Eiji Fujii (藤井 栄治) (Tetsu Kamen [Iron Mask])
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 5' 8", Weight 170 lb.
Eiji Fujii was a three-time All-Star in 17 seasons in Nippon Pro Baseball.
Fujii won a Kansai Big Six University League batting title. He signed with the Hanshin Tigers in 1962 and hit .240/.286/.316 as a rookie, starting regularly in the outfield. His first hit came off Kiyoshi Oishi and his first home run against Minoru Kakimoto. His five triples tied him for third in the Central League behind Toshio Naka and Akihito Kondo. He hit .324/.324/.382 with five RBI in the 1962 Japan Series but Hanshin fell to the Toei Flyers in seven games; he was one RBI behind team leader Katsumi Fujimoto.
By his second season, he was a productive offensive threat. He made the CL All-Star team. In 1963 NPB All-Star Game 2 (he did not play in game 1), he pinch-hit for Makoto Inagawa and hit a two-run homer off Eiichiro Takahashi of the Pacific League; the CL won 11-9. He replaced Kazuhiko Kondo in RF late in game 3, a 8-5 win; he went 0 for 1, retired by Yukihiro Kubo. For the season, he hit .300/.342/.411 and made the CL leaderboard in average (7th, between Sadayuki Tokutake and Akiteru Kono), hits (148, 8th between Sadaharu Oh and Akira Owada), doubles (28, tied for second with Hiromu Fujii and Shigeo Nagashima, two behind Oh) and caught stealing (12 in 18 tries, tied for third with Morimichi Takagi). He made his only Best Nine, picked alongside Shinichi Eto and Kazuhiko Kondo in the outfield.
Fujii's numbers were down in 1964, when he hit .266/.313/.389 with 30 doubles in a pitcher-friendly season. In 1964 NPB All-Star Game 1, he replaced Kazuhiro Yamauchi in right and went 0 for 2 in a 1-0 win. In Game 2, he pinch-hit for Yoshiaki Ito in the 5th and got a hit and RBI in a 5-1 win. In Game 3, he batted for Takeshi Kuwata and struck out against Masayuki Dobashi in a 10-2 loss. He finished the season 9th in the CL with 140 hits (between Takagi and Kazuhiko Kondo), tied Kuwata for the doubles lead and led with eight sacrifice flies (one more than Yamauchi). He hit .190/.227/.476 in the 1964 Japan Series, with a team-high two homers (both homers came in a 5-4 game 3 win) and five RBI as Hanshin fell in 7 games to the Nankai Hawks. After two Japan Series appearances in his first three years, he never appeared again in a Japan Series.
The Sakai native slumped to .238/.290/.345 in 1965. His six triples was second (two behind Naka), his six sacrifice flies were second (three shy of Yamauchi), tied for third with five hit-by-pitches and led with 21 double-play grounders (three more than Masahiko Mori). He played in the 1965 NPB All-Star Games. In game 1, he batted for Minoru Murayama and was retired by Tadashi Sugiura. In game 2, he batted for Sohachi Aniya and was retired by Toshiaki Tokuhisa. He started game 3 in right and went 0 for 2 before Yamauchi replaced him a 14-inning, 1-1 tie. While he had been an All-Star three of his first four seasons, he did not make another All-Star squad in his other 14 campaigns to come.
Fujii produced at a .281/.335/.410 clip in 1966, finishing 10th in the Central League in average, was 9th with 124 hits (between Kazuyoshi Yamamoto and Oh) and was 7th with 22 doubles (between Naka and Takao Katsuragi). In 1967, he batted .266/.302/.381 and ranked eighth with 24 doubles. During 1968, the 28-year-old flyhawk hit .268/.315/.385, tied for 7th with 24 doubles (even with Shuhei Ichieda and Makoto Matsubara) and tied for first with Yamauchi, Dave Roberts and Yozaburo Chihara with 7 sacrifice flies. 1969 was his last year as a starter for Hanshin and his offensive numbers are not what one would expect from an outfielder (.236/.313/.300, 2 HR). He was 10th in the league with 41 walks.
Eiji lost his starting role with Hanshin to Fred Valentine in 1970; he hit .242/.321/.323 in 75 games. He batted .230/.305/.254 in 80 games in 1971 but did become the 78th NPB player to reach 1,000 hits, doing so against Katsuhiro Nishikawa on June 22. He hit .264/.373/.329 in 86 games in 1972 for the best OBP of any Tiger with more than one at-bat; Taira Fujita's .347 paced the starters. He did even better yet in 44 games in 1973 - .293/.410/.429. Had he qualified, he would have been second in the CL in OBP, behind Oh.
Hanshin then dealt away the veteran to the Taiheiyo Club Lions for fellow backup outfielder Yoshio Abe. That year, he got his 818th, 819th and 820th consecutive chances without an error following 817 with Hanshin, a record for outfielders in NPB that stood for 40 years until Ryo Hijirisawa broke it. What makes this odd is that he had been criticized by team coaches over the years for catching the ball one-handed; clearly his style did not affect the results too badly. He hit .231/.324/.319 for the 1974 Lions, topping 100 games played for the first time in five years.
For the Lions in 1975, he batted .254/.331/.351 in 90 games, followed by .279/.328/.378 in 59 contests in 1976. That year, he became the 50th player in NPB annals to appear in 1,000 games. Moving to the Hankyu Braves, he hit .321/.351/.396 in 114 plate appearances (61 games) in 1977, the second-best average among Hankyu players with over 100 at-bats (behind Kinji Shimatani). He fell to .178/.191/.222 in 48 plate appearances in 1978 to end his playing career.
Fujii had batted .260/.320/.358 in 1,650 NPB games, with 451 runs and 545 RBI. He had more walks (467) than strikeouts (446). Through 2011, he was tied for 40th in NPB history with 54 sacrifice flies (even with Hirofumi Ogawa), tied Kenji Awaguchi and Akitoshi Kodama for 79th with 42 intentional walks and tied John Sipin and Akihiko Oya for 75th with 133 double-play grounders.
He was a hitting coach for the 1979-1981 Seibu Lions and coached for the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1982 to 1984. He was a baseball commentator for Sun Television from 1985-1987. In 1988, he was hitting coach for the Tigers, returning to his original club. He managed in the minors for them in 1989, working with Yutaka Wada among others. From 1990-1992, he wrote for Sports Nippon. He began 1993 as a coach for Kintetsu but did not last long there due to poor health.