Yukio Tanaka (tanakyu02)
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- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 195 lb.
- High School Miyakonojo High School
Yukio Tanaka is a former Olympic performer who won five Gold Gloves at shortstop, was named to the Best Nine four times and made nine All-Star teams. He set the career home run record for the Nippon Ham Fighters, showcasing his rare combination of power and glovework for a middle infielder.
Tanaka was picked by the Fighters in the third round of the 1985 draft, a wise pick as he would spend over 20 years with the club. Nippon Ham already had one Yukio Tanaka, a pitcher who would be his teammate for four years. He saw limited action in 1986 as the 18-year-old hit .148/.172/.296 in 14 games. In 1987, the teenager was already playing regularly; he hit .203/.251/.320 with 80 strikeouts and 19 walks in 351 plate appearances.
Tanaka emerged as a star in 1988, making the Pacific League All-Star team for the first time. He batted .277/.306/.420 with 16 home runs. He made his first Best Nine and won his first NPB Gold Glove Award.
In 1989, Tanaka was again an All-Star, though his production fell; his batting line read .247/.284/.347. Yukio bounced back in 1990 with 18 home runs and a .287/.341/.482 batting line. He won his second Gold Glove, made his second Best Nine and was chosen for his third All-Star team.
In 1993, the 25-year-old batted .253/.294/.401. He led the Pacific League with 32 doubles, but also with 17 double plays ground into. The next year, Tanaka made a sharp improvement, hitting .286/.338/.506 with 29 doubles, 27 home runs and 87 RBI. He made his fifth All-Star team and finished third in the PL in homers behind Ralph Bryant and Hiroo Ishii. Tanaka failed to make the Best Nine as he was an outfielder that year; Tetsuro Hirose took his spot at shortstop and on the Best Nine. Makoto Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki and Kevin Reimer were the Best Nine picks in the outfield.
Hirose moved to third in 1995 and Tanaka reclaimed shortstop. He had his best year in terms of raw offensive stats, producing at a .291/.368/.506 clip with 76 runs, 28 doubles, 25 home runs, 58 walks and 80 RBI. He tied Darrin Jackson for second in doubles (one behind Lee Stevens), tied four others for third in home runs (behind Hiroki Kokubo and Troy Neel), tied So Taguchi for second in runs (behind Ichiro Suzuki) and tied Ichiro Suzuki and Kiyoshi Hatsushiba for the PL RBI lead. It was the lowest RBI total ever to lead the Pacific League (as of 2007). He made his sixth All-Star team, won his fourth Gold Glove and was picked for his third Best Nine. From June 7 through September 21, he had 339 consecutive errorless chances, the PL record.
Tanaka remained productive in 1996, batting .277/.344/.474 with 22 HR and 82 RBI. He again was one double away from leading the league, as his 29 tied Tuffy Rhodes for second, one behind Kazuhiro Kiyohara. Yukio made his fourth Best Nine and his 7th All-Star team. His six sacrifice flies led the league and he won his fifth Gold Glove.
In 1997, Tanaka slipped to .254/.321/.425 with 19 homers. He made his 8th All-Star team. On August 12, he hit a home run while batting fifth and had thus homered from every spot in the batting order, the 3rd man in NPB history to have done so. The next year, Yukio hit .274/.361/.512 with 24 home runs but was left off of the All-Star team. Tanaka split time between shortstop and first base that year.
During the 1999 season, Tanaka batted .270/.327/.459 with 23 HR and a PL-leading 132 strikeouts, while once again playing shortstop regularly. On May 14, he hit his 200th career home run, the first player in Nippon Ham history to reach that mark. He made his 9th and last All-Star team.
Yukio hit .256/.332/.448 with 15 homers in 97 games in 2000, missing time to represent Japan in the 2000 Olympics. The oldest player on the team, he split first base and DH with Nobuhiko Matsunaka and hit .323/.417/.548 with 6 runs and 7 RBI in 8 games.
In 2001, Tanaka hit .255/.333/.422 with th7,e last of his six 20-homer seasons, hitting exactly 20 at age 33. Playing third base and the corner outfield slots in 2002, Tanaka batted .278/.334/.471 with 31 doubles and 17 home runs in his last year as a regular.
Tanaka was starting to lose playing time to younger players by 2003 but was still the club's primary option in a rotating slew of DHes, edging out D.T. Cromer. He hit .275/.338/.442 in 78 games as a 1B-DH. In 79 AB in 2004, Tanaka did not hit a single homer, batting just .253/.352/.316 as his skills were fading at age 36.
Tanaka managed to play 98 games in 2005, as a 1B-LF-DH-PH, hitting .237/.281/.392. While Nippon Ham was finally winnig in 2006, their veteran leader was only hitting .174/.242/.198 in 86 AB, again going homerless. He went 0 for 1 in the 2006 Japan Series but he finally was on a championship-winning team.
By May 5 of 2007, a resurgent Tanaka had already matched his hit total from the entire 2006 season (15) and his 3 homers were tied for second on the Fighters. He was quickly closing in on joining the meikyukai. On May 17, he joined the meikyukai with a 3-for-4 day. The 47th member of the meikyukai, he was the second-slowest to that point, taking 2,205 games. Only former teammate Yasunori Oshima had taken longer. Tanaka reached the milestone only 11 days after another player, Hideki Matsui. He did so at Tokyo Dome, which served as his home stadium for 16 years from 1988-2004. In his final Tokyo Dome appearance, on September 19, Tanaka helped Nippon Ham clinch a playoff berth and drove in a key run in the 4th inning. He got a standing ovation. In 2007, he hit .222/.250/.363 in 55 games then was 0 for 1 in the 2007 Japan Series to wrap up his career.
Overall, Tanaka hit .262/.321/.434 in 2,238 games in Nippon Pro Baseball with 974 runs, 2,012 hits, 390 doubles, 287 home runs and 1,026 RBI. Through 2008, he ranked 12th all-time in NPB in doubles, 29th in RBI, 26th in total bases (3,333), 16th in games, 20th in AB (7,673) and 11th in strikeouts (1,416).
Tanaka was offered to be a hitting coach for Nippon Ham in 2008 but he turned down the deal to review his options.