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Akinobu Okada

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Akinobu Okada

[edit] Biographical Information

Akinobu Okada was a collegiate star, winning a Triple Crown in the Tokyo Big Six University League in 1978. The third baseman hit .379, the highest mark in the league's history, and his 20 homers are third all-time as of 2006. He was the first-round draft pick of the Hanshin Tigers. The Tigers, managed by Don Blasingame, had a star third baseman in Masayuki Kakefu and had signed free agent 2B Dave Hilton. Blasingame had planned to move Okada from third to second and make him a regular, but wanted to give the rookie time to learn the new position and to develop. An American manager would likely be skeptical as well of rushing a prospect straight into a starting role for the club. Japanese fans and the media became enraged that Okada was sitting, especially as Hilton was hitting very poorly. The conflict led to both Hilton and Blasingame losing their jobs. Throughout the situation, both Hilton and Okada had gone about their work and tried not to become involved in a personality struggle or questions about racism. While they did not feed into the problem, it may have led to more pressure on Blasingame that they were silent.

When Kakefu was injured, Okada was held out due to the media pressure of playing the Yomiuri Giants. When he finally was put in at third and later given the regular job at second, it was too late to save Blasingame's job. Okada hit .290/.336/.484 with 18 homers in 108 games, made the All-Star team and was named the Central League Rookie of the Year. He was the first rookie to homer in his debut in the All-Star game. In 1981 Akinobu hit .289/.331/.472 with 20 homers, then .300/.362/.442 the next year, making the All-Star squad both times.

Okada missed the All-Star team in 1983 when he hit .289/.375/.545 with 18 HR in 246 AB but lost almost half the season due to a leg injury. He hit .297/.361/.492 in returning to regular duty in 1984. In 1985 Okada helped Hanshin to the Japan Series with a .342/.421/.636 season, 35 homers and 101 RBI. He won his only Gold Glove and made the Best Nine at second base; it was his only time on the Best Nine and clearly his most productive season. He returned to the All-Star team after a 2-year absence. He again was an All-Star in 1986 when the 28-year-old infielder hit .268/.363/.477 with 26 homers.

Okada slipped the next year to .255/.315/.407 with 14 HR but bounced back at age 30 and started a run of three more All-Star appearances, giving him 8 for his career. He hit .267/.355/.471 with 23 HR in 1988, then .280/.352/.472 with 24 homers and .265/.368/.444 with 20 more home runs.

Akinobu's production slipped in 1991 as he hit just .240/.313/.386 with 15 homers. After 14 or more homers his first twelve years, he fell to just 2 in 1992 when he managed only a .189/.278/.281 line. He replaced Tatsunori Hara as head of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association during thaat year. Things got worse in 1993 as he hit .170/.290/.245 and was becoming a bench player. After 14 years with Hanshin, he was released.

The Orix Blue Wave signed the 36-year-old veteran in 1994 and he bounced back a bit, hitting .277/.368/.366 before fading away (.179/.304/.179) in his final year in 1995. After his retirement, Kozo Shoda ran the players' union. Overall Okada had hit .277/.351/.462 with 247 homers in a fairly productive career, in which a usual season was about 20 homers and an All-Star spot, even if he only made one Best Nine.

After retiring, Okada coached for Orix and Hanshin, then managed Hanshin's minor league team. In 2004 Okada took over the helm for the Tigers, who had made the Japan Series the prior year for the first since Okada's big year in 1985. Manager Senichi Hoshino had retired and Okada had been the defense and baserunning coach. In his first season as manager the team was a major disappointment, going just 66-70-2 and finishing in the second division. They bounced back nicely in 2005, winning the pennant with an 87-54-5 record, though they were swept in the 2005 Japan Series by the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Okada led Hanshin to records of 84-58-4 in 2006, 74-66-4 in 2007 and 82-59-3 in 2008. After blowing a lead in 2008 to the Yomiuri Giants and then falling in the playoffs, Okada and Hanshin parted ways. He was replaced as manager by former teammate Akinobu Mayumi. He returned to the manager's role in 2011 with the Orix Buffaloes, succeeding Daijiro Oishi. He was 69-68-7 his first year but then fell to 52-77-10 and last place in 2012 and was not retained.

Sources: "You Gotta Have Wa" by Robert Whiting, japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland

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