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Isao Harimoto

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Isao Harimoto (Anda Seizoki [hit machine], Komazawa Abarenbo [wild man of Komazawa])

[edit] Biographical Information

A survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, Isao Harimoto is the only player in the history of Nippon Pro Baseball to reach 3,000 career hits. The greatest player in the history of the Toei Flyers, Harimoto was one of the most well-rounded offensive talents in NPB history. Defensively, he was not a good player. The left fielder was the son of Koreans and faced discrimination due to his ethnic background throughout his career. Unlike many Korean-Japanese athletes, he did not hide his roots or change his name. After his playing days ended, he worked in the Korea Baseball Organization as an assistant to the commissioner.

An 18-time All-Star, Harimoto is the only player in NPB history with both 500 homers and 300 steals. He holds NPB records for singles (2,089) as well as hits (3,085) and games with 3 or more hits (251) and holds the Pacific League record with 223 intentional walks. He is tied for 7th all-time in Japan in homers (504), is 9th in triples (72), 5th in doubles (420), tied for second in average for players with 4,000+ AB (.319, even with Tsutomu Wakamatsu and one point behind Leron Lee), fourth in RBI (1,676), 3rd in runs (1,523), 3rd in total bases (5,161), 18th in steals (319), 4th in walks (1,274), tied for 5th in sacrifice flies (90) and 3rd in games played (2,752). His career OBP was .399 and he slugged .534 overall.

Harimoto began his career in 1959 when he hit .275/.328/.435 for Toei; he won Rookie of the Year honors that season. The next season he batted .302/.350/.508 and was named to the first of 16 Best Nine squads. He would make the Best Nine every season in the 1960s. The 20-year-old outfielder finished fourth in the PL in batting. The next season he won his first batting championship when he hit .336/.399/.596. That season he hit for the cycle for the only time in his career and reached double digits in doubles (31), triples (10) and homers (24). He led the Paficic with 282 total bases and posted the top slugging percentage in the circuit.

In '62, Harimoto somehow improved on that impressive '61 - he hit .333 and slugged .597, about the same, but raised his OBP to .440 as his walk total rose from 46 to 86 (he only drew 2 more intentional walks, from 16 to 18). Harimoto led the league in walks and OBP and finished fourth in batting average. He also topped 30 home runs for the first time, stole 23 bases in 31 tries, scored 90 and drove in 99. He helped lead Toei to their only PL title and only Japan Series championship. For his efforts, Isao was named MVP of the Pacific League for the only time in his illustrious career.

1963 saw Harimoto "fall" to .280/.388/.524. He was again a Best Nine and All-Star and led the PL in walks (92). He also stole a career-high 41 bases in 53 attempts. In '64, Isao batted .328/.426/.536 and posted the best OBP in his league for the second time in his career. '65 saw him miss the All-Star team for the only time in a 19-year period. He failed to slug .500 and didn't lead the league in any major offensive statistic for the first time in six years. In 1966 he again didn't top the Pacific in a key stat but returned to All-Star duty and hit .330/.387/.558. He finished second to Kihachi Enomoto in batting. He was also 4th in OBP, 3rd in slugging, 3rd in hits, 3rd in runs, 2nd in RBI (93, 4 behind Katsuya Nomura), 3rd in homers and tied for 7th in walks - and this was an off-season for the Korean-Japanese star.

In 1967 Harimoto captured his second batting title. The 27-year-old left fielder hit .336/.439/.597 with 28 homers; he led the Pacific not only in average, but also OBP and slugging. He repeated as OBP, batting and slugging champ with almost identical stats in '68 (.336/.437/.579); it was his third and final slugging title. In '69, he split the batting title with Yozo Nagabuchi at .333. He had a .421 OBP and slugged .519; he led the league in OBP for the fifth time in his career. He had his final 20-steal season and he had it in style as he was nabbed on the bases just once in 21 tries. He led the Pacific in walks for the third time, with 71.

1970 witnessed Harimoto win his fourth straight batting championship, with a record-setting .383/.467/.649. He set career highs in all three statistics but failed to lead the league in slugging (Katsuo Osugi topped him by 22 points). He led the league in OBP for the 6th time and led in hits (176) for the first time. He set personal highs in RBI (100), homers (34) and total bases (298). His batting average record would last 16 years before Randy Bass broke it; the only Japanese native to beat it was Ichiro Suzuki in '94 and 2000.

