Hiroki Kokubo (小久保 裕紀)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 194 lb.
- School Aoyama Gakuin University
- High School Seirin High School
Hiroki Kokubo was a star infielder for the Daiei Hawks for years.
Before he began his professional career, he was with the Japanese national team when they won the Bronze Medal in the 1993 Intercontinental Cup. He hit .350/.364/.550 with 9 RBI in 11 games. He split third base with Naoki Matsumoto but fielded only .786 there. He also split action in left field with a couple other players, handling 10 chances without an error. In the semifinals, he was 2 for 4 with a run against John Powell as Japan's cleanup man and left fielder in an upset loss to Team USA. In the Bronze Medal Game win over Nicaragua, he again hit 4th and played left field. He was again 2 for 4 with a run.
He broke in with the Hawks in 1994 and became a star in '95 when he hit .286/.366/.548 with 28 HR. He led the Pacific League in slugging, triples (9), and homers and made the PL Best Nine at second base. After an off-year in '96, he bounced back in 1997 with a line of .306/.366/.588. He led the PL in slugging by 32 points, drove in a league-best 114, tied with Tuffy Rhodes for the double lead with 37 and his 36 homers were one behind league leader Nigel Wilson. He again made the Best Nine at second base.
1998 was not a good year for Kokubo. A tax fraud scandal that year led to several players losing practically the whole season. Kokubo was the most prominent player caught and he only played 17 games all year.
In '99, Kokubo returned but looked rusty. He hit .234/.323/.449 with 24 HR and this was less valuable as he was now a 1B/3B, moved off of second. The next season Kokubo moved full-time to third, where he has been located since. He returned to form with a .288/.340/.552 year, finishing third in the PL with 105 RBI but losing a Best Nine chase to Norihiro Nakamura. Kokubo was on his only Japan Series-winning team that year.
In 2001 Kokubo hit .290/.364/.600 with 44 HR, 108 R and 123 RBI for his best year in terms of raw stats but that was the year Rhodes was having his greatest season. Kokubo was 11 homers shy of the Kintetsu Buffaloes slugger, 62 points of slugging behind and 9 RBI short of Nakamura's league-leading figure.
Kokubo kept hammering away in 2002. He hit .292/.375/.531 with 32 long balls. It would be his last year for the Hawks. He sat out the entire 2003 season with a knee injury he suffered during a home plate collision with Takumi Shiigi in spring training. The team didn't miss him, as Kenji Johjima, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Tadahito Iguchi led a strong offense to a Japan Series victory.
Daiei, figuring it no longer needed Kokubo or his salary, traded him to the Yomiuri Giants for nothing. That's what we call a salary dump. The team's fans were irate over the move and flooded the phone lines with protests. Kokubo proved them right with a resurgent 2004 for Yomiuri, winning Comeback Player of the Year honors. He hit .314/.372/.641 with 41 HR (4 behind league leaders Rhodes and Tyrone Woods) and 96 RBI. His slugging was second in the league to Greg LaRocca, who played in a hitter's park. Amazingly, Kokubo still couldn't make his third Best Nine, as Kazuyoshi Tatsunami got the spot in the Central League. He was second on homers for a team that set a new Nippon Pro Baseball record.
In 2005 Kokubo kept driving them out - he hit .281/.361/.523 with 34 HR to go over 300 for his career (among the top 30 in NPB history despite missing all of one season and almost all of another). He was 4th in the Central in home runs and 9th in OPS. Kokubo had a realistic shot at the top 15 all-time in homers - he needs to keep on hitting 30+ for 5 more years.
The 2006 season was an okay one (.256/.325/.458, 19 HR in 88 G) though he missed two months after breaking his thumb. After the season, he re-signed with the Hawks. He battled a broken rib that year, which caused him to miss some time. He hit .277/.338/.494 with 25 homers and 82 RBI in 2007 despite the injury and made the All-Star team. He got both his 1,000th RBI (July 18 against Brian Sweeney) and 1,500th hit (September 15 versus Shintaro Ejiri). He finished 8th in the PL in runs, 4th in RBI (behind Takeshi Yamasaki, Rhodes and Atsunori Inaba), tied for 5th in homers (with G.G. Sato) and was 6th in slugging (between Inaba and Kazuhiro Wada).
The veteran hit .253/.334/.465 with 20 homers in 2008 and was an All-Star. He fell to .266/.344/.418 with 18 homers and 81 RBI in 2009 while making his 10th All-Star team. He was 8th in the Pacific League in RBI and second in times hit by pitch (16, one behind Daisuke Kusano. He hurt his neck in 2010 and missed some time; be put up a .279/.335/.436 line with 15 home runs. He scored his 1,000th run in NPB. He won the Gold Glove at first base. He was 9th in voting for the 2010 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award, third among position players behind Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hitoshi Tamura.
Kokubo batted .269/.323/.418 in 2011 and made his 11th All-Star team. He hit his 400th career homer on May 12, taking Alfredo Figaro deep. He was 8 for 25 in the 2011 Japan Series to help Softbank beat the Chunichi Dragons in 7 games. He drove in Munenori Kawasaki with the first run of a 2-1 win in game 4 and the first run of a 5-0 win in game 5. For his efforts, Kokubo was named Series MVP. At age 40, he was the oldest Japan Series MVP to that point. The previous oldest was Koji Akiyama in 1999; interestingly, Akiyama was Kokubo's manager in 2011.
So far he has 2 40-HR seasons, 3 more 30-HR seasons and 5 more 20-HR seasons. Through 2011, he has hit 409 home runs.