Hometown: Akashi City, Hyogo
Date of Birth: July 28, 1934
Height: 183 cm (6’0”)
Weight: 73 kg (161 lb)
Wore #: 49 (1953), 6 (1954-56), 14 (1957), 47 (1958-73), 71 (1974-75), 81 (1982-83, 98), 87 (1990-91), 82 (1993-94)
First Signed by: Osaka Tigers, 1953
Made Tigers Debut on: August 26, 1953
Made Final Mound Appearance on: October 3, 1973
Coaching Career: Taiyo Whales (1973 – player/pitching coach); Hanshin Tigers (1974-75, 1982-83, 1998 – pitching coach); Seibu Lions (1990-91 – pitching coach); Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (1993 – head coach, 1994 – head & pitching coach)
Career Achievements/Awards: Eiji Sawamura Award (1962); Best Winning Percentage (1962); Most Wins (1964); Most Strikeouts (1962); Most Shutouts in a Season (1962: 13); Baseball Hall of Fame (2001)
Masaaki Koyama was born on July 28, 1934 in Akashi City, Hyogo. Though his father wanted him to go on to university, Masaaki convinced him to allow him to take the entrance test for the Osaka Tigers. After taking the test but not getting an answer from the club, he went uninvited to try out for the Taiyo Whales / Matsutake Robins team that was set to merge into one club. Because of the vast number of players in attendance, he did not make the cut.
He joined the Tigers on a ¥5,000 monthly salary (and no signing bonus) and did not fare very well at first. Somewhat lacking in the control department, he started to work furiously to keep up with other pitchers and get into the rotation. Eventually he did, racking up 5 wins in his rookie year and 11 the next season. During the spring of that second season (1954), he threw a no-hitter during the exhibition schedule. (He also later threw 5 one-hitters, including one that ended with 27 straight outs, and another that saw him lose a no-hitter with one out to go.) In his prime, from 1958 to 1960, he recorded a minimum of 20 wins in three straight seasons, and in 1962, he won the Eiji Sawamura Award for his outstanding pitching. (This made him the first of four different pitchers to win the award in the 1960s for Hanshin, including Gene Bacque – 1964, Minoru Murayama – 1965 & 66, and Yutaka Enatsu – 1968). His accomplishments that season included 5 straight complete game shutouts (and 13 on the year), and a club record of 47 consecutive scoreless innings. The record stood for 44 years until it was broken by Kyuji Fujikawa in 2006. When asked by manager Sadayoshi Fujimoto what his ideal pitching rotation looked like for 3-game series, he was famous for saying, “Koyama, Murayama, rain out.”
Word from within the clubhouse was that it was becoming increasingly difficult for the two aces to co-exist, and during the 1963 offseason, the Tigers, who were desperate for a power hitter, pulled off the “trade of the century”, sending Koyama to the Daimai (Tokyo/Lotte) Orions for infielder Hirokazu Yamauchi. Word is, the Tigers had cut off communication with Koyama following the club’s year-end party, so he visited the club chairman’s home to ask what was going on. “Their owner, Mr. Nagata, has been calling me day and night asking about your availability and I feel like I might cave in.” To which Koyama said, “If they want me that badly, I don’t mind being traded.” Koyama recalls the smug look of satisfaction on the face of the Hanshin chairman’s face upon hearing those words, and before he knew it, the trade took place. For their part, the Orions were so happy to have acquired Koyama that the owner offered him a race horse as a welcoming gift. Koyama said, “I have no space for a horse on my property,” (indicating he did not want to get involved in the horse racing world) so he was instead offered a car.
The move to a smaller ballpark did not phase Koyama as much as one might think. The palm ball he picked up while trying to figure out Sadaharu Oh came in handy. He led all of baseball with 30 wins in that first year, and followed it up with two more seasons of 20 wins. Koyama would pick up 16 wins in 1970, becoming the only pitcher ever to win more than 100 games in both leagues. He also helped the team win the pennant that year, thereby also playing on championship teams in both leagues.
Koyama would pick up his 300th career win (just the fourth man in Japanese baseball history to do so) in 1971. He did it in style, too – getting the game-winning RBIs and pitching a complete game. However, he would retire from the game following the 1972 season and join the Taiyo Whales as a pitching coach in 1973. That year, at the request of his manager, he returned to the mound, taking on the role of player-coach for part of the season. He would hang up the cleats for good after the 1973 season.
Coaching and managing became a big part of Koyama’s post-playing career. He spent several seasons in the dugout with the Hanshin Tigers (1974-75, 1982-83, 1998), the Seibu Lions (1990-91), and the Daiei Hawks (1993-94). In all the years in between, through 1997, he was employed by various TV stations as a color commentator. Currently, he makes occasional guest appearances on Sun-TV’s broadcasts of Hanshin Tigers games, and writes for the Daily Sports newspaper.
In 2012, one of Koyama’s classmates from Takasago High School, Tsutomu Seki, discovered a mini-planet and named it after his famous friend: Masaakikoyama. Koyama apparently commented that he had “just received a huge plot of land that I won’t ever be able to step on” and “I’ve never felt a connection with the universe until now so I’m kind of surprised. I’d like to see it someday.”