In '71, Harimoto's run of batting titles was snapped and he missed the Best Nine for the first time in a 12-season span to that point. For the only time in a 8-year period, he didn't lead the Pacific in OBP as Shinichi Etoh led the circuit in OBP and average in his second season after coming over from the Central League. Isao hit .313/.386/.531. Harimoto was still 7th in batting average.

'72 saw the 32-year-old star return to form when he batted .358/.443/.625 for his second-best slugging and average marks. He lost the slugging mark by 17 points to Atsushi Nagaike but won his 6th batting championship and led the league in OBP for the 7th time. He got his 2,000th hit that season and posted a career high in runs scored (93). He led the Pacific in total bases (295), hits (169) and returned to the Best Nine, making his 12th Best Nine.

Harimoto had his 5th and final 30-homer season in 1973 when he jacked 33 long balls. He hit .324/.448/.590 and finished second behind Hideji Kato in average. He drew 93 walks, a career high, and led the league in walks for the fourth and final time. Harimoto led the league in OBP for the 8th time in his career. He would win his 9th and final OBP title in '74 when he hit .340/.452/.507. He also captured his 7th and final batting title - that would stand as a record until Ichiro Suzuki tied it when he won his seventh in 2000. Despite the great year, his run of 13 straight seasons of 20+ homers came to an end when he only muscled out 14. He did set a record by reaching base 13 consecutive times - that record lasted 18 years until Yoshinobu Takahashi and Michihiro Ogasawara both reached in 14 straight trips.

In '75, Harimoto slipped drastically to .276/.364/.424 - he turned 35 during the season and was showing his age. For the first time in a decade he failed to lead the league in any major offensive statistic and he missed the Best Nine.

1976 saw Harimoto switch over to the Central League when he joined the Yomiuri Giants (in a trade for Kazumi Takahashi and Masaru Tomita). Harimoto showed he still had something left when he knocked the ball around to the tune of a .355/.414/.571 line - he swatted a career-high 35 doubles (one behind leader Kenichi Yazawa), returned to the Best Nine, missed the batting title by .0001 to Yazawa (if he had won, he would still hold the NPB record for most career batting titles), led the league with 182 hits (his 3rd and final team leading in that category) and led the league with 293 total bases (his third and final total base lead, 15 years after his first). He also became the only player in NPB history to top .350 in both leagues. He also had a career-high 30-game hitting streak that season.

Harimoto made his 16th and last Best Nine squad in '77, when the 37-year-old outfielder hit .348/.404/.575. He finished second in average once again, losing the title by 10 points to Wakamatsu. He never topped a .400 OBP again and his career mark slipped under .400 over the remainder of his career. The next season he had his 16th and last 20-homer season when he batted .309/.349/.502 with 21 long balls - he never hit .300 again or slugged even .400. He made his 18th and final All-Star team.

Aging was taking its toll on Harimoto, who in '79 became a part-timer, hitting .263/.323/.399. The next year he returned to the Pacific League with the Lotte Orions and hit .261/.317/.393 - that year he became the only player in NPB history to reach 3,000 base hits and he also hit his 500th home run. At age 41, Isao batted .219/.270/.312 as a shadow of his former self in the '81 campaign with Lotte, his final year in NPB after 23 years of service.

Clyde Wright describes Harimoto as one of the biggest pranksters in Japanese baseball.

In 1990 Harimoto was voted into Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame and in 2000 he won a higher honor when he was voted onto Japan's All-Century Team, one of only three players from pre-1965 who made the squad as voters favored newer players. The other two outfielders (Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui) were still active; only Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima joined Harimoto as old-timers still with enough fame to join the team loaded with active or recent players.

In 2009, Ichiro Suzuki broke Harimoto's record for hits by a Japanese professional baseball player. Suzuki said that back in 1995, Harimoto had told him "The only guy who could break my record is you."

[edit] Further Reading

Sources: japanbaseballdaily.com, "The Meaning of Ichiro" by Robert Whiting

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