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Life

Lessons from a Japanese baseball maverick

Yutaka Enatsu would have wowed America if he had played in the MLB

TOKYO -- The delayed opening of the Major League Baseball season in the U.S. in July has prompted much talk about the return of Japanese pitcher Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels star whose 160 kph fastball is the quickest in Japanese baseball history. Ohtani, who suffered an arm injury last season, disappointed in his first two games and is now out of action as a pitcher for six weeks. Many fans may not be aware, however, of Yutaka Enatsu, a Japanese sporting legend who was better than Ohtani but is as famous in Japan for his notorious lifestyle -- and its dramatic culmination -- as for his baseball feats.

Enatsu was a starting pitcher for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan's Central League from 1967 to 1975, before arm trouble forced him into a closer's role, in which he lasted another nine years. At 1.8 meters and 77 kg he was not a big man, but he could throw a fastball at nearly 160 kph and a curveball at more than 140 kph. He set many records that still stand in Japan, including 401 strikeouts in one year (surpassing Sandy Koufax's MLB record), and 41 consecutive scoreless innings pitched as a starter. By any measure used to rate pitchers -- including strikeout ratios and runs allowed -- Enatsu was superior to Ohtani.

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