Joe Stanka – Champion, MVP: Do You Know Him?

Japan TImes, October 11, 1964
Japan TImes, October 11, 1964

Tokyo was beaming in the coming-out party of the ages, the opening ceremony of the XVIII Olympiad, framing Japan as the rising star of Asia.

500 kilometers away in Osaka, the Nankai Hawks won the seventh game of the Japan Series over the Hanshin Tigers. The MVP of the series – Joe Donald Stanka.

Joe Stanka of the Nankai Hawks
Joe Stanka of the Nankai Hawks

I am a big baseball fan, but I drew a blank when I heard that name. Stanka graduated from Oklahoma State University and then spent a good part of his career in the minor leagues. He had a short turn in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, appearing in two games, 5.5 innings and had a 1-0 career record. Then he took off for Japan, signing with the Nankai Hawks (currently known as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks) for the start of the 1960 season.

In 1964, when baseball was merely an exhibition sport in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Joe Stanka had one of the greatest records in a baseball championship series you could imagine. In the seven-game series, he started four games and went 3-1, with three shut outs. In a word, he was dominant. Based on his 26-7 season, he went on to take MVP League honors, the first non-Japanese ever to receive that honor.

Stanka made $35,000 playing in Japan, and enjoyed his work-life balance. “There are six teams in the our league and three of them are in Osaka where we live,” he said, explaining why he likes to play ball in Japan. “I’m home most of the time.”

American pitcher Joe Stanka argues call with umpire after he thought he tossed strike to Giants Sadaharu Oh. The catcher is Katsuya Nomura, the Hawks triple crown champion.
American pitcher Joe Stanka argues call with umpire after he thought he tossed strike to Giants Sadaharu Oh. The catcher is Katsuya Nomura, the Hawks triple crown champion.