RIP to Joe Stanka, who had a brief stay in the majors but a very successful career in Japan. He died on Monday, October 15 at the age of 87. Stanka pitched for the Chicago White Sox (1959), Nankai Hawks (1960-5) and Taiyo Whales (1966).
Stanka signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers before the 1950 season. He’d go on to spend a decade in the minors, moving from the Dodgers to the Cubs and eventually the White Sox. He won a total of 108 games in the minors, playing everywhere from Ponca City, Okla. to Sacramento. For all his success, he never made an appearance in the majors until September 2, 1959. He came into the game in the 5th inning, with the Tigers leading the Sox 3-0. That was the Go-Go White Sox, so they didn’t stay down for very long. They exploded for 11 runs in the bottom of the 5th, and Stanka picked up the win in his MLB debut with 3-1/3 innings of 1-run ball. He gave up 1 run in 2 innings of work on September 5, and that was it for his major-league career. He had a 1-0 record, 3.38 ERA and 3 strikeouts in 5-1/3 innings.
Normally, this is where a player kicks around the minors for a few more seasons before retiring. Stanka, though, took a different path. He signed with the Hawks of Nippon Pro Baseball and spent the next 7 seasons in Japan. He won 17 games in his first season there with a 2.48 ERA and went 26-7 with a 2.40 ERA and 172 strikeouts for Nankai in 1964. He became the first American pitcher to win 100 games in Japan and retired after 1966 with a total of 209 career wins across all levels.