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Takahiro Ikeyama

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Takahiro Ikeyama (池山 隆寛)
(Boom Boom Maru)

[edit] Biographical Information

Takahiro Ikeyama hit over 300 home runs in 19 Nippon Pro Baseball seasons and made 7 All-Star teams.

Ikeyama was picked by the Yakult Swallows in the second round of the 1983 draft. He was 0 for 7 for the big club in 1984 and hit a measly .141/.215/.176 in 94 plate appearances in 1985. His first hit was April 21, 1985 against Yutaka Ikeuchi. He improved to .245/.285/.449 in a backup role in 1986. He also hit his first six homers, the first one coming June 12 against Fumiaki Kadota. He became a starter in 1987 and batted .250/.317/.415 with 13 homers.

Ikeyama continued to progress in 1988, hitting .254/.304/.488 with 31 dingers and 81 RBI. He made his first Central League All-Star team. He was two home runs shy of CL leader Carlos Ponce, led the league with 120 strikeouts and was named to the Best Nine as the league's top shortstop. In 1989, he went deep 34 times and produced at a .263/.330/.510 clip. He led the CL with 141 strikeouts and made his second All-Star team. He again made the Best Nine.

In 1990, he hit .303/.364/.564 with 83 runs, 97 RBI and 31 home runs. He had four sayonara hits. On August 23, he became the 43rd NPB player to hit for the cycle. He led the CL with 278 total bases and 14 double-play grounders. He was 8th in average. He also made his third All-Star team and third Best Nine. He was two home runs behind league leader Hiromitsu Ochiai and 5 RBI behind leader Ochiai. He batted .269/.338/.522 with 32 circuit clouts and 80 RBI in 1991. He set a CL record for fielding percentage at shortstop (.994) and had a 10-game streak of getting extra-base hits. He made his 4th straight All-Star team but lost the Best Nine to Kenjiro Nomura and the Gold Glove to Masahiro Kawai.

The Ozaki native set a CL record with 148 whiffs in 1992 but he also became the first Japanese shortstop with 30+ home runs four straight seasons, totaling 30 this time. He hit .279/.350/.537, made the All-Star team for the 5th time and was picked for his 4th Best Nine. He won his only Gold Glove. He was 7 for 30 with two home runs in the 1992 Japan Series, which Yakult lost to the Seibu Lions in seven games. In game five, he hit a 10th-inning homer off Tetsuya Shiozaki to win it. In 1993, he fell to 24 homers while batting .256/.344/.485. He hit his 200th home run, on October 3, the 65th NPB player to that level. On May 19, he hit a grand slam and 3-run homer in the same inning to set NPB records for RBI and homers in an inning. He made his last Best Nine. This time, Yakult beat Seibu in the 1993 Japan Series; he provided minimal contributions (.217/.333/.391, 1 HR).

The veteran infielder put up a .260/.323/.461 line with 19 home runs in 1994. Kawai won the Best Nine, which had gone to Ikeyama in 5 of the prior 6 seasons. Ikeyama did make his 6th All-Star team and got his 1,000th hit. He had another 19 homers in 1995 and produced at a .263/.349/.450 rate. He was just 3 for 21 with two walks and a homer in the 1995 Japan Series but drove in six and the Swallows prevailed over the Orix BlueWave. Ikeyama led the team in RBI, two ahead of runner-up Tom O'Malley.

Ikeyama hit .268/.341/.443 in 53 games in 1996 as Shinya Miyamoto was taking over the Yakult starting shortstop job. Takahiro moved to third base in 1997 to replace the departed Hensley Meulens; he went deep 18 times, drove in 79 and hit .276/.350/.472. He also stole 11 bases in 12 tries and led the CL in both sacrifice flies (9) and double plays grounded into (21). In the 1997 Japan Series, the 31-year-old was 5 for 16 with a walk, run and 4 RBI as Yakult beat Seibu.

In 1998, his last season as a starter, he batted .275/.358/.460 with 18 home runs and made his final All-Star team. In 1999, he fell to .221/.267/.358 with 8 HR in 204 AB and had to split time with Toshifumi Baba and Akinori Iwamura. Iwamura became the starter in 2000 and Ikeyama hit .229/.301/.420 in a backup role. He was 14 for 73 with 7 walks, 4 doubles, 4 home runs, 12 RBI and 30 strikeouts in 2001. On May 6, he hit his 300th homer, taking Ken Yamazaki deep as a pinch-hitter. He was the 24th NPB player with 300 career dingers. He was 0 for 1 in the 2001 Japan Series, in which Yakult topped the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He played his final season in 2002, being used almost entirely as a pinch-hitter. He went 9 for 43 with a double, homer, 4 walks, 19 strikeouts and 6 RBI.

Ikeyama batted .262/.331/.473 in 6,531 plate appearances over 1,784 games in NPB. He had 304 home runs, 819 runs, 898 RBI, 108 steals (caught 49 times) and 1,440 strikeouts. Through 2010, he was 13th in league history in strikeouts (between Yasunori Oshima and Yukio Tanaka) and 34 shy of the top 30 in home runs.

After his playing career, Ikeyama has worked as a baseball commentator for NTV and as a hitting coach for the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Orestes Destrade said Ikeyama "could have definitely played in the Major Leagues." Jack Howell called him a "big-league shortstop" with "an absolute cannon from short and incredible range." Howell also remembered Ikeyama as a happy, joking player.

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