Too Young

Each year in Japan, the Eiji Sawamua Award is given to the best pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan’s highest baseball league), just like the Cy Young Award is given to the best pitchers in Major League Baseball.

Sawamura vaulted to national stardom in November 1934 when, as a 17-year-old, he pitched against a visiting team of Major League All-Stars and struck out, in succession, Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx—four players who combined for over 11,000 hits, over 7,500 runs scored, and over 1,900 home runs in their Major League careers. Sawamura lost the game 1-0 in a Lou Gehrig home run in the seventh inning, but his heroics made him a national idol.

He went on to pitch in the newly formed Japanese Baseball League and became its star, tossing the first no-hitter in the league’s history and winning the Most Valuable Player Award in 1937 after compiling a record of 24-4 with a 0.81 ERA.

Sawamura continued to dominate throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, but by that time, the world had changed. All-Star teams from the United States on exhibition tours were no longer welcome in Japan.

The fires of World War II had begun.

For its part, Japan was anxious to extend its empire by flexing its military might, and it needed young men to do so.

Having already served three tours of duty, Sawamura was killed in 1944 when the transport ship he was on was sunk by American warships. He was 27, just ten years removed from the November afternoon that made him a hero.

From Hussein to Hitler, to many years before, young men have always had to die in attempts to realize the ambitions of tyrants.

But it never gets easier to accept.

Sources for this post include Baseball-Reference and Wikipedia.


Jared Dockery 9/5/07, 1:02 PM  

On the subject of former-athletes-turned-Axis-soldiers-whom-we-admire....

Jesse Owens always claimed that Lutz Long (German long jumper who finished second to him in 1936) gave him advice which allowed him to advance out of the preliminary rounds. Long was killed during the war.

Max Schmeling, when he wasn't pummeling Joe Louis, hid Jews and later served in the German armed forces.

Good post.

Luke Dockery 9/5/07, 11:17 PM  

Hmm, I think maybe I heard that about Max Schmeling (what an intimidating name that is), but didn't know about Lutz Long (not such an intimidating name).

I think the U.S. really took it pretty lightly when it came to famous athlete casualties—when researching for this post, I came across a long list of Japanese Major Leaguers who were killed.

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