Hiroaki Inoue (井上 弘昭)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 9", Weight 190 lb.
- School Hokuyo High School
Outfielder Hiroaki Inoue was a two-time All-Star in a Nippon Pro Baseball career which spanned three decades.
Inoue was a first-round pick of the Hiroshima Carp after playing for Den Den Kinki in the industrial leagues. He debuted in 1968, hitting a meek .224/.303/.310 in 67 plate appearances over 35 games. He improved to .252/.336/.415 with 12 homers in 306 plate appearances in 1969 but fell to .209/.282/.372 with 13 dingers in 1970. The power vanished in 1971 as his batting line dropped to .216/.307/.314. He hit only .186/.268/.281 in 43 games in 1972 to end a disappointing five-year run with the Carp.
Chunichi Dragons skipper Wally Yonamine looked past Inoue's poor performance with Hiroshima and thought he could blossom with proper training. He pushed Chunichi to deal for Inoue and they got him in exchange for Kazuhito Kawabata. Under Yonamine's tutelage, Inoue found new life, hitting .271/.349/.473 with 16 home runs in 1973 while starting in left field for Chunichi. He led the Central League with 10 times hit by pitch. He produced at a .290/.375/.460 rate in 1974 with 18 home runs, 15 steals (in 20 tries) and 13 times hit by pitch. He tied Kenichi Yazawa for 10th in the CL in average. He was only 4 for 23 with 3 walks and a double in the 1974 Japan Series, which Chunichi lost to the Lotte Orions. In 1975, he had his best season, batting .318/.392/.476 with 18 homers, 80 runs, 65 RBI and 13 times hit by pitch. He was two HBP shy of CL leader Koichi Tabuchi, led the league with 149 hits and was 6 runs behind leader Koji Yamamoto. He was second in average, only .001 shy of Inoue. He was chosen to the CL All-Star team for the first time. He made his only Best Nine, joining Yamamoto and Roger Repoz in being named the CL's top three outfielders.
In 1976, the 32-year-old fell big-time, to .213/.292/.333. He rebounded to .284/.358/.450 in 1977, with 17 home runs. He hit .227/.314/.375 with 12 HR in 1978. He was hit by 10 pitches, one shy of the league lead. His roller-coaster career continued in 1979 as he hit .272/.363/.458 with 16 home runs and a league-leading 13 times hit by pitch. He made his second All-Star team. At age 36, he produced at a .291/.379/.470 rate for the Dragons in 1980 to end his 8-year run with the team.
Moving to the Nippon Ham Fighters in a deal for fellow veteran Masaru Tomita, Inoue batted .259/.374/.378 in 85 games as a part-timer in 1981. In the 1981 Japan Series, he started alongside Makoto Shimada and Tony Solaita in the Fighters outfield and did very well - .375/.474/.625 with a home run in game 6. He won the Fighting Spirit Award as the best player on the losing squad as the Fighters bowed to the Yomiuri Giants in six contests. In 1982, he hit .265/.427/.441 in 89 plate appearances over 69 games as Tommy Cruz joined Shimada and Solaita in the outfield. He remained a bench player in 1983 (.263/.354/.474 in 65 PA, 54 G) and 1984 (.221/.274/.299 in 86 PA, 42 G). Let go by the Fighters, the 41-year-old was signed by the Seibu Lions. He was 3 for 15 in 1985.
Overall, Inoue had hit .259/.343/.414 in 1,531 NPB games, with 155 home runs, 522 runs and 517 RBI. He stole 74 bases in 113 tries and was hit by 137 pitches. Through 2010, he was 4th in NPB history in times hit by pitch, trailing Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Masashi Takenouchi and Sachio Kinugasa.
- japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland
- Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball by Rob Fitts