Former Baseball: Former Cajuns pitching coach, player, UL Hall of Famer Gene Bacque dies
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Sept. 14, 2019
The Ragin’ Cajuns athletic community is mourning the death of Gene Bacque, a UL sports Hall of Fame inductee who became famous for his professional baseball career in Japan.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Bacque was “arguably the most successful American pitcher in the history of Nippon Pro Baseball.”
The former Cajuns pitching coach was 82.
Gene Bacque, a former Ragin' Cajuns baseball player and coach and a 2013 inductee into UL’s sports Hall of Fame, died at age 82. (Photo: Caitlin Jacob, The Advertiser)
“The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Department of Athletics extends its deepest condolences to the family of Gene Bacque, a 2013 inductee into our school’s Hall of Fame,” UL said in a statement Saturday.
“Gene was a standout baseball player for the Ragin’ Cajuns, and went on to a remarkable overseas career.
“He returned as a member of the program’s coaching staff, and in his retirement was a valued member of our alumni community,” the statement continued. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Bacque family during this time.”
According to his UL Hall of Fame bio, Bacque pitched for the then-USL baseball team in 1956 and ’57, winning first-team All-Gulf States Conference honors in his ’57 sophomore year.
According to the bio, Bacque was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and “spent four seasons in the minor leagues before taking his talents to an international stage in the Nippon Pro Baseball league in Japan in 1962.”
Bacque “pitched in Japan for seven years, and at that time was the best-known American player in the Nippon League.”
Bacque made it to as high as the AAA level in American baseball, last playing there for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League in 1962.
Others we lost this year: Donald Mosing, former UL Outstanding Alumnus, dies at 90
In this undated photo, Gene Bacque is shown pitching for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. (Photo: Caitlin Jacob, The Advertiser)
He spent most of his time in Japan with the Harshin Tigers, winning — according to UL — more than 100 games … “including a standout season in 1964 when he finished with a 29-9 record and a 1.88 earned run average in 353 1/3 innings of work.”
According to Baseball Reference, Bacque had “what he calls ‘(the) highlight of my career in Japan” in 1965 when he pitched a no-hitter against Yomiuri. The next-to-last batter was (famous Japanese slugger) Sadahara Oh in the nationally televised game.”
In 1968, Bacque made his final All-Star team, according to Baseball Reference. He finished 4th in the Central in ERA (2.19, his second best in Japan) and his 142 strikeouts were his second-best for Hanshin but he went just 13-14 with continued poor support.
Bacque also got into his biggest controversy in Japan that year, according to Baseball Reference.
"With Oh at the plate in a key situation, Bacque went ahead 0-1 then threw one inside. He came inside with the following pitch as well and Oh began criticizing Bacque.
“The Giants’ dugout then began to empty and Bacque was knocked down in the fight and broke his thumb punching Yomiuri coach Hiroshi Arakawa; the imprint of Arakawa's forehead was permanently embedded on Bacque’s knuckle," according to Baseball Reference.
“Masatoshi Gondo relieved Bacque — and promptly hit Oh to restart the melee. Bacque was fined, missed the rest of the season and after the season he was traded to the Kintetsju Buffaloes.”
Decades later, Bacque remained well-known and highly respected in the country where he was so successful. He also was profiled by the New York Times in 2018.
“Why do they keep bowing at me? It's strange,” Bacque asked a fellow American player from Pittsburgh on the Hanshin Tigers in Japan back in the early ’60s, according to Guilbeau’s profile. “He told me the Japanese people really respected people older than them.
Gene Bacque is pictured during his playing days in Japan. (Photo: Caitlin Jacob, The Advertiser)
“There was so much respect from the younger people. It was like I was a god. That was the culture shock," Bacque said in a 2018 interview. "If you were older, they’d bow. After a while, you almost got tired of it. They’d do whatever you wanted.”
Bacque had 24 complete games and more than 200 strikeouts in ’64, according to UL, “and was named winner of the prestigious Sawamura Award — the equivalent of Major League Baseball's Cy Young Award.”
Bacque in 1964 went 29-9 with a 1.88 ERA and a Hanshin team record for foreigners of 200 strikeouts in 353 and one-third innings.. That record stood until 2014 when Randy Messenger of Reno, Nevada, struck out 226 for Hanshin.
Bacque earned his bachelor's degree from then-USL in 1962, before going to Japan.
After retiring, according to his Cajuns Hall of Fame bio, he joined the then-USL coaching staff and served “as a Cajun assistant and pitching coach under both Bob Banna and Don Lockwood from 1971-78.”
Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.
Click here for the 2012 Baseball Alumni Crawfish Boil - Gene Brightening The Day For His Friends.