Hometown: Amagasaki, Hyogo
Date of Birth: May 15, 1948
Height: 179 cm (5’11”)
Weight: 90 kg (198 lb)
Wore #: 28 (with Tigers), 17 (with Hawks), 26 (with Carp & Fighters), 18 (with Lions)
Drafted by: Hanshin Tigers, 1966 Draft (Round 1)
Made Tigers Debut on: April 13, 1967
Played Final Professional Game on: July 12, 1984
Career Achievements/Awards: Sawamura Award (1968); All-CL Team (1968); Outstanding Pitcher (1968); All-Star Game MVP (1970 Game 2, 1971 Game 1, 1980 Game 3); Player of the Month (August 1979); Fireman Award (1981, 1982); League MVP (1979, 1981); Most Wins (1968, 1973); Top ERA (1969); Most Strikeouts (1967-1972); Outstanding Reliever (1977, 1979-82); No Hitter (August 30, 1972); All-Star Game (1967-76, 1978-83); Most Strikeouts, Single Season (401 in 1968).
Enatsu was born in Nara Prefecture, but after his parents divorced and his father abandoned them, the family moved back to his mother’s home prefecture, Kagoshima. After five years there, they moved back to the Kansai area, settling in Amagasaki City (Hyogo Prefecture). While playing sandlot baseball with his older brother and others, he was supposedly forced to throw left-handed despite being a natural righty.
Rejected by his baseball playing peers in middle school, Enatsu went on to play other sports (sumo wrestling, rugby, volleyball) before turning into a track star and an all-Prefecture shot put athlete. He went back to baseball in high school, where in his third year, he led his school (Osaka Gakuin University High School) to the semifinals of the prefectural preliminary tournament. Despite having given up just three runs in seven games of the tournament, his team lost 0-1, ending his hopes of playing in the all-Japan championship tournament.
Four teams (Hanshin, Yomiuri, Toei = Nippon Ham, Hankyu = Orix) wanted him as their first round choice in the 1966 draft, and Hanshin was the lucky team to win the lottery pick. He went into his rookie season determined to learn how to throw a curve ball, however, he was unable to accomplish this goal. Still, he reached double digits in wins (12) while striking out a league high 225. Unfortunately, the team behind him was not very strong at the plate, and he also recorded an astounding 13 losses.
In the spring of 1968, Enatsu finally met a coach who was able to teach him a curveball that could complement his fastball. The new pitched combined with Enatsu’s thorough observation and mimicking of de facto Hanshin ace Minoru Murayama, to create an ace for the ages. On September 17, 1968, Enatsu established a new Japanese record for most single season strikeouts (354). Facing the Yomiuri Giants, Enatsu proclaimed before the game that he would get the record-breaking strikeout against slugger Sadaharu Oh. He recorded strikeout 353 against Oh, thinking that he had broken the record, but when he returned to the dugout and was told that he had only tied the record, he purposely recorded the next 8 outs on contact, so he could face Oh for the record breaker. He did it, and also knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the twelfth inning.
Word is that Murayama once sat the younger Enatsu down and said, “Your rival is that guy (Oh) and mine is that guy there (Nagashima).” True to form, Enatsu worked hard to get the better of the home run king every time the two faced each other. Incidentally, the pitcher with the greatest strikeout total on Oh was Enatsu (57 K’s), but the hitter with the most home runs against Enatsu was his chief rival, Oh (20 HRs).
Enatsu would end the season with a world-record 401 strikeouts, which is higher than the MLB mark held by Nolan Ryan (383 K’s in 1973). He would go on to set another strikeout record over the next three seasons, though the nature of the record is rather peculiar. In the 1970 All-Star Game, Enatsu would complete his appearance with five straight strikeouts. The next season, throwing the maximum 3 innings permitted by league rules, he struck out all 9 batters he faced (in a game in which the Central League pitchers would combine for a no-hitter), and in the 1972 All-Star game, he started his appearance with another strikeout, giving him 15 consecutive strikeouts in all-star play.
When the Black Mist Scandal hit Japanese professional baseball in 1969, several key players and managers were suspended or banned from the game. Towards the tail end of this scandal, Enatsu was discovered to have been in contact with members of the Japanese mafia (yakuza) who were key figures in the scandal. Enatsu received a letter of stern warning from the league office, but was not suspended for his involvement.
The most impressive performance of Enatsu’s Hanshin career came on August 30, 1973. Facing the Chunichi Dragons at Koshien Stadium, the lefty hurled 11 innings of no-hit ball, and in the bottom of that inning, hit a walk-off home run on the first pitch he faced. He was the 59th pitcher in league history to throw a no-no, but the first (and still only) to do it into extra innings. Ending the game with his own bat, a jubilant Enatsu is often quoted as having said, “I guess one man can win a baseball game by himself” during the postgame interview. The truth is, reporters kind of prompted him with a question containing those words, and he simply smiled and nodded in agreement.
