The Baltimore Orioles’ 1971 Japan Trip

This article was written by Steven Glassman

This article was published in the The National Pastime: A Bird’s-Eye View of Baltimore (2020)


Promotional poster touting the Orioles’ tour of Japan in 1971. (LELANDS.COM)On January 1, 1971, the chairman of the board of the Baltimore Orioles, Jerold C. Hoffberger, with the approval of Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn, accepted an invitation from Yomiuri Shimbum President Mitsuo Mutai to play an 18-game, 25-day schedule versus Japanese Central and Pacific League teams in October 1971.

Ten games would be versus the team owned by the Yomiuri Shimbum newspaper, the Giants, then reigning champions of the Nippon Series (Japan’s equivalent of the World Series, a postseason interleague championship). The Giants had just won their sixth straight championship, defeating the Lotte Orions in five games. Other teams participating were the Chunichi Dragons, Hankyu Braves, Hiroshima Carp, Nankai Hawks, and Nishitetsu Lions. The Orioles would travel to the following cities and locales: Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kita Koriyama, Kyoto, Kyushu, Matsuyama, Nagoya, Niigata, Nishinomiya, Sendai, Osaka, Tokyo, and Toyama.

The first game was scheduled for October 23. According to the Baltimore Sun, “Sixty members of the Oriole organization have been invited to make the trip, including the wives of the players and front office executives. All expenses of the tour will be defrayed by the Yomiuri Shimbum.”1

“We are extremely honored to invite the champion baseball team of the United States,” said Mutai in making the announcement. “We look forward to having all of their great stars playing here in Japan.”2 Of course, at the time of the tour’s announcement, the 1971 season was yet to be played.

The Orioles finished the 1971 season with 101-61 record, won their third consecutive American League East title, and fourth pennant in six seasons. However, they lost their second World Series in three years when the Pirates won in seven games.3 The host Giants continued to dominate the Central League, finishing with 70–52–8 mark and winning the club’s seventh straight Nippon Series title in five games versus the Pacific League Champions Hankyu Braves.

The 73-member official travel party included the following: “[Commissioner] Kuhn, AL President Joe Cronin, Hoffberger, and Orioles’ Executive Vice President Frank Cashen, Umpire Jim Honochick, Manager Earl Weaver, two coaches, 24 Orioles players, Trainer Ralph Salvon, five additional Orioles’ officials, Major League Public Relations Director Joe Reichler, two newspapermen (Ken Nigro of the Baltimore Sun and Al Cartwright of the Wilmington News Journal), and many wives.”4 The 24 players were as follows: pitchers Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Tom Dukes, Dick Hall, Grant Jackson, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Pete Richert, and Eddie Watt; catchers Clay Dalrymple, Andy Etchebarren, and Elrod Hendricks; infielders Mark Belanger, Jerry DaVanon, Dave Johnson, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, and Chico Salmon; outfielders Paul Blair, Don Buford, Curt Motton, Merv Rettenmund, Frank Robinson, and Tom Shopay.5 The travel party flew on a Japan Airlines DC-8 from Friendship Airport and arrived in Tokyo on October 21.

 

The Baltimore Orioles visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial as part of their tour of Japan. (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)
The Baltimore Orioles visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial as part of their tour of Japan. (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)

 

Game 1: Giants at Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo (October 23)

The Orioles won the first game in front of 30,000 attendees. Japanese baseball officials, Kuhn, and Hoffberger spoke before the contest. In the second inning, Brooks Robinson opened the scoring with a home run and the remaining four runs in the inning came from four Giant errors. Palmer pitched the first six innings, allowing three runs on home runs by Shozo Doi and Koji Ano. Dukes threw the last three innings, allowing one run in the seventh, and got credit for the save. Buford got three hits and Blair and Powell (who also homered) contributed two apiece.

