Hideji Kato

From BR Bullpen

Hideji Kato

Biographical Information[edit]

First baseman Hideji Kato was an 11-time All-Star for the Hankyu Braves, the team he hit cleanup for for many years. The second-round draft choice of Hankyu in 1968, Kato became a regular for the team in 1971. That season Hideji hit .321/.383/.578 with 35 doubles, 25 homers and 18 steals in 22 tries. Kato finished second to Shinichi Etoh in the batting race in the Pacific League and hit the most two-baggers in the circuit. He slipped drastically the next season to .290/.337/.478 but bounced back in '73 by chipping in a .337/.395/.564 line. Kato won his first batting title and also made his first Best Nine.

In 1974 Kato hit a solid .322/.373/.523 and finished fourth in the PL in batting average. The next season he returned to the Best Nine when he hit .309/.388/.572 with 32 HR and a league-high 97 RBI. He led in total bases (261) and slugging percentage and won his only MVP Award in helping lead the Braves to their first Japan Series title and the first one in a decade not won by the Yomiuri Giants. Kato followed that by batting .300/.376/.556 with 28 homers. He again led in RBI (84) and total bases (239) and also posted the best OBP. He won his second straight Gold Glove. The Braves repeated as Japan Series champs.

In 1977 Hankyu won their third straight Series as Kato hit .319/.401/.537 in the regular season. The 29-year-old made his third straight Best Nine, won his third straight (and final) Gold Glove and led the league in OBP for the second consecutive season.

Kato and Hankyu slipped in '78. Hideji hit .255/.344/.481 and only led the Pacific League in sacrifice flies (10), one of six times he ranked #1 in that category. He bounced back in 1979, making his fifth and last Best Nine after a .364/.437/.679 season in which he set career highs in average, OBP, slugging, runs (84), homers (35), RBI (104) and total bases (304). After four years of poor-to-fair baserunning, his speed even returned as he stole 14 bases in 17 attempts. Kato led the PL in OBP for the third and final time, led with 32 doubles, won his second batting championship, led in hits (163), RBI and total bases. He only missed a home run title by 2 long balls, falling just shy of Bobby Mitchell's league-top total.

Kato began slipping in 1980, falling to .318/.394/.558 with 28 home runs and 97 RBI. He dipped further in '81 to .314/.384/.485. In 1982 Kato made his final All-Star team en route to an even worse campaign as he hit just .235/.314/.423.

The fading 34-year-old left his long-time team in a trade to the Hiroshima Carp for Jitsuo Mizutani in 1983 and hit .261/.325/.431 with just 10 homers, the least since his rookie season. His one-year sojourn in the Central League ended when he joined the Kintetsu Buffaloes in a deal with Tetsuya Ohara for Yasuo Fukui and Hiroshi Moriwaki the next year, but he hit only .253/.332/.373 in '84 and led the league in strikeouts. He had a brief resurgence in 1985 when he batted .286/.373/.510 with 26 home runs.

In 1986 Kato was a backup for the Yomiuri Giants, hitting .219/.303/.333. Going to the Nankai Hawks for his final season Kato hit .260/.331/.393.

After retiring Hideji became a Nippon Ham Fighters coach and baseball broadcaster.

Overall Kato hit .297/.372/.512, stats that fell drastically over his final seven years. As of January 2006, he ranks 22nd in Nippon Pro Baseball history with 347 homers, 19th with 367 doubles, 29th with 2,055 hits, 23rd in average for players with 4,000+ at-bats, 15th with 1,268 RBI, 27th with 1,031 runs, 17th with 3,537 total bases, 30th with 807 walks, 7th with 116 times hit by pitch and 2nd with 105 sacrifice flies (8 behind Katsuya Nomura).

Source: japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland