Located in Naniwa-ku, Osaka, Japan and owned by Osaka Stadium Corporation, Osaka Stadium was built in 1950 over the site of a tobacco plant that had been destroyed during World War II. The original stadium seated approximately 32,000 people and was home to the Nankai Hawks baseball team.
In 1988, the Hawks were sold to Daiei Group and moved to Heiwadai Stadium in Fukuoka City. Osaka Stadium was then converted into a sample housing showground.
The stadium was finally demolished in 1998, and a shopping center was built in its place.
Madonna held her first Japan concerts in this stadium, kicking off her Who’s That Girl World Tour with two sold-out concerts on June 14 and 15,1987. Meanwhile, Michael Jackson finished the first leg of his Bad World Tour at Osaka Stadium with three consecutive sold-out shows, held October 10–12, 1987.
Ken Johnson passed away this past week, on November 21, 2015. I’m not sure I ever even heard of him until I saw the news story about his passing. It turns out, Johnson is the only pitcher in MLB history to pitch a nine-inning, complete game no-hitter and still lose the game.
On April 23, 1964, Ken Johnson and the Colt .45s played the Cincinnati Reds. While Johnson pitched near flawlessly, it was fielding errors that became his undoing. The game was still scoreless going into the top of the ninth, when Pete Rose bunted a roller back to the mound. Johnson fielded but threw the ball away, allowing Rose to advance to second. Rose moved to third on a ground out. Then, with two outs, an error by second baseman Nellie Fox allowed Rose to score.
When the Colt .45s failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, Johnson became the first pitcher to lose a game in spite of throwing a no-hitter in nine innings. No other pitcher has ever managed to accomplish this feat (if you can call it an accomplishment). Statistics from the game can be found here.
“I pitched the game of my life and still lost,” Johnson would say after the game. “A hell of a way to get into the record books.”
According to Johnson’s family, he had been bedridden with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases for two years. He died after contracting a kidney infection.
We lived in southern California about the time I started becoming interested in sports. My older brother always had sports on the TV, which meant a steady stream of Padres, Chargers, and Lakers games playing in the background of my childhood. And though we moved to Kansas City right as I became old enough to start rooting for a baseball team on my own, one of the first Major League Baseball players I ever became aware of was Tony Gwynn. I’d say he qualifies as a good introduction to the professional game.
Seventeen-year-old Japanese pitcher, Eiji Sawamura, took the mound against a team of touring All-Star players from Major League Baseball on November 20, 1934. He came into the game in the fourth inning and pitched nine innings, striking out nine batters and giving up only one run. At one point, he successively struck out Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx. The only run came on a home run by Gehrig as the American team won, 1-0.
American team manager Connie Mack was so impressed by the young man’s performance that he tried to sign him to a contract. Sawamura declined, however, as anti-American sentiment was strong in Japan at that time.
Here’s a fun first pitch — this Cirque du Soleil performer threw out the first pitch at a Padres game in 2011. This would be an interesting way to throw off the hitter’s timing. Or, in my case, I’d be so busy watching the guy’s acrobatics that I’d forget about the ball entirely.