Saturday, May 23, 2009


I was reading an article on Japanese baseball a week or so ago and came across the name of one of Japan's 300-game winning pitchers. His name was Victor Starffin. I was not so surprised because many Japanese baseball accomplishments have been made by non-Japanese. I assumed that Starffin was an American I had never heard of.* Then I saw that Mr. Starffin won 26 games in 1942, 10 in 1943, and 6 in 1944. I realize that not everyone is very solid on history, but it is unlikely that Americans were voluntarily playing baseball in Japan from 1942 to 1944.

Turns out that Victor Starffin was . . . Russian. He hadn't apparently been to America at all. His family apparently fled the Russian Revolution and ended up on Hokkaido. He was signed by the Yomuri Giants predecessor team in 1936, and presumably got to play through World War II because he was not Japanese, and probably not eligible for the Imperial Army. Some of his best years were while the good players were off fighting, but he did win 27 games (and lead the league in wins) in 1949.

Starffin died in a car/train collision in 1957 and was elected to the Japanese baseball Hall of Fame in 1960. He's the first foreigner to have that honor bestowed upon him. It looks to me like at the moment he is one of only four non-Japanese citizens in the Hall of Fame and the only non-American. Bet you didn't know that.

* not very surprising. Remember Boomer Wells? He's an MVP in the Pacific League. So are Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera. See what I mean? Randy Bass won the Triple Crown in Japan. TWICE! For all the success Ichiro and Matsui have had in the U.S., Japan is still a place where some American scrubs (see, Rhodes, Tuffy) thrive.


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