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Tatsunori Hara

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Tatsunori Hara

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[edit] Biographical Information

Tatsunori Hara was one of the most-hyped players in Nippon Pro Baseball in the 1980s. The son of high school coach Mitsugu Hara, Tatsunori was taught baseball starting at age three, using rigorous training methods. A star in college, he won two triple crowns in the Tohto League.

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In 1981 he was drafted in the first round by the Yomiuri Giants to replace retiree Sadaharu Oh as the cleanup hitter. Hara had a fine rookie year, hitting .268/.308/.483 and tying a rookie record with 7 RBI in a game. Hara hit 22 homers and the third baseman won Rookie of the Year honors in the Central League. The Yomiuri front office got daily marriage proposals from female admirers and Hara rebuffed offers from film studios looking to capitalize on his charisma and popularity. He was voted as Japan's top male symbol of 1981.

In 1982 Hara drilled 33 homers, hitting .275/.332/.518, two behind league leader Masayuki Kakefu. The next year, he kept on improving, batting .302/.375/.574 and leading the league in runs (94), RBI (103) and total bases (287). He homered 32 times, four less than co-leaders Koji Yamamoto and Yasunori Oshima. Hara was named MVP of the Central League that year and made his first Best Nine. He would never lead the league in a major offensive statistic again after being the hope of the most popular team in Japan at that time. His failure to live up to hopes led critics to claim Hara was soft from the media. Numerous training regimes and coaches were implemented to try to improve Hara. American teammates like Reggie Smith and Warren Cromartie argued that he was overcoached and should have been allowed to continue with what he had worked for him.

Hara's production slipped in 1984 and he hit .278/.369/.496 with 27 long balls; he was 10 behind the league leader as he was falling further away in his quest for a home run crown. He had a rebound season in 1985 when he posted a .283/.376/.576 line with 34 HR. He had 60 walks and 42 K's in his best season in the BB:K ratio department.

In 1986 Tatsunori batted .283/.363/.616 with 36 homers in 113 games. It was his top season in terms of homers hit or slugging percentage. Hara wasn't close to the league lead though - 11 homers and 160 slugging points behind Randy Bass, in the middle of a Triple Crown season. Leon Lee beat out Hara for the Best Nine - one of the top prospects in Japan had made just one Best Nine team in 6 years, losing out to Kakefu three times, Lee once and Sachio Kinugasa once.

Hara hit .307/.372/.596 in 1987 and finally made another Best Nine; he also won a Gold Glove. He was just 20 slugging points behind league leader Carlos Ponce and his 34 homers were 5 behind Rick Lancellotti. In 1988 Hara hit .300/.382/.555 and won his second and last Gold Glove. His 31 homers were 2 less than league leader Ponce, as he again just missed a home run title. He was 25 points behind Hiromitsu Ochiai in slugging.

Hara failed to make the All-Star team for the first time in his career in 1989; he hit .261/.359/.506 that season and moved to the outfield. He took over the role as head of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association that year, replacing Kiyoshi Nakahata. In 1990, Hara made his first Best Nine as an OF. He hit .303/.391/.519 and posted the best OBP of his career. Hara slipped in 1991 (.268/.342/.492) though he hit 29 homers and made the Best Nine for the fifth and last time. He also set a Central League record with 12 sacrifice flies. His 11th and last All-Star selection came in 1992 when he batted .272/.349/.508 with 28 homers. Akinobu Okada replaced him as the union leader.

In 1993 Hara did something he did not do in his first 12 seasons - fail to hit 20 homers. He had set a record for most consecutive 20+-homer seasons to start a career. Achilles tendon problems hampered Tatsunori, who hit a meek .229/.323/.369. Hara had one last very good year in 1994 as a backup 3B. He hit .290/.364/.530 and knocked out 14 homers in 200 AB; the team's new bright hope was a young outfielder named Hideki Matsui. In his 15th and last year, Hara hit .201/.270/.382 and filled in at third when Jack Howell left at mid-season; he homered in his final game, one of just 6 that year.

Hara retired with a .279/.355/.523 line and 382 homers. While he never lived up to expectations and injuries cut short his career, as of February 2006 he ranks 16th all-time in NPB in home runs, 21st with 1,093 RBI, 29th with 3,144 total bases and tied for 13th with 70 sacrifice flies (he led the league in sac flies four times.

After retiring as a player Hara worked for three years (1996-1998) as a baseball commentator, coached for Yomiuri from 1999-2001 and became the Giants manager in 2002. That season the club went 86-52-2, easily won the Central League pennant and swept the Japan Series. Hara won the Matsutaro Shoriki Award that year. The club slipped to 71-66-3 in 2003 and fell to a tie for third. Hara quit the team when Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe meddled in the coaching staff. When Hara's replacement Tsuneo Horiuchi failed to improve the club, Tatsunori was rehired in 2006 - due to the meddling of Watanabe, who was back in power. He led the Giants to the best record in the Central League in 2007 and 2008.

Hara was named as Japan's manager for the 2009 World Baseball Classic and guided them to their second straight World Baseball Classic title. He ended the year with another title, leading the Giants to the 2009 Japan Series, their first Series win in seven years. He won his second Matsutaro Shoriki Award for his work.

His nephew Tomoyuki Sugano played for him starting in 2013.

Main Sources: "You Gotta Have Wa" by Robert Whiting, japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland

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