In Memory of Joe Stanka, Jr.

This blogpost illustrates the small world phenomenon. Japan-based blogger White Peril recently posted about Japan’s latest, long-running consumer safety scandal.

Manufacturer Paloma Industries has produced on-demand water heaters (the usual type in housing here in Japan) that have been linked to several carbon monoxide poisonings over the years. You know the script for these things by now, don’t you?

We had a similar water-heater installed in our drafty apartment in south China in 1987-88, but we put the heater in the toilet behind a separate wall rather than in the room with the bath, partly because I remembered that a former fellow high schooler in Japan had died from gas poisoning in Kobe in 1965-66 (though it may not have been a water heater). His name was Joe Stanka, the son of Nankai Hawks pitcher Joe Stanka, a major reason my brother and I were ardent Hawks fans at the time. (I’m no longer a Hawks fan. My current Pacific League favorite is Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines.)

Joe Jr. was in my brother’s class. Here’s a poignant follow-up from the spring 2004 issue of the alumni magazine, Canadian Academy Review (PDF).

Foad Katirai ‘68 [Columbia ‘72] felt that he was meant to join this field trip [to the former site of Canadian Academy on Nagamine-dai hillside in Nada-ku, Kobe, Japan] as he came across something of special significance to his class. Upon entering Matsushita Gymnasium, Foad saw a plaque in memory of his classmate, Joseph Stanka Jr., still hanging on the wall above a trophy case. Joe, who died in a gas poisoning accident during their sophomore year [1965-66], was the son of Joe Stanka Sr., a pitcher for the Nankai Hawks, formerly of the Chicago White Sox. While at CA, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a pitcher for the [CA] Falcons. When the Matsushita Gymnasium opened in 1966, the trophy case was dedicated to him. Unfortunately, during the move to the new campus [on Rokko Island], the plaque was left behind. Upon its discovery by Foad, the plaque was returned to Canadian Academy.

I didn’t really know that much about Joe Sr. at the time, but he is profiled in

Stanka went to Nippon Pro Baseball in 1960; playing for the Nankai Hawks, he went 17-12 with a 2.48 ERA in 38 games, finishing sixth in ERA and making the Pacific League All-Star team. In 1961, he went 15-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 41 games. Joe fell to 8-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 1962. He rebounded in 1963, going 14-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 34 games. He was part of a three-way tie for the PL lead with four shutouts.

Stanka had his best year in 1964, as he posted a 26-7 record with a 2.40 ERA in 47 games. As a result Stanka became the first American pitcher of non-Japanese descent to win an MVP award in NPB. His six shutouts led the league, he was second to reliever Yoshiro Tsumajima (2.15) among the ERA leaders and was four wins behind PL leader Masaaki Koyama. Despite winning the MVP award, he lost the Sawamura Award to the only American to win it as of 2005, Gene Bacque of the Central League Hanshin Tigers. Stanka also was the MVP of the Japan Series that season. After shutting out Hanshin in the opener and beating Minoru Murayama by a 2-0 score, he dropped game three 5-4 to Midori Ishikawa. In game six, with the Hawks on the ropes and trailing three games to two, Joe came back to beat Bacque 4-0 with his second shutout. When Nankai skipper Kazuto Tsuruoka asked him if he would be willing to work game seven the next day, Stanka agreed. Despite his fatigue, he threw nothing but goose eggs again, with a 3-0 shutout win over Murayama. He had gone 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in the Series.

During Stanka’s final year with Nankai, he went 14-12 with a 3.28 ERA in 34 games. Stanka joined the Taiyo Whales in 1966, where he slipped to 6-13 with a 4.16 ERA in 32 games. Stanka was the first American pitcher to win 100 games in the NPB. His record overall there was 100-72 with a 3.03 ERA.

You have to wonder how much his son’s untimely death during the 1965-66 school year ruined his concentration during the 1966 baseball season. Not a hint of family trauma appears in a retrospective SABR-Zine interview last year entitled Joe Stanka, First American All-Star in Japanese Baseball.


Filed under baseball, Japan

5 responses to “In Memory of Joe Stanka, Jr.

  1. K.Naka

    For some reason, I was into baseball memorabilia tonight and looked up Joe Stanka. Being a graduate of Canadian Academy in 1961 I did not know Joe Stanka Jr. personally, but knew of him and was sad to learn later how he passed away. I remember back in the 80’s in Tokyo there was a T.V. program about Joe Stanka and it was heart-warming to see him and Mrs. Stanka in Texas, where it was filmed. I felt for their loss of their son while watching it then I recall….the Stanka’s appeared to be very nice people….. I wish them the very best……I am still a Hanshin Tigers fan in abstentia however…..Kent, Las Vegas

  2. John Hukushi

    Hi! Does anyone have an idea if Mr. Stanka is still living? Where he can be contacted? I’m originally from Osaka, Japan, and my dad was friends with Mr. Stanka when he played for Nankai. I’d like to contact him to see if still remembers my dad.

    If anyone has some information, please contact me at Thanks.

  3. I was looking around for clues to the exact location of the old Canadian Academy when I came across your posting about Joe Stanka.
    My brother, Katie, I and brother Eric were, respectively 8, 10 and 13 in 1966, the year we attended CA and I recall vividly Joe Jr.’s death.
    (It was said he had ‘turned blue’, a very frightening concept for a ten-year-old). Wow, what a memory.
    Does anyone in your blogosphere have further details on the exact address of the old Glouscester House…and how we got there from the train station (Nishinomiya?). Was there a bus…I remember walking up the hill.

  4. David Dexter

    It was up the hill at Nagamine-dai. You need to go to Hankyu Rokko station, and the no. 7 bus went by the bottom of the hill. I haven’t actually got the address handy.

    (Edited by Joel: The old school site now hosts an apartment complex called Canadian Hill, and Kobe Union Church is now across from the old athletic field.)

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