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Kazuhiro Yamauchi

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Kazuhiro Yamauchi

Kazuhiro Yamauchi was one of the top players in Nippon Pro Baseball in the 1950s and 1960s. He failed a tryout with the Chunichi Dragons, went to play in the industrial leagues, then was signed a couple years later by the Mainichi Orions. He emerged as a star in 1954, hitting .308/.402/.532 with 28 homers, 97 RBI and 80 walks. He led the Pacific League in walks (the only time he would do so) and RBI, made the first of 13 consecutive All-Star teams and the Best Nine. The next year he had the best OBP of his career (.422), slugged .563, drove in 99 (leading the league again) and hit 31 doubles, the most in the PL. He edged Futoshi Nakanishi in the RBI race despite Nakanishi's Nishitetsu Lions pitching around Yamauchi late in the year.

In '56, Yamauchi continued to lead the league in two fairly significant offensive categories a year - this time it was doubles (47, setting a new NPB record, since broken) and total bases (282). He also stole a career-high 16 bases. He made his third straight Best Nine. The next year he made it 4 in a row when he batted .331/.421/.621 for a career high in slugging and OPS. He again had the most total bases (270) and also won his only batting title.

In 1958 Yamauchi missed a Best Nine and failed to lead the league in anything. He hit "only" .285/.374/.508 and was limited to 76 games.

'59 was a rebound year for Yamauchi, who returned to the Best Nine and topped the Pacific League in doubles (32) and won his first homer title with 25. He set an NPB record by hitting two-baggers in six straight contests and drove in nine runs in one game.

Yamauchi scored a career-high 93 in 1960 when he won his only MVP award. He batted .313/.395/.580, hit 32 homers and drove in 103. He led the league with 280 total bases, his third time leading in that statistic, and also led the league in both RBI and homers.

In 1961 Yamauchi led in RBI for the fourth and final time, with a career high of 112. The next year he posted his best batting average when he hit .334/.409/.551; he appeared on his 4th straight Best Nine. He led the league in doubles for the fourth and final time, with 38. After that he would only hit .300 once more, after reaching the mark in 8 of 10 prior seasons. He never would lead the league in a key offensive statistic again as well. '63 saw Yamauchi post a career high in a different key stat for the 4th year in a row, with 33 homers. Yamauchi made his 9th Best Nine; he would make the Best Nine only one more time in his career.

After 1963 Yamauchi was traded by the Orions to the Hanshin Tigers for Masaaki Koyama in one of the biggest deals in NPB history and hit .257/.346/.500 with 31 homers. While no longer a superstar, he was clearly the top power threat on a Hanshin team that won the Central League pennant, but went down to defeat to Nankai in the Japan Series four games to three despite Yamauchi hitting .360 with two homers; he connected for almost as many homers as the team's next 3 sluggers combined. Tigers pitcher Gene Bacque befriended Yamauchi, who shared his interest in hunting. Yamauchi also served as a teacher and mentor for the younger Tigers players.

No only a good contributor on offense, the 33-year old Yamauchi continued to climb the all-time leaderboards. In '65, he became the first player in NPB history to smack 300 career home runs. In 1967 his run of 13 consecutive All-Star teams was broken, but became the second man in NPB history to reach 2,000 career hits. '68 saw Yamauchi move to the Hiroshima Carp and become the first player in Japan to play in 2,000 games. Yamauchi had a resurgent year, at .313/.378/.500 with 21 homers and made his tenth Best Nine team, after a 4-year absence from receiving that honor. It was his first and only Best Nine in the Central League and he returned to the All-Star team.

Yamauchi had his 12th 20-homer season in 1969 when he hit .274/.369/.516 with 21 long balls. He played on his 16th All-Star Team in '70, his final season, when he hit .257/.345/.424.

Overall Yamauchi hit .295/.378/.521 in his career. His 396 homers rank 14th all-time in NPB; he also is among the career leaders in triples (54, tied for 28th), doubles (448, 3rd), hits (2,271, 14th), average (24th), RBI (1,286, 14th), runs (1,218, 13th), total bases (4,015, 11th), walks (1,061, 10th) and games (2,235, tied for 14th). Yamauchi was the career double leader when he retired before Yutaka Fukumoto surpassed him in the mid-80s.

After his playing career ended, Yamauchi was a coach for the Hanshin Tigers from '75-'77, managed the Lotte Orions from '79-'81, managed Chunichi from '84-'86, was the batting coach for the Yomiuri Giants from 1987 through '89, occupied the same role for the Orix Blue Wave from '91-'93, his 5th straight job that took three years of his time. In '95 and '96 he was batting coach for Hanshin once again, ending his tenure in NPB. In 1998 he coached for the China Trust Whales in Taiwan. In 2002 Yamauchi was named to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Yamauchi died of liver failure in 2009.

Sources: japanbaseballdaily.com, "Remembering Japanese Baseball" by Rob Fitts

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