Date of Birth: December 10, 1936
Date of Death: August 22, 1998
Height: 175 cm (5’9”)
Weight: 83 kg (183 lb)
Wore: #11 (number retired in 1973)
Originally Signed by: Osaka Tigers, 1958
Made Tigers Debut on: April 14, 1959
Retired as Player in: 1972
Manager Career: Hanshin Tigers (1969-72, 1988-89)
Career Achievements/Awards: Central League MVP (1962); Sawamura Award (1959, 1965, 1966); All-Central League Team (1962, 1965, 1966); Most Wins (1965, 1966); Best ERA (1959, 1962, 1970); Most Strikeouts (1965, 1966); Best Winning Percentage (1970); Best Career WHIP in NPB history; Best Career ERA in Central League history; Lowest Single-Season WHIP (1959 – 0.748); Lowest Single-Season ERA (1970 – 0.98); All-Star Team (1959-62, 1964-67, 1969); Inducted into Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame (1993)
Minoru Murayama was born on December 10, 1936 (Showa Year 11) in Kita Ward, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. He attended Sumitomo Junior High and Sumitomo Industrial High School (later known as Amagasaki Industrial High School) and hoped to enter Rikkyo University (Tokyo), an elite baseball school, but was rejected because of his height. He went on to play at Kansai University, where he was in the School of Commerce. (Rumor has it that academics were not his thing, but that since his career path was already decided, professors agreed that as long as he wrote his name on his final exams, they would let him graduate. He did just that and nothing more, sitting through exams with his arms crossed.) During his years at the school, he compiled a record of 20-10 with an ERA of 0.91 and 222 strikeouts in 42 league games. He led the team to four all-Kansai titles as well. In his sophomore season, he led the team to the all-Japan university tournament, where he pitched complete games in all his team’s games, and Kansai U became the first team in western Japan to win the all-Japan tournament.
Despite being offered a signing bonus four times as large as the Osaka Tigers (5 million yen to 20 million), Murayama bucked the Yomiuri Giants offer and signed with the local team. Part of the reason he did this is because Murayama was not confident that he would have a long career after injuring his shoulder badly during his junior year of university. He negotiated a deal with the Hanshin Railway company to give him a lifetime contract, thus ensuring him employment after his baseball career would end.
Murayama, who would later be known as “Mr. Tigers the Second,” made his first appearance on March 2, 1959, which was the final game played by the original Mr. Tigers, Fumio Fujimura. He pitched just two innings but surrendered just a single hit. He made his regular season debut on April 14 against the Kokutetsu (now Yakult) Swallows, who brought their ace (and three-time defending Sawamura Award winner) Masaichi Kaneda to the mound. Murayama had a no-hitter going through six innings and ended up with a 2-hit complete game shutout, getting the win. He threw a no-hitter on May 21 against the Giants, winning 3-2. Runs scored because of errors by his fielders. A month later, Murayama threw a pitch that would alter the course of his career.
On June 25, for the first time in baseball history, the emperor of Japan attended a baseball game. The Yomiuri Giants were hosting the Osaka Tigers at Korakuen Stadium. The game started at 7 pm and the Emperor was only able to stay at the game until 9:15. Sadaharu Oh tied the game at 4 in the bottom of the seventh, at which point the Tigers brought Murayama in relief of Masaaki Koyama. The score remained knotted until the bottom of the ninth. With extra innings looming and time running out before the Emperor had to leave, cleanup hitter Shigeru Nagashima stepped to the plate. On a two-and-two count, at 9:12pm, Nagashima smacked one over the left field wall right at the foul pole, giving the Giants a walk-off victory and the Emperor a chance to watch the game to the end. Murayama swore the ball was foul, and continued to believe so well after his retirement. The rivalry between Nagashima and Murayama would go down in history as one of the most legendary duels in NPB history.
Murayama would end the season with a 18-10 record and a 1.19 ERA. He took the Sawamura Award in his rookie year but did not win Rookie of the Year. He did, however, take the MVP in 1962 and the Sawamura Award in back-to-back season in 1965 and 66.
Despite helping lead the Tigers to pennants in 1962 (with Sawamura winner Koyama) and 1964 (with Sawamura winner Gene Bacque), the team was unable to defeat the Pacific League champions. Murayama pitched in all 6 games in in the 1962 Nippon Series, but lost two of them, mostly due to poor run support. He would also lose three games in the 1964 series, setting a record by losing 5 straight Nippon Series decisions.
In the 1962 offseason, in a Japan-America exhibition game, Murayama no-hit the Detroit Tigers through 7 ⅔ innings, ending the game with a 2-hit (0 walks, 9 strikeouts) complete game shutout. The opponent’s manager actually personally extended an invitation to Murayama to join them the following season, but the latter, who understood no English, replied, “Thank you, sir” but later hearing a translation of what was said to him, smiled awkwardly, clearly not ready to leave Japan.
Murayama continued to dominate through the mid-sixties, but was slowed down by injury in 1967 when he suffered a blood circulation disorder. By then, the Tigers had a young hurler named Yutaka Enatsu who would replace Murayama as the team’s ace. In the late 1960s, he continued as player-coach, taking the pitching coach role in 1969 and the manager’s role in 1970 (a year in which he recorded a microscopic 0.98 ERA) until early 1972. The pressures of the job got to him early that final season, and he surrendered the managerial position and focused entirely on pitching.
After years as a color commentator, Murayama was named as replacement for departing manager Yoshio Yoshida (who had led the team to its lone Nippon Series championship in 1985 but finished last in 1987) in 1988. His use of young players made him popular with the team and its fans, but despite this he stepped down after two unsuccessful seasons, in which the team finished in sixth and fifth. He dubbed his young infield trio (Hiroshi Yagi, Tsutomu Kameyama and Yutaka Wada) the “Shonentai” (少年隊 = Boys Brigade) and gave them special treatment, even throwing batting practice to them at spring training. He overdid it, though, and hurt himself, requiring hip replacementt surgery. During his final season as manager, in a game against the Yomiuri Giants at Koshien Stadium, Akinobu Okada hit a walk-off grand slam home run to left field (barely staying fair), giving the Tigers a 5-4 win. The final score and fashion in which the game ended mirrored the game in which Nagashima hit a home run off of him back in 1959 – thirty years later to the date.
Though this could be seen as his having exacted revenge against Nagashima and the Giants, Murayama took care of that himself years prior. With 1,499 career strikeouts and an upcoming start against the Tokyo rivals, Murayama boldly predicted that he would record the historic 1,500th strikeout against Nagashima himself. He patiently waited for Nagashima’s turn in the order, intentionally inducing contact to other hitters until he could whiff the Giants’ clean-up hitter on a fork ball, his bread-and-butter pitch. He would also repeat the feat for his 2,000th career K as well, earning it against his arch nemesis.
Murayama would return to his role as color commentator in 1990, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993. Just five years later, at age 61, he would die of rectal cancer on August 22, 1998.
Murayama was known as a fiery individual. He once got ejected from a game for arguing a ball three – the first time a player got ejected mid-at bat. Until then, NPB rules dictated that pitcher replacements could not occur during a player’s at bat. His throwing method was called the Zátopek Method, named after the famed Czech marathon runner whose grueling training regime was legendary. (For more about Zátopek, click here.) Murayama always looked as though each pitch was taking the life out of him, and he left his heart out on the field.
In fact, in his retirement game (an exhibition in March 1973, after he had formally called it quits), he struck out three Yomiuri Giants players in succession. Before taking the mound, he approached catcher Koichi Tabuchi and told him that his eyes were welling over with tears so he could not see any hand signals. He would throw just one pitch: the fork ball.
Murayama was highly respected for his pinpoint control and his fair approach to the game. In over 3,000 innings pitched, he threw just 16 wild pitches. He even had two seasons in which he did not throw a single wild pitch despite around 300 innings of action. Further, in all his duels with Nagashima (333 plate appearances), not once did he plunk the slugger. Said his rival, “He never once threw an unfair (dirty) pitch.”
The beloved Murayama was also the man after whom manga character Mitsuru Hanagata (of Kyojin no Hoshi) was modeled. Murayama himself even made a guest appearance in the manga.
In 2004, his alma mater high school constructed and erected a statue of its most famous graduate. It is life-sized and depicts his pitching form from the famous game in June 1959 which the Emperor attended. The school, which has since shut down, left the statue on its grounds, and now the statue sits outside the Hyogo Prefectural Amagasaki General Medical Center.