Kazuyuki Yamamoto

From BR Bullpen

Kazuyuki Yamamoto (山本 和行)

  • Bats Left, Throws Left
  • Height 5' 8", Weight 176 lb.

Kazuyuki Yamamoto pitched for the Hanshin Tigers for 19 seasons. He threw a fastball and forkball.

Yamamoto set the Tokyo Metropolitan University League with 70 strikeouts in the spring of 1971; the record has since been broken. Overall, he was 33-24 in college. He helped Asia University win the 1971 All-Japan University Baseball Championship Series, the first time they had won that event. The Tigers took him in the first round in the draft that year.

Debuting in 1972, he had a 3-5, 3.42 record. He was 0-1 with a 4.07 ERA in 18 games in 1973 then improved to 6-8 with a save and a 3.38 ERA in 1974. He pitched in ten straight contests in 1975, a Central League record; for the year, he was unimpressive (4-6, 3 Sv, 4.80, .283 opponent average). Used almost entirely in relief in 1976 (67 games, 2 starts), he made big strides (6-3, 18 Sv, 2.93). He made the first of seven All-Star teams. On June 8, he had a lowlight, giving up a sayonara, two-out grand slam to Toshimitsu Suetsugu.

The Hiroshima native went 9-5 with 9 saves and a 3.72 ERA in 1977. His 58 appearances led the CL and he tied Takamasa Suzuki and Hisao Niura for the save lead. Yamamoto fell to 5-10 with a save, a 5.15 ERA and 28 homers allowed while moving primarily to the rotation in 1978 yet was an All-Star again. He had a 8-7, 5.43 record and two saves in 1979. In 1980, the lefty had a strong year as a starter at 15-11 with two saves and a 3.25 ERA. He led the CL with 6 wild pitches and made his third All-Star team. He was 10th in the circuit in ERA.

#25 was 12-12 with a save and a 3.29 ERA in 1981. He returned to relief in 1982 and went 15-8 with 26 saves, a 2.41 ERA, .213 opponent average and 19 walks in 141 2/3 innings. Yamamoto was an All-Star, finished third in ERA behind Akio Saito (also a reliever, who edged him out by four for the save lead) and Suguru Egawa, led in save points (40) and won Fireman of the Year honors. The 40 save points were a Nippon Pro Baseball record, broken by Genji Kaku in 1989.

In 1983, Kazuyuki was 5-9 with 8 saves and a 4.00 ERA in an off-year. He had a 10-8 record with 24 saves, a 3.55 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 1984. He again led the CL in save points to win Fireman of the Year honors; he was picked for his fifth All-Star team.

Following the '84 campaign, Yamamoto had a shot at becoming the first Japanese major leaguer since Masanori Murakami in the 1960s. He reached a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers; Yamamoto was given a Dodgers uniform with his number 25 on it. The media bombarded him with pressure to remain in Japan, with his mother making a public request that he not play in the USA. Yamamoto bowed to the pressure after one week and decided to remain with Hanshin. The reliever injured his Achilles Tendon in 1985 and was held to 33 games; he was 5-6 with 11 saves and a 2.70 ERA. He was an All-Star. He was unavailable for the 1985 Japan Series in which Hanshin won its first Japan Series ever (and only one through 2010); Kiyooki Nakanishi replaced him as closer.

Yamamoto returned to action in 1986 and made his 7th All-Star team; he was lights-out at 11-3, 1.67 with 15 saves, a 2.13 ERA and .95 WHIP. Yamamoto faded after that, going 2-1 with 9 saves and a 4.31 ERA in 1987 and 0-3 with a 6.46 ERA and .337 opponent average in 1988. 39 years old, he retired as a player.

Overall, Kazuyuki was 116-106 with 130 saves and a 3.66 ERA in 700 NPB games (161 starts). He set the Tigers franchise record for appearances. Through 2010, he was 17th in league history in saves (between Yoshitaka Katori and Kazuhiko Ushijima) and 13th in games pitched (between Keishi Suzuki and Osamu Higashio).

Yamamoto later was an announcer for Asahi Broadcasting and NHK; sandwiched between those stints was a job coaching for his hometown Hiroshima Carp.

Sources: Japan Baseball Daily, You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting