Kenichi Yazawa

From BR Bullpen

KenichiYazawa.jpg

Kenichi Yazawa

  • Bats Left, Throws Left
  • Height 5' 10", Weight 165 lb.

Kenichi Yazawa starred for the Chunichi Dragons during a 17-season playing career, making nine All-Star teams.

In the 1964 Olympics, Yazawa was a torch bearer. He won the Tokyo Big Six University League batting title in the spring of 1967. Chunichi drafted him in the first round two years later. In his pro debut on April 12, he singled off Kazumi Takahashi. He hit .251/.311/.396 in 1970. He led the Central League with six triples and won the Rookie of the Year award. He made his first All-Star team.

Yazawa improved to .260/.313/.416 with 16 homers in 1971 and was an All-Star, then hit .290/.382/.449 with 63 walks and 15 homers in 1972, again an All-Star. He finished 7th in average, between Isao Shibata and Art Lopez. In 1973, Kenichi batted .295/.376/.419 and took home his fourth All-Star honor. He edged John Sipin for third in the CL in average behind Sadaharu Oh and Tsutomu Wakamatsu.

Failing to make the All-Star team for the first time, Yazawa was still productive in 1974 at .290/.346/.498 with 31 doubles and 22 home runs. He was 10th in the CL in average and led in doubles. He hit .304/.304/.609 in the 1974 Japan Series, with two game three home runs. He drove in 7 runs in six games but Chunichi fell to the Lotte Orions.

The Waseda alumnus hit .294/.359/.445 with 17 long balls in 1975, finishing 6th in average, between Sipin and Roger Repoz. He raised his game another notch in 1976, putting up a .355/.400/.498 line. On the season's last day, he went 3 for 4 to edge Isao Harimoto by .0001 for the batting title, .3548 to .3547. He also led in doubles (36). Yazawa was an All-Star and also made the Best Nine, joining Harimoto and Wakamatsu in the outfield.

Yazawa fell to .312/.381/.473 with 29 doubles in 1977. He failed to make the top 10 in average, .004 behind #10 Charlie Manuel. Yazawa hit .283/.323/.391 in 70 games in 1978 and severed his Achilles tendon. He missed almost all of 1979, going 2 for 12 with a walk.

Healthy once more in 1980, Yazawa had perhaps his best year, hitting .369/.435/.628 with 27 home runs and 80 RBI. He made his fifth All-Star team, won Comeback Player of the Year and led in average (18 points ahead of Wakamatsu). He also made the Best Nine, this time at first base, ending an incredible run of 18 in a row by Sadaharu Oh, who was then in his final season. It would be 27 years before another player, Norichika Aoki, from a last-place team won the CL batting title.

Yazawa hit .318/.368/.561 with a 28 circuit clouts in 1981 and made the All-Star team. He finished 9th in average, between Jim Lyttle and Yasushi Tao. He then faded to .280/.345/.461 with 21 home runs and 85 RBI in 1982, but he again won the Best Nine at first base (Taira Fujita had taken it in 1981). He again starred in a losing cause in a Japan Series, batting .364/.462/.545 with 5 runs in 6 games in the 1982 Japan Series, won by the Seibu Lions. