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Motonobu Tanishige

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Motonobu Tanishige

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One of Japan's most durable and top defensive catchers for a couple decades, Motonobu Tanishige has never been considered a top star due to his lack of contact hitting. An occasional power threat later in his career, he only made one Best Nine in over 23 years.

Tanishige hit 42 homers in high school and was picked in the first round of the 1988 NPB draft by the Yokohama BayStars. He hit just .175/.247/.273 and .175/.264/.279 his first two seasons, then in '91 improved to .237/.324/.398. He slipped back to .191/.280/.284 in 1992.

In 1993, Motonobu made his first Central League All-Star team and had a .234/.339/.324 batting line; he followed with a .228/.317/.334 campaign. The 23-year-old catcher hit the 65,000th homer in Nippon Pro Baseball history that year. In '95, Tanishige batted .249/.313/.398. 1996 marked a sudden improvement in offense as he had a career-best .300/.391/.445 campaign.

In '97, the Yokohama backstop hit .232/.336/.388 and reached double-digit homers, a level he would achieve almost every year thereafter; he also made his second All-Star team. An All-Star again in 1998, he had a .254/.346/.399 line and made his only Best Nine and won his first Gold Glove. He hit .222/.391/.444 in the 1998 Japan Series as Yokohama won their first title. He rose to .295/.368/.426 and led the CL with 13 intentional walks in '99 then fell to .251/.316/.359 the next year with 9 homers but still was an All-Star though he led the CL by grounding into 20 double plays.

In 2001, the veteran had a .262/.367/.447 year with 20 homers, the most on the club. He made his 4th straight All-Star team and fifth overall. A free agent, he sought to come to the USA but got no offers and signed with the Chunichi Dragons instead.

An All-Star again for the final time in '02, he hit .215/.303/.424 with a career-high 24 homers and 78 RBI. He led the club in homers, more than the likes of Leo Gomez and Kosuke Fukudome. He set a career high in slugging the next year at .264/.344/.471, homered 18 times and batted .344 with runners in scoring position. He was on the Japanese team that won Gold at the 2003 Asian Championship, sharing catching duties with Kenji Johjima.

Tanishige hit .260/.332/.419 with 18 HR in 2004 and starred in the 2004 Japan Series, batting .320/.393/.560 and smashing a grand slam in game two. In '05, the 34-year-old fell to .234/.338/.376. Through 2005, his career line was .246/.334/.392 with 177 homers. He was picked as the elder statesmen on the 2006 World Baseball Classic team for Japan and was 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts in the team's victorious run.

He batted .234/.347/.353 in 2006 but went 5 for 15 with a .412 OBP in the 2006 Japan Series. He won his second Gold Glove.

On August 17, 2007, Tanishige ended a game by being hit by a Joselo Diaz pitch with the bases loaded. It was Chunichi's first victory through such an incident in 58 years. That year, he ended a streak of 1,708 consecutive error-free chances, a new NPB record. The veteran finished the year with a .236/.347/.322 batting line. He won a Gold Glove. In the 2007 Japan Series, Tanishige batted .250/.333/.313 as Chunichi won their first Japan Series in over 50 years.

In 2008, Tanishige hit .234/.325/.307, his lowest slugging percentage in 16 years. In July 2009, he caught his 2,238th game in NPB, putting him second all-time behind Katsuya Nomura. He won his fourth Gold Glove. He took Keisuke Imai deep on September 1 for his 200th homer; he became the third NPB player with 200 homers and 200 sacrifice hits. He batted a paltry .208/.312/.322 on the year. He hit .244/.343/.360 in 2010 and reached 2,500 career games, the 9th player to do so. He hit .273/.414/.409 in the 2010 Japan Series, including a game one homer off Yoshihisa Naruse, though Chunichi fell to the Chiba Lotte Marines.

During 2011, the 40-year-old batted .256/.349/.357, better than most of the Dragons' starters. He fielded .998 and won his 5th Gold Glove. The old-timer finished fifth in voting for the 2011 Central League Most Valuable Player Award, behind Takuya Asao, Kazuki Yoshimi, Tetsuya Utsumi and Hisayoshi Chono (the only position player ahead of him). He fizzled in the 2011 Japan Series, going 0 for 23 with 8 strikeouts and no walks as the Dragons lost to the Softbank Hawks in seven games. He was 0 for 40 overall for that postseason. He broke Daijiro Oishi's record for most consecutive hitless at-bats in a Japan Series.

Tanishige won another Gold Glove in 2012 (fielding .999) and made his 10th All-Star team (the first in 5 years). He hit .228/.324/.303 and became the 13th player in NPB annals to 1,000 career walks. He tied Hirokazu Ibata for 9th in the CL that year with 52 free passes. On May 6, 2013, Motonobu got his 2,000th career hit, against Takehiko Oshimoto. He became the 44th player in NPB history to 2,000 hits (joining the Meikyukai as a result) but the 6th in 2012-2013 and 3rd in the first couple months of 2013, following Alex Ramirez and Norihiro Nakamura. He was the third catcher to the historic figure, following Nomura and Atsuya Furuta. He was also the oldest (42 yrs, 4 mos) player to reach 2,000 hits, surpassing Shinya Miyamoto by almost a year. He finished the year with no errors and a batting line of only .226/.318/.315, nearly identical with 2012.

Chunichi named him as a player-manager for 2014, the first player-manager in NPB since Furuta 8 years earlier and just the second since Nomura in the 1970s. He succeeded Morimichi Takagi as skipper.

Main Source: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland

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