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Interesting Ballplayers: Victor Starffin

An incredible, and lesser known, baseball life.

Victor Starffin Japanese Baseball Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

(Oops I forgot to find links last night and instead read about some old baseball guy, so here’s his story instead of a linkdump I guess!)

Even the most die hard fans of baseball in the west might not know the name Victor Starffin, but the russian-born NPB Hall-of-Famer had lead an interesting life where politics and baseball combined, and came out the other end with one of the most prolific baseball careers in Japanese baseball history.

Starffin was born in the Ural mountains in the Russian empire, but his family chose to move to Japan after the revolution. Starffin, nicknamed the “Blue-Eyed Japanese” played high-school ball in the largely mono-ethnic nation. Even in the less populated Hokkaido region, Starffin made waves as a baseballer, and was scouted by the professional league of the time while playing in an exhibition game against players from the United States.

Though the young Victor wanted to go to university, an asshole of a scout decided to blackmail him and his family, using their iffy visa status, and his father’s ongoing legal troubles to threaten deportation. Without much of a choice, Starffin went pro out of High-School, joining the Tōkyō Kyojingun (who are today the Yomiuiri Giants) in 1936. This left Victor unable to seek out higher education, due to an absolutely bonkers regulation that stated baseball players who went pro forfeited their right to university.

Starrfin became a star pitcher, regularly winning over 20 games a year, peaking at a league-record 42 in 1939, a number that feels impressive even through the eyes of modern analytics rendering the pitcher win nearly meaningless.

Then a little event you might have heard of called “World War 2” rolled around, and xenophobia in Japan reached a fever-pitch. To avoid persecution, Starffin changed his name to “Suda Hiroshi” but this predictably didn’t do much to make the very Russian looking dude in Japan not stand out, even though he had a reputation for being “more Japanese than the Japanese.” Eventually he was forced into a wartime detention camp along with many other foreign nationals and diplomats, because it wasn’t just us here in the US who were shit to their own citizens if they didn’t look exactly like the majority.

After the war, he found work as an interpreter for the United States forces occupying Japan, but returned to baseball in 46, and played with a multitude of teams until finally retiring in 55. During his last season he became the first player in the league to win 300 games, ending the season (and his career) with 303.

Sadly, he died only 2 years later at the age of 40 when his car was hit by a Tram in an accident that many still debate the cause of today.

Victor Starrfin’s legacy lives on today, through the renaming of his old home-town ballpark in Asahikawa to Starffin Stadium, and his induction as the to the Japanese Baseball Hall-of-Fame in 1960, as the first foreign born player to receive the honor. In fact, Starffin’s kids still live in Japan to this day.