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Koji Yamamoto

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Koji Yamamoto (Mr. Akaheru)

[edit] Biographical Information

Koji Yamamoto was the greatest slugger in the history of the Hiroshima Carp and a key part of their only Japan Series champion teams in 1979, 1980, and 1984. The five times that the Carp made the Japan Series, Yamamoto was either the team's manager or player.

Originally a pitcher, he was converted to the outfield while in college. It took him a while to develop as a batter but by the time his amateur career was over, he was a first-round draft pick of the Carp in 1968. In Nippon Pro Baseball, Yamamoto again took time to become a star - for several years he had mediocre averages and OBPs with some power. He didn't make his first All-Star team till 1973, but made the following 13 All-Star teams.

In 1972, Yamamoto won the first of ten consecutive Diamond Glove Awards, a Central League record. A great defensive outfielder, Yamamoto also led the league in outfield assists seven years in a row. Also in '72, Yamamoto also set a record with 9 consecutive hits, since broken, and he led the league with 27 doubles.

In 1975, Yamamoto led the Carp to their first Japan Series ever. He hit .319/.406/.565 with 30 homers - at age 28, it was the first of ten 30-homer years. Yamamoto led the league in batting and runs (86) and also set a CL record with 302 error-free chances in the outfield. He made the first of ten Best Nine teams and won his first MVP award.

In 1977 Yamamoto started a stretch of five straight 40-HR seasons - the typical year in this span was about .320/.420/.670. He led the league in runs three times, homers three times, RBI three times, total bases three times, slugging three times and walks once. He won another MVP in 1980, the Carp won both their Japan Series in this time, and each year in the 5-year span Yamamoto led the league in at least once major offensive stat, was a Diamond Glove winner, Best Nine and All-Star. He won his final Diamond Glove in 1981.

Yamamoto slipped after that but led the league in walks in 1982 and 1983 (87 and 85 respectively), homers in '83 (36). In '82, he hit the 45,000th homer in NPB history. He retired after the '86 season (a very respectable .276/.357/.490 with 27 HR), after which he became an announcer. Two years later he was back in a Hiroshima uniform as a manager. Yamamoto led the team to two second-place finishes, then back to the Japan Series in 1991. After his first sub-.500 season and a last-place finish in '93, the Carp let him go.

He returned to the broadcast booth but was re-hired by Hiroshima to manage again in 2001. The team was in the second division all five times in this go-around and Hiroshima again parted course with their greatest player after the 2005 season, a year in which they finished last.

Yamamoto holds the Japanese All-Star game record with 14 homers. A career .290/.381/.542 hitter, he retired third all-time with 536 homers - he is now 4th behind Sadaharu Oh, Katsuya Nomura and Hiromitsu Kadota. His 11 grand slams are tied for 6th all-time. He also had 2,339 hits (11th all-time), 372 doubles (16th), 1,475 RBI (8th), 1,365 runs (6th), 4,361 total bases (7th), 1,168 walks (8th), 79 sacrifice flies (tied for 10th) and played in 2,284 games (10th) and 8,052 AB (11th).

Yamamoto was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. He coached for Japan in the 2008 Olympics.

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