Game 2: Giants at Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo (October 24)

Frank Robinson and Hendricks hit third inning home runs off of Tsuneo Horiuchi which gave the Orioles a 3–0 lead. Cuellar started the game and got credit for the win in the 8–2 victory in front of 49,000.

The Orioles-Giants game in Sapporo on October 26 was postponed due to rain and was rescheduled to be played in Tokyo on November 18. McNally, the scheduled starter, was scratched for the October 27 game due to left elbow soreness and Dobson would start in his place. “McNally’s arm started hurting again the last two times he pitched in the World Series,” said manager Earl Weaver.6

Game 3: Giants at Miyagi Stadium in Sendai (October 27)

Pitching on the all-dirt infield of Miyagi Stadium, Dobson allowed one run, three hits, and struck out eight in the complete game effort as the Orioles won 10–1 in front 25,000. The Orioles offense was led by Belanger (two triples and four RBIs), Blair (two singles and a double), and Buford (second consecutive game with a home run).

Game 4: Giants in Koriyama (October 28)

It looked like the Giants might get the first hometown win of the tour, when the Giants scored three runs off of the starter Palmer in the first four innings. Jackson, Hall, and Richert blanked the Giants for the rest of the game, but Giants starter Horiuchi held the Orioles to only two runs. He also got the first two outs in the top of the ninth with a 3–2 lead. However, Etchebarren tied the game at three with a home run. The game finished 3–3 after 10 innings.

Game 5: Giants/Nankai Hawks at Koshien Stadium (October 31)

This game was originally scheduled for October 30 and was to be aired on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, but was delayed a day by rain. The opponent that day would be the Nankai Hawks, except the Orioles actually faced a combined squad. In all the games against teams other than the Giants, some Giants players — especially legendary Giants slugger Sadaharu Oh — were placed into the host team’s lineup. The move bolstered both the lineups of the teams and the publicity efforts of Yomiuri. The Giants wore their own uniforms and each team was managed by the host team’s manager.7

Cuellar threw a complete game, allowing one first inning run, five singles, and struck out 12 in a 4–1 win in front of 55,000. “I had good control,” he said later, “and my fast ball was jumping.”8 The Orioles scored its runs on an error, Powell single, Frank Robinson double, and a Blair home run. Dalrymple “was given permission to return home to Philadelphia to visit his wife, who [was] critically ill.”9

Game 6: Giants/Nankai Hawks in Osaka (November 1)

McNally’s tour debut was his first start since October 16 — Game Six of the World Series versus the Pirates. His elbow had kept him sidelined.10 He allowed four singles in seven innings and combined with Richert and Watt for the five-hit shutout. Brooks Robinson and Johnson hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth for the game’s only runs in a 2–0 win.

Game 7: Giants in Toyama (November 2)

Dobson became the first American pitcher on the Japan Tour to no-hit an opponent. He struck out seven, walked three, and threw 115 pitches. The 18,000 in attendance gave him a standing ovation after he got Isao Shibata to ground out to Powell to complete the no-hitter. “It’s funny but I had a bad cold and didn’t get much sleep the night before,” Dobson said later. “I’ve also had some tendonitis of the shoulder and I didn’t think I had a thing warming up.11 “I didn’t pitch any differently than during the season (when he won 20 games),” The Sun reported him as saying. “But I did have a good fast ball today and I really don’t think the Japanese can handle a good fast one.”12 Powell’s fourth inning, two-run home run off of Horiuchi accounted for the games’ only runs. This game was also broadcast on WFBR-AM (1300) radio in Maryland.

