Eighty years ago today, a Japanese Professional Baseball League pitcher won his 42nd game of the season – a season of 96 games! Victor Starrfin played for the Yomiuri Giants, leading them to the pennant that year. Starrfin was also Japanese baseball’s first 300-game winner.
Starrfin was born as Viktor Konstantinovich Starukhin in Russia in 1916. The tale of his family’s flight from Russia to Japan is full of intrigue and, quite likely, exaggeration. Basically, however, Starrfin’s father, Konstantine Fedrovich Starukhin, was part of the pre-World War I aristocracy in Russia. Konstantine had attended a prestigious Russian military academy earning him a post in the army. During the Russian revolution, Konstantine sided with the White Russians supporting the czar. After Czar Nicholas II’s defeat and abdication, Konstantine sent his wife and son to stay with friends in Siberia where he eventually joined them. The family later fled to northeastern China and after several years finally received the appropriate documentation to immigrate to Japan.
It was in Japan that Victor went to school where he excelled in baseball. According to Peter Bjarkman, despite the backdrop of racism in Japan at the time, “Starffin’s status as an ethnic ‘outsider’ seemed to take a back seat to his unrivaled achievements as one of the game’s most popular pioneering heroes. His blond hair, blue eyes, and towering frame seemed more charming and engaging than frightening or culturally insulting, and his bulky size and resulting overpowering fastballs were seen primarily as exotic assets for a Tokyo Giants team that already claimed the nation’s widest fandom.” (Read more of the story by Peter C. Bjarkman on the SABR website.)
Starrfin began his professional career in 1936 with Tokyo Kyojin (who would later become the Yomiuri Giants); his final season for the Tombo Unions of the Japan Pacific League in 1955. His career ERA was 2.09 and his lifetime record was 303-177. Sadly, he passed away in 1957 as the result of a drunk driving accident.