the JPBL in average. On October 16, he hit two three-run homers and a solo shot and scored a Nippon Pro Baseball record six runs overall in a 26-5 rout. During the 1949 season, he hit .307/.392/.423 and set career highs in runs (121) and homers (15) while coaxing 76 walks. He was 9th in the league in average, was 8 runs behind leader Kaoru Betto and four walks behind leader Sadayauki Minagawa.
Chiba produced at a .290/.428/.375 line in 1950, stole 16 bases in 20 tries and scored 96 times. He led the new Central League with 105 walks and joined Fujio Fujimura as the first players in Nippon Pro Baseball history to draw 100 walks in a season. Shigeru was known for his tenacity in fouling off pitches to keep a plate appearance alive to force a walk. He later taught Wally Yonamine how to foul off pitches intentionally. Yonamine later commented that he and Chiba would sometimes make the opposing hurler waste 25 pitches to start the game.
The diminutive star was picked for the first NPB All-Star Game as he had another fine year in 1951. He batted .275/.380/.361, stole a career-high 22 bases (caught 7 times) and scored 86 runs. He led the CL with 76 bases on balls, his third time leading in walks. Chiba hit .412/.524/.647 in the 1951 Japan Series to help Yomiuri to their first title. He took the team's young players to a nightclub following the win and helped provide encouragement to Wally Yonamine, who had been the first American to play in Japan after World War II. He became one of Yonamine's best friends afterwards.
In 1952, the 33-year-old hit .312/.412/.444 with 87 runs. An All-Star again, he led the CL with another 76-walk season. He was 6th in the league in average and his 24 sacrifice hits were the most in the circuit. Manager Shigeru Mizuhara played a small-ball style and often asked #2 batter Chiba to bunt if leadoff hitter Yonamine reached base. Chiba said that he would have preferred to swing away and pull hit-and-runs as well, saying "Bunt! Bunt! Why? Why?" In the 1952 Japan Series, he hit .286/.400/.333 as the Giants claimed another crown.
The veteran kept it up in his last Best Nine campaign. He hit .320/.394/.470 with a career-best 31 doubles and another 87-run season. He was 4th in the CL in average in 1953. He only hit .107/.194/.214 in the 1953 Japan Series but Yomiuri still took home their third straight title.
The 35-year-old finally missed a Best Nine in 1954 as Jun Hakota made it instead. Chiba batted .252/.331/.344; the fine-fielding second baseman still made the All-Star team. Yomiuri failed to take a pennant for the first time in four years.
1955-1956: Fading away
In 1955, he made his final All-Star team and hit .237/.348/.305. In the 1955 Japan Series, he hit .200/.368/.200 and won his fourth ring. Chiba was just 3 for 10 in his final campaign in 1956. He became the first player in Japanese baseball history to have a "retirement game", a tradition that has continued for the five decades since.
Managerial record and two more historical notes
On June 18, 1959, Chiba was hired as the manager of the team then known as the Kintetsu Pearls. The fans voted for a new team name and chose Kintetsu Buffalo after Shigeru's nickname. As of 2007, the name lives on as the Orix Buffaloes. Chiba's charges went just 12-39 for him in 1959, 43-87-1 in 1960 and 36-103-1 in 1961 in Japanese Baseball to set the NPB loss record, never broken. His teams were thus a combined 91-229-2, giving him a .284 winning percentage as a manager. Kaoru Betto replaced him as Kintetsu's manager.
Other baseball involvement
Chiba managed in the minors for Yomiuri for a spell and worked as a broadcaster as well. In 1985, Shigeru was one of the few ex-Giants to criticize the Yomiuri's pitching around Randy Bass so that Bass, an American, could not break Sadaharu Oh's home run record.
Overall, Chiba had hit .284/.384/.388 in his career, with 913 walks and 981 runs in 1,512 games. He hit 96 home runs, 81 of them to the opposite field. His tendency to hit the ball to right caused teams to employ an outfield shift towards that direction. Once, Noboru Aota asked Chiba why he didn't hit to left now and then and bet 500 yen against him. Shigeru followed with a double to left in his next at-bat, complaining all the while. Aoto said he was trying to help his case to win the RBI title and batting behind Chiba, he got an additional opportunity, which would give him a raise to compensate for the loss of the 500 yen.
Through 2006, he is 19th all-time in NPB history in walks.
Chiba is remembered as a "nice guy" popular with younger players by Hirofumi Naito, who remarked as well on Shigeru's all-out style of play. Dick Kashiwaeda and Yonamine also offered similar impressions of support from the veteran. Glenn Mickens recalls as Chiba as having a wonderful sense of humor. Mickens said that Chiba always looked like he was sleeping when managing and others replied to him that Shigeru had looked the same way while playing.
Chiba is credited with inventing katsukare, a dish of rice, curry and pork. As per Gary Garland, the story goes that he was in a favorite restaurant one day and thought that the curry rice needed something. So he asked the manager to bring him curry rice with pork strips on it. It then became a regular offering for the shop and the dish spread nationwide in popularity.