Game 8: Japan All-Stars in Tokyo (November 3)

Palmer pitched a complete game in the 7-0 win, allowing three singles, five walks, and striking out 10 in front of a crowd of 45,000. Brooks Robinson and Hendricks contributed home runs. Palmer struck out Shigeo Nagashima and got Sadaharu Oh to pop out to Powell after allowing two baserunners to reach with one out. In the ninth, “Blair’s long running catch of slugger Koichi Tabuchi’s drive preserved the shutout.”13 “I probably had one of the better games of the year…I had a good fast ball and curves to go with it.”14

Game 9: Giants in Niigata (November 5)

This was one of the more competitive contests of the tour. The Orioles’ scoreless pitching streak ended in the second inning when the Giants took the lead with two second-inning runs on a Tamito Suetsugu double and Ano bunted off of Cuellar. They added another run in the third, but Buford’s three-run home run in the fifth gave the Orioles a 4–3 lead. The Giants tied the game in the eighth off of Dukes when Suetsugu doubled and Ano singled. Richert replaced Dukes, retired his first hitter, but his throwing error to second allowing the tying run to score. The game ended as a 4-4 tie.

Game 10: Giants in Tokyo at Korakuen Stadium (November 6)

The Giants’ bats finally woke up on their home grounds. The teams put on a hitting display for the crowd of 20,000, combining for 18 runs on 29 hits (including eight home runs). Jackson started in place of McNally. The Giants led 5–0 after six innings. The Orioles tied the game in the seventh on RBI singles by Buford and Salmon and a three-run Belanger home run. The Giants retook the lead in the seventh and Powell’s three-run home run gave the Orioles an 8–6 lead in the eighth. The Giants tied the game again in the eighth for the second time. Blair’s home run in the 10th gave the Orioles a 9–8 lead. However, Shibata’s two-out, two-strike home run off of Dukes tied the game for the third time, and final time. “I might have had it on a clear day,” said the 5-foot-9 Shopay. “But it was so dark I had trouble following the ball.”15 The game ended in a 9–9, 10-inning tie due to rain and darkness.

Game 11: Giants in Tokyo (November 7)

The Orioles scored five runs in the first on a three-run home run by Frank Robinson and solo home runs by Brooks Robinson and Etchebarren, en route to a 7–0 win in five rain-shortened innings. Dobson pitched the complete game, allowing two hits.

Game 12: Giants/Hankyu Braves in Kyoto (November 9)

The Orioles lost the first game of the tour, 8–2. The Giants/Braves hit three home runs off of losing pitcher Palmer in four innings. Although the Orioles tied the game at one in the second, on consecutive Brooks Robinson and Johnson doubles, the Giants/Braves scored six straight runs over the next four innings. Altogether the Giants/Braves hit four home runs led by legendary Japanese slugger Oh (plus Nagashima, Tokaji Nagaike, and Yutaka Fukumoto). Powell hit a home run in the sixth. Hisashi Yamada pitched a complete game, allowing seven hits. Richert took a ground ball to the face and left the game with a bruised right eye.

Game 13: Giants/Hiroshima Carp in Hiroshima (November 10)

The Orioles visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum before playing the Giants/Carp. The museum displayed pictures and artifacts from when Hiroshima was hit with an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. “Something like this doesn’t give you much of a stomach to play baseball,” said utility infielder Jerry DaVanon.16 Buford broke a scoreless tie in the fifth with a two-run home run. He also scored another run and stole a pair of bases. Powell contributed an eighth inning RBI. Cuellar allowed two runs in 8 1/3 innings. Dukes got a game-ending ground ball double play, and the Orioles won, 4–2.

Game 14: Giants in Matsuyama (November 11)

Paul Blair was the difference-maker in this game. Jackson and Horiuchi matched zeros for the first nine innings. Watt came in relief in the tenth and got defensive help when Koji Ano’s potential game-winning home run was taken away by Blair. Hendricks’ RBI double in the 11th broke the scoreless tie and Blair scored on a Horiuchi wild pitch.

Game 15: Giants/Nishitetsu Lions in Fukuoka (November 13)

The Orioles led 8–4 on solo home runs by Hendricks and Frank Robinson and a two-run contribution by Belanger. However, Yukinobu Kuroe hit a three-run home run versus Dukes in the fifth and the Giants/Lions tied the game in the eighth. Hendricks’ RBI single, his fourth hit of the game, in the tenth gave the Orioles the lead. However, Oh’s two-run home run tied the game and the contest was called a tie after the inning was over. Both teams combined for six home runs in front of 24,000.

Game 16: Giants at Kitakyushu (November 14)

The Giants scored four in the third and led 5-0. However, the Orioles scored three in the fourth and Frank Robinson’s home run tied the game in the fifth. Etchebarren’s two-run home run gave the Orioles a lead in the sixth. The Giants tied the game again in the seventh. Palmer allowed seven runs in seven innings on five hits and nine walks. The Orioles also committed four errors. Buford scored the go-ahead run run in the ninth on a Shopay sacrifice fly, and the Orioles eked out a 7–5 win.

Game 17: Giants/Chunichi Dragons at Nagoya (November 16)

The Giants/Dragons opened the scoring on a Brooks Robinson fielding error in the second that led to two runs. They scored four runs on six straight hits and opened up a 7–1 lead in the sixth off of Jackson. Jackson allowed seven runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings. Instead of using one of the Orioles’ relief pitchers, Weaver called on infielder DaVanon to pitch.17 “Our other pitchers are all tired,” he explained. “If it was a close game I wouldn’t have used him.”18 He allowed a two-run home run to Tatsuhiko Kimata in the seventh after an Oh walk. All told DaVanon allowed two runs on three hits in 2 1/3 innings. Mitsuo Inaba and Hisatoshi Ito combined to allow four Oriole hits. Powell’s fourth inning home run was the Orioles’ only run of the game.

The Japanese media, including the tour’s sponsor Yomiuri Shimbum, criticized Weaver for using a position player instead of one of his pitchers in the 9–1 loss. Weaver stood by his decision. “‘We’re out of gas,’ added Weaver who always has had a reputation of hating to lose anytime, anywhere. ‘I’m sorry the Japanese feel the way they do but there is nothing we can do about it. If they don’t like it…well, they can lump it.’”19

The final game of the Tour was postponed due to rain on November 18 and rescheduled for November 20.

Game 18: Giants in Tokyo (November 20)

Dukes and Hall combined on a four-hit 5–0 shutout in the final game of the Tour in front of 17,880. Johnson hit a two-run home run and Hendricks finished off the scoring with a solo home run in the ninth.

The Orioles finished 12–2–4 on the Japan Tour, traveling over 20,000 miles during the 18-game, 31-day schedule in 14 different cities. They traveled by airplane, bus, ferry, hydrofoil, and train. Approximately 450,000 total spectators attended the games, an average of 25,000 per game.

Hendricks led Orioles hitters with a .400 batting average (16-for-40). Powell batted .397 (23-for-58) and led the squad with six home runs and 14 RBIs. Shopay was the team’s other hitter over .300 with a .375 batting average (6-for-16). Brooks Robinson’s five home runs were second to Powell. Buford and Frank Robinson were second to Powell with 11 RBIs each.

Cuellar shared the wins lead with Dobson, going 3–0 each. Cuellar also paced the Orioles in innings pitched (31 2/3) and ERA (2.27) and did not allow a home run. Palmer went 2–1 in five starts, including a shutout. McNally won his only start. Altogether, the Orioles’ four 1971 20-game winners went 9–1.

Meanwhile, Suetsugu led the Giants with a .319 batting average (15-for-47). Nagashima batted .268 (16-for-62) with a team-leading eight RBIs. Oh batted 0.111 (six-for-54), but three of his hits were home runs. Horiuchi appeared in six games, throwing 47 innings, allowing 44 hits, striking out 27, and compiling a 3.64 ERA.

Ultimately, the Orioles played 213 games in 260 days between March 6 and November 20, 1971.20 “The Orioles created a very good impression,” The Sporting News reported a Yomiuri executive as saying. “They played seriously…to win and that’s one of the reasons so many people came out.’”21 The Orioles for their part were pleased with the trip, too. “They treated us like kings, and the way things were organized couldn’t have been better, even though they kept us pretty busy,” McNally told the Baltimore Sun. “You can’t be treated any nicer than they treated us. But as great as it was, it’s always great to get home.’”22

The Orioles would return to Japan in 1984, playing from October 27 through November 14, compiling an 8-5-1 record.23

STEVEN M. GLASSMAN has been a SABR member since 1994 and is a frequent contributor to “The National Pastime.” His article in this volume is his sixth. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sport and Recreation Management from Temple University and currently lives in Warminster, Pennsylvania.

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to SABR members Yoshihiro Koda, Inohiza Takeyuki, and Robert Fitts for research assistance.

 

Notes

1 “Orioles to Tour Japan in Fall,” Baltimore Sun, January 1, 1971.

2 “Orioles to Tour Japan in Fall.”

3 Including the 1971 Orioles, none of the other major league teams who traveled to Japan won the World Series the season they were invited. The 1968 St. Louis Cardinals (lost in seven to the Tigers) and 1955 New York Yankees (lost in seven to the Dodgers) came the closest.

4 Bob Brown, Phil Itzoe, and Fran Moulden, eds. 1972 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 25. Public Relations Director Bob Brown, Promotions Director Walter Freeman, and Director of Scouting Walter Shannon were three of the five Orioles’ staffers who went on the trip. It is not known who the other two were.

5 We do not know the names of the two coaches who were part of the official travel party. Pitching coach George Bamberger was at home for the remaining eight Orioles postseason games and the Japan tour due to a heart attack, per Joe Elliot, “Orioles’ Bamberger at home, feels ‘perfect’,” Baltimore Sun, October 26, 1971.

6 Ken Nigro, “Birds get rain, even in Japan,” Baltimore Sun, October 27, 1971.

7 Yoshihiro Koda, email correspondence, July 14, 2020.

8 Ken Nigro, “Orioles’ Cuellar throttles Japan All-Stars, 4-1,” Baltimore Sun, November 1, 1971.

9 Ken Nigro, “Orioles’ Cuellar throttles Japan All-Stars, 4-1.”

10 McNally spent 27 days on the disabled list in 1971 due to his elbow. This was also his only appearance in Japan.

11 Ken Nigro, “’Not so hot’ Dobson no-hit Giants as Orioles win, 2-0,” Baltimore Sun, November 3, 1971.

12 Ken Nigro, “’Not so hot’ Dobson no-hit Giants as Orioles win, 2-0.”

13 “Palmer Three Hitter Beats Japan All-Stars,” Cumberland News, November 4, 1971.

14 “Palmer Three Hitter Beats Japan All-Stars.”

15 Ken Nigro, “Orioles settle for tie,” Baltimore Sun, November 7, 1971.

16 Ken Nigro, “Birds sobered by visit to Hiroshima Museum,” Baltimore Sun, November 11, 1971.

17 This was DaVanon’s pitching debut. He never pitched in the major leagues.

18 Ken Nigro, “Orioles lose 9-1, near end of sojourn,” Baltimore Sun, November 17, 1971.

19 Ken Nigro, “Japanese rip use of DaVanon,” Baltimore Sun, November 18, 1971.

20 Lou Hatter, “After 8 ½ long months, the Birds are finished,” Baltimore Sun, November 23, 1971. The breakdown is as follows: 27 Spring Training, 158 regular season, three American League Championship Series, seven World Series, and 18 Japan Tour games.

21 Ken Nigro, “Japanese Caliber Better in Orioles’ Estimation,” Sporting News, December 25, 1971: 31-32.

22 Lou Hatter, “After 8 ½ long months, the Birds are finished.”

23 Bob Brown, Rick Vaughn, Dr. Charles Steinberg, and Helen Conklin, eds. Orioles Media Guide ’85: 44-46.

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