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Hiromi Matsunaga

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Hiromi Matsunaga (松永 浩美)

  • Bats Both, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 11", Weight 171 lb.

Hiromi Matsunaga was a 11-time All-Star in Nippon Pro Baseball.

Matsunaga dropped out of high school then worked out with the Hankyu Braves until he turned 18 and could sign with them. In the minors for two years, he worked on becoming a switch-hitter. He made his debut with the Braves in 1981, hitting .326/.404/.424 in a bench role. On May 10, he got his first hit, off Hiroaki Tani. Two days later, he got his first homer, against Tokinari Nishina.

Hiromi hit .236/.307/.379 in 1982 while becoming a starter; he stole 21 bases in 27 tries. On October 8, he hit for the cycle versus the Nankai Hawks.

Matsunaga improved his batting line to .281/.361/.515 in 1983 with 21 home runs, 74 RBI and 20 steals in 33 tries. He made his first Pacific League All-Star team. On August 31, he hit a sayonara grand slam to overcome a 3-0 deficit against Kinzo Nakai. He tied Hiromichi Ishige and Yutaka Fukumoto for the PL lead with 7 triples.

In 1984, the high school dropout hit .310/.388/.513 with 84 runs, 19 home runs and 21 stolen bases in 26 attempts. He was 6th in the PL in average between Hiromitsu Ochiai and Leron Lee. On September 16, he became the 4th NPB player ever to hit an inside-the-park sayonara home run, to top the Lotte Orions. He led the PL with six triples. He won the Diamond Glove Award at third base. He lost out Best Nine honors at the hot corner to Hiromitsu Ochiai. In the 1984 Japan Series, his lone Japan Series appearance, he hit .423/.483/.577 but Hankyu fell to the Hiroshima Carp in 7 games. He lost the Fighting Spirit Award to Yukihiko Yamaoki.

The Fukuoka native batted .320/.422/.541 with 26 home runs, 81 walks, 38 steals in 50 tries, 94 runs and 87 RBI in 1985. He made his third straight All-Star team. and led the PL in both steals and doubles (tied with Boomer Wells and Ishige). He was 6th in average, between Tommy Cruz and Steve Ontiveros and was second to Ochiai among Japanese natives. He was also MVP of the third All-Star game played that season. Ochiai again took Best Nine honors at third after claiming the Triple Crown.

In 1986, Matsunaga's batting line was .301/.390/.492 with 80 runs, 31 doubles, 19 homers, 75 RBI, 70 walks and 20 steals in 29 tries. He made his 4th All-Star squad and tied Hiromasa Arai for the PL lead in two-baggers. He was 8 swipes behind leader Norifumi Nishimura and finished 10th in batting average

Hiromi hit .290/.367/.440 with 11 homers and 9 steals in an off-year in 1987 and missed out on All-Star honors. He still finished 8th in average. He rebounded in 1988 with a .326/.412/.497 line, 78 runs, 72 walks, 77 RBI and 16 homers. He was named to the Best Nine at third base, as Ochiai had switched leagues and positions. On October 22 and October 23, he was the victim of one of the most classless acts in NPB history. Trailing Hideaki Takazawa by .001 in the batting race, he was walked in his last 11 plate appearances of the season to deny him a shot at the title.

Matsunaga remained strong in 1989, hitting .309/.431/.494 with 30 doubles, 17 homers, 96 walks and 106 runs. He finished third in average behind Wells and Norio Tanabe. He led the loop in runs scored and was just two walks behind leader Ishige. He led in OBP, .014 ahead of Hiromitsu Kadota. Hiromi made his 6th All-Star team, won his second Gold Glove and made his second straight Best Nine at third.

In 1990, the 29-year-old batted .284/.379/.471 for the Braves with 21 homers, 26 steals in 34 tries, 78 walks and 103 runs. It was his third and final 20-20 season; he would only top 20 steals once more and never again go yard 20 times. He made his 7th All-Star team, led the league in runs, won the Gold Glove and made the Best Nine.

Matsunaga hit .314/.404/.481 in 1991 with 75 walks, 10 triples and 20 steals in 24 tries. He was just .0004 behind Mitsuchika Hirai in average, made the All-Star team, led the PL in triples, hit for the cycle on May 24 and made the Best Nine for the fifth time. He became the only NPB player ever to lose two batting titles by under a point.

In his 12th and last Braves season, 1992, the veteran fell to .298/.379/.406 with 34 doubles, 15 steals in 21 tries and 72 runs. He only went yard three times all year. He made his 9th All-Star team. He led the circuit in doubles and finished 4th in average behind Makoto Sasaki, Kelvin Torve and Tanabe.

The Braves dealt Matsunaga to the Hanshin Tigers for Koji Noda. He switched from number 8 to 02 since it could be pronounced "o-ni", meaning demon. He went five for five on April 10 but suffered a leg injury two days later and was limited to 80 games in 1993, hitting .294/.357/.426. Back by late August, he hit leadoff homers three games in a row, a NPB record.

On November 29, he declared himself as free agent. He became the first player to switch clubs under NPB's new free agency rules, inking a deal with the Daiei Hawks. He hit .314/.390/.423 for the 1994 Hawks in his last big year. He tied Sasaki for third in the PL with 150 hits. He won his last Gold Glove and made his last Best Nine at third. He was chosen for his 10th All-Star team. He finished 4th in the PL in average behind Ichiro Suzuki, Kazunori Yamamoto and Hiroo Ishii.

With old rival Ishige as his backup in 1995, Matsunaga faded to .238/.319/.319. He made his last All-Star team, living off his past accomplishments. He fell further, to .217/.290/.329 in 66 games in 1996, though he still remained Daiei's main third sacker. He was 3 for 24 with a double, homer, steal and 8 walks in 1997 to conclude his career. He was rumored to be the target of enmity by Daiei skipper Sadaharu Oh.

The Oakland Athletics invited the faded star to spring training but he did not make the team and retired.

Overall, Matsunaga hit .293/.380/.457 in 1,816 games in NPB. He had 1,059 runs, 341 doubles, 203 homers, 886 walks and 239 steals in 333 tries. He finished as the all-time NPB leader in homers by a switch-hitter. Through 2009, he ranks tied for 25th in NPB history in triples (55), was 26th in runs (between Katsuo Osugi and Ishige) and was 27th in walks (between Norihiro Nakamura and Hideki Matsui).

Matsunaga was known as a womanizer.

Source: Japan Baseball Daily

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