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Yutaka Wada

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Yutaka Wada

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[edit] Biographical Information

Yutaka Wada was the long-time second baseman for the Hanshin Tigers, making seven Central League All-Star teams.

Wada won a batting title his junior year of college. He played in the 1984 Olympics, mostly off of the bench, for the Japanese team that finished first, beating out a star-studded Team USA. Wada was picked in the third round by Hanshin that year.

In Wada's first season, Hanshin won their first Central League pennant in 21 years and their first Japan Series ever. The rookie hit .286/.352/.286 in 54 plate appearances over 39 games. Wada did not appear in the 1985 Japan Series as star Akinobu Okada manned second throughout the event. He only played 8 games in 1986 for the Tigers, going 1 for 3 with two sacrifice hits. He hit .245/.286/.321 in 54 games (59 plate appearances) in 1987.

Wada became a regular in 1988, hitting .279/.341/.322 and stealing 17 bases in 20 tries. He set a new Nippon Pro Baseball record for sacrifice hits in a season, with 56, breaking Ken Hirano's 6-year-old record; Masahiro Kawai broke Wada's record three years later.

In 1989, Wada made his first All-Star team. He hit .296/.358/.361 with 18 stolen bases in 26 attempts. He laid down 40 sacrifice hits to again lead the CL. He just missed the CL's top 10 in batting average. Wada batted .304/.375/.401 in 1990, stealing 17 bases in 26 tries. He was 5th in the CL in average behind Jim Paciorek, Yutaka Takagi, Katsumi Hirosawa and Vance Law. He was no longer being called to bunt frequently, laying down 12 sacrifice hits. He led the CL with 123 singles, the first of six times he would lead in that department.

Wada produced at a .298/.371/.336 in 1991 and failed to hit a home run after smacking a career-high eight the prior year. He was only 9-for-22 in steal attempts. He had 131 singles, tying Kenjiro Nomura for the league lead. In 1992, Wada hit .278/.328/.349 with 8 triples, tying Teruyoshi Kuji and Tetsuya Iida for the CL lead. He also led the loop in at-bats (550). He was only 1 for 7 in attempts to steal. He won his first Gold Glove and made his first Best Nine as the top second sacker in the league. He made his second All-Star team.

Wada hit .315/.373/.366 in 1993 to finish 5th in the CL in average (2nd among Japanese natives) behind Tom O'Malley, Bobby Rose, Alonzo Powell and Tomonori Maeda. He led the CL in hits (161) and singles (137), made his third All-Star team and won his second Gold Glove Award. He had a NPB record 423 consecutive chances at second base without an error that year.

In 1994, the 31-year-old former Olympian batted .318/.395/.366 for career highs in average and OBP. He hit his first home run in four years, setting a NPB record with 1,929 consecutive plate appearances between home runs. He had also gone 3,672 plate appearances from the start of his career with no multi-run homers. He finished 4th in the league in average behind Powell, Maeda and Akira Eto. His 165 hits were second to Nomura's 169. He led the CL with 147 singles, made his 4th All-Star team, won his third and last Gold Glove and made his second Best Nine, beating out Rose for the only time.

Wada hit .267/.330/.332 in 1995 but still made the CL All-Star team. For the first time in the 1990s, he failed to lead the league in singles as Takuro Ishii got two more. He made his 6th All-Star squad in 1996, when the veteran batted .298/.349/.381. He had 125 singles, tying Teruyoshi Kujii for the CL lead, the last time he led in that department. He also led in at-bats (520). In the Japan All-Star Series, he drove in 7 runs to tie Hideki Matsui for the lead on the Japanese team, two shy of Steve Finley's tournament-leading 9.

Makoto Imaoka took away some of Wada's playing time in 1997 but Yutaka still batted .300/.346/.385. He set a record by opening the season with a 24-game hitting streak, the longest streak to start a campaign in NPB history. With Imaoka moving to shortstop in 1998, Wada was back in the regular lineup, hitting .272/.340/.338.

In 1999, Wada batted .302/.367/.386 and made his final All-Star team. Imaoka and Shuta Tanaka were getting regular time at second base for Hanshin. On June 1, he became the 19th player in NPB history with 200 sacrifice hits. Wada was a part-timer in 2000 and the 37-year-old hit .253/.347/.320. He only played 37 games in 2001, wrapping up his career by batting .132/.250/.184.

Overall, Wada hit .291/.357/.357 with 1,739 hits in 1,713 games in NPB. He had the fourth fewest home runs (29) of any player with 4,000+ AB.

After retiring, Wada became the hitting coach for Hanshin. He became manager of the club in 2012.

Primary Source: Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland

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