That season marked the final year in the Giants’ 9-year run as Central League champions – which started before Enatsu’s career had begun. In the final game of that season (against the Giants), with the pennant on the line, Enatsu threw 5 innings and allowed 3 runs, eventually becoming the losing pitcher. (Enatsu later wrote that he was told by team ownership that winning pennants was too expensive and they hinted to him that the team should intentionally lose the final two games of the season.) He was targeted as one of the reasons the Tigers did not win the pennant, and started him on his way out of town.
He had issues with manager Kaneda, but things got even worse when the team hired Yoshio Yoshida as his replacement. The two would not even communicate without an intermediary. This rift went public, and Enatsu was labeled a lone wolf, earning him criticism from the front office and fans alike. That coupled with his deteriorating health (a result of poor conditioning and misuse) meant his numbers continued to spiral downward, and eventually led to his being traded to the Nankai (now SoftBank) Hawks before the 1976 season.
Already insulted by the level of the players he was traded for, Enatsu’s ego took a further blow a season later when player-manager Katsuya Nomura (whose baseball philosophy had convinced Enatsu to accept the trade) proposed converting from a starter to a reliever. His health did not permit him to very much beyond 50 pitches, but the reliever position was not established or even respected in those days. Still, Nomura proposed that they “revolutionize” the sport together, and Enatsu reluctantly accepted midway through the 1977 season. He went on to save 19 games and became a pioneer of the reliever position.
When his manager and mentor Nomura was laid off at the end of that season, Enatsu requested a trade out of town. The team obliged him, making a financial deal with the Hiroshima Carp. He continued to thrive in the reliever’s role, using his shrewd knowledge of the game and opponents’ batters to fool them with his frequent changes of speed, timing and throwing form. He was a huge part of the Carp’s back-to-back Nippon Series wins in 1979 and 1980, and became the first reliever in Japanese baseball history to win League MVP in 1979. The final game of that season’s Nippon Series has gone down in history as one of the greatest baseball scenes in history (and has been documented in a non-fiction short film called Enatsu’s 21 Pitches). With a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth, Enatsu loaded the bases with nobody out. He got the first batter, then perfectly read the squeeze play attempt to get the second runner before striking out the man at the plate to preserve the lead and earn the team its first of the two titles.
Despite his contributions to the team’s success, his relationships with his manager and the front office were not great, which in part led to his trade to the Nippon Ham Fighters in the offseason. He joined the Tokyo-based Pacific League team in 1981 and immediately helped them win their first Nippon Series in 19 years. He was named league MVP that year, becoming the first player ever to win the honor in both the Central and Pacific Leagues. He won 5 straight saves titles (from 1979 through 1983) and earned saves from all 12 NPB teams.
Enatsu helped lead the Fighters back to the playoffs against the previous Pacific League champion Seibu Lions, but because of his prior success against them, the former’s manager Tatsuro Hirooka thoroughly studied film on the closer, finding that his fielders behind him struggled to field what was hit their way. Through a few bunts here and there, the Lions were able to throw off Enatsu’s rhythm and topple the Fighters in the playoffs.
At the end of the 1983 season, the Fighters’ manager stepped down and recommended that Enatsu start over with another team. Asked which team he’d like to pitch for, he said either the Tigers or the Carp, anyone who could topple the Giants. Management proceeded to send him to the Seibu Lions, for whom he did not want to play. However, since the Giants were eager to pick him up if he did not sign with the Lions, that team quickly worked out a deal to keep him on.
Unfortunately, his condition continued to deteriorate through the 1984 season, and when he struggled to perform well, manager Hirooka placed him on the disabled list. The final time this occurred, Enatsu heard about his demotion not from the team, but through the media, prompting him to call the manager untrustworthy and unable to communicate with his players. Enatsu pitched for the last time on July 12 of that season, and while the Lions were in the hunt for the pennant, they chose to center their attack around their younger players.
Enatsu would retire from Japanese baseball, but attempted to prolong his career in the major leagues of all places. During this era, many Americans would spend the twilight years of their careers in Japan, but Enatsu was attempting to become the first Japanese player to do the opposite. He pitched well enough in spring training and the exhibition season to make the final cuts, but at the very end of the pre-season, fell into a slump and did not make the Opening Day roster. While he was offered a minor league contract, he was, in essence, being released. At age 36, Enatsu was not prepared to work his way up from the minors, and called it a career. Click here for a full article about his time in America.
In 1993, Enatsu was found to be in possession of stimulant drugs. He admitted to his guilt and served 2 years and 4 months of penal labor. He has since remained clear of any federal offenses and can be heard on various baseball broadcasts, giving a clear explanation of the game’s finer points. He has also been called upon as a short-term pitching coach for the Hanshin Tigers (paying close attention to lefties like himself) at spring training in 2015 and 2016.