Former ace Choji Murata, a pioneer in Japanese baseball, passes away at 72
TOKYO — I read with sadness the news of Choji Murata’s passing, the former pitching great having died in a fire at his Tokyo house on Friday. He was 72. Murata was not only a Hall of Fame pitcher, who racked up a lifetime record of 215-177 and was known for a wicked forkball, he was also a trailblazer, going down in history for becoming the first Japanese player ever to undergo Tommy John surgery.
It was a bigger feat than you might imagine because at the time, there was a huge taboo against such operations in Japan. It was said at the time that once you had surgery on your pitching arm you were finished.
Murata was drafted out of a high school in Hiroshima, a 5’11” 170 pounder, by the Pacific League Lotte Orions, the least popular team in the country. The Orions played in the heavily polluted industrial city of Kawasaki, their home park, Kawasaki Stadium a chipped and weathered postwar structure — usually empty — with an outfield Lotte players compared to a vacant lot. It smelled of whiskey, urine and vomit.