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Yutaka Fukumoto

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Yutaka Fumoto

Yutaka Fukumoto

Yutaka Fukumoto at one point held the world record for career and single-season stolen bases (Sophie Kurys stole more in the AAGPBL, but bases were much closer together as the league did not fully incorporate baseball rules). A member of the Hankyu Braves for twenty years, he was not drafted till the seventh round in 1968. In 1970, he stole 75 bases in 90 tries, taking the first of 13 consecutive stolen base titles and made the first of 17 All-Star teams (he was MVP of three All-Star games and his 19 steals in all-star action is a record).

The speedy center fielder really hit the prime time in 1972 when the 24-year old hit .301/.384/.468 - more importantly, he swiped 106 bases in 131 tries, setting a then-world record to break Maury Wills's mark. In one game he stole five bases, a Pacific League record. That year he had his legs insured for 100 million yen. He scored 99 runs, leading the league; he would lead the Pacific in each of the eight seasons to follow and would lead 10 times in his career. He was named to the first of ten Best Nine teams, won the first of a record twelve consecutive Gold Gloves and was named MVP for the only time in his career.

The next two seasons Fukumoto stole 95 and 94, the second and third best steal seasons in Nippon Pro Baseball history. In 1974 Fukumoto climbed a wall in Nishinomiya Stadium to take a home run away from Koichi Tabuchi during an All-Star contest. In '73, he led the league in doubles for the first time (he would do so three more times) and won the second of eight triple leads.

In 1976 he was named Japan Series MVP after leading the Braves to their second Japan Series victory in a row. That year he led the league with 73 walks, the first of six times he would lead in that statistic. At the age of 28, he broke Japan's all-time career stolen base record; the previous leader was Yoshinori Hirose with 596, still second all-time to Fukumoto.

1980 was arguably Fukumoto's best all-around season - .321/.409/.522, a career-high 112 runs and 21 homers, 78 walks and 54 steals, a Gold Glove, Best Nine, leading the league in runs, doubles (29), walks and steals. He also set a record that season by being caught stealing three times in a game.

In 1983, Fukumoto broke Lou Brock's world record for stolen bases in a career. As with his breaking of Wills' record and his on-the-wall catch, it took place in Nishinomiya Stadium.

Fukumoto retired in 1988 - his career line was .291/.379/.440. In addition to the previously mentioned records and honors, he holds the NPB records for triples (115). He is tied for 5th all-time in hits (2,543, even with Sachio Kinugasa). His 1,656 career runs are second only to Sadaharu Oh and are the record for the Pacific League. He is 7th all-time with 1,234 walks and 8th with 2,401 games. He retired with 1,065 steals, 469 more than the #2 man in Japanese pro baseball history. He held the double record at 449 before it was broken in 2005 by Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. His 43 homers to lead off a game are also an NPB record, two ahead of Akinobu Mayumi.

After retiring, Fukumoto was hired as a coach for the Orix Braves in 1989, where he stayed for three years, and for the Hanshin Tigers from 1998 to 1999. He also has worked as a baseball commentator.

In 2002, he was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Main source: japanbaseballdaily.com

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