If baseball pioneer Larry Raines were still alive today, he would be celebrating his 84th birthday. Sadly, his life ended far too soon at the age of 47. His career was not long, but it was exciting, historic and truly international.
Ten teams in MLB had not debuted their first black player when Raines began to play shortstop for the Hankyu Braves in Nishinomiya. While Raines became a star and set records in Japan during the 1953 and 1954 seasons, the color barrier was broken back home by Carlos Bernier of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Robert Trice of the Philadelphia Athletics, Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs, and Jehosie Heard of the Baltimore Orioles along with Carlos Paula of the Washington Senators, Thomas Alston of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon who arrived on the same day with the Cincinnati Reds.
Larry Raines was not the first black player in Japan, but he was the first talent to play in NPB before a career in Major League Baseball. He returned in 1955 from his first stint in the Pacific League. MLB would remain segregated until 1959.
Scoreboard for March 9, 2014
Giants 3 Tigers 2
The Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants continued their storied rivalry at Koshien Stadium. The game began with a walk to Hayato Sakamoto and eventually the Tigers would explore all the possible ways to issue free passes. 5 bases on balls and 2 batters hit by pitches were topped off with just the sort of shenanigans one hopes to only see in spring. In his sole plate appearance, Takahiro Suzuki swung at strike three before ending up at second base on a wild pitch. The lone highlight for Hanshin was a pinch hit triple by Ryutaro Umeno that scored Ryota Imanari in the 8th inning. Representing the tying run, Umeno was left stranded at third base. It was just one of those days.
Hawks 3 Bay Stars 3
Almost 17,000 fans flocked to Yokohama Stadium to see the hometown DeNA Bay Stars take on the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Yasutomo Kubo had a tidy outing for Yokohama scattering 4 singles and striking out 5 over 4 innings of work. It was a scoreless affair for 5 frames until Hiroyuki Shirasaki smacked a 3 run jack in the 6th inning to give the local boys a 3-0 lead. The Hawks responded in the top of the 7th with 2 runs and tied it up on a double by Akira Nakamura in the 9th. After the 27th out was recorded, the score was knotted up at 3-3, but there would be no bonus baseball. Sisters were kissed and the crowd went home knowing that at least there weren’t any losers.
Marines 1 Lions 0
The Chiba Lotte Marines hosted the Saitama Seibu Lions at QVC Field. In contrast to some of the sloppier exhibition contests on the schedule, this game featured impressive results from a quintet of Marines arms. Ayumu Ishikawa was imperfect issuing 3 walks to go along with 3 strike outs, but even a wild pitch couldn’t hurt him over 5 scoreless innings. Yuhei Nakaushiro, Hiroki Ueno and Carlos Rosa didn’t give up a knock over the next three frames while combining for 5 whiffs and a walk. Naoya Masuda gave up the third Lions hit of the day to begin the 9th, but shut the door for a springtime save. Yuta Yoshida knocked in the only run of the game with a single in the 7th inning. It would be enough for the win.
Fighters 3 Buffaloes 2
Over 10,000 people turned out for the ballgame at Himeji Stadium between the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and the Orix Buffaloes. Dai-Kang Yang led off with a single and came around to put the Fighters on the scoreboard. It was quiet until the 5th inning when Atsushi Kita doubled and Yang brought him home with his third knock of the day. The Hokkaido lead was intact until the bottom of the 6th when a pinch hit double from Naotaka Takehara scored a pair to draw the Buffaloes even. Unfortunately, 4 walks were issued by the herd in the 8th inning with predictable results. Kenshi Sugiya slowly circled the bases and wandered the last 90 feet home when it was clear there was no more room for him on the diamond.
Eagles 4 Dragons 3
Muscat Stadium in Kurashiki hosted another contest between the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Chunichi Dragons. Nearly 12,000 fans enjoyed an afternoon of baseball. 4 consecutive singles in the 2nd inning put the Eagles ahead 2-0 and ageless Kaz Matsui knocked in the second run. The Dragons bounced back in the 4th frame with 3 runs on 3 singles and a walk. The 3-2 lead for Chunichi was short lived and the Eagles capitalized on an error to tie the game in the 5th inning. In the bottom of the 9th, a sayonara single by Takero Okajima brought Tetsuro Nishida home to end the ballgame. Action was streamed live by the Chunichi Dragons and archived for fans.
Carp 8 Swallows 6
The Tokyo Yakult Swallows faced the Hiroshima Toyo Carp at the Zoom. More than 17,000 in attendance witnessed a see-saw affair. It all began with a pair of runs for the Carp in the bottom of the 1st inning. The 2-0 lead for the local nine was short lived and the Swallows threatened to turn the game into a blowout. Tokyo scored 6 runs in the top of the 2nd inning. Shingo Kawabata knocked in a pair with a single, Lastings Milledge brought home another duo with a double, Hiroyasu Tanaka singled in a run and Naomichi Nishiura drew an RBI walk. Finding themselves down 6-2 early, the Carp began to chip away at the lead. Steady progress cut it to a 6-4 deficit, then a two-run dinger by Kila Ka’aihue tied the game in the bottom of the 5th. The Carp added a run in both the 6th and 8th innings to take a 2 run lead. It was a rough day for Chris Narveson and Kenta Maeda. Both started for their respective clubs and gave up a half dozen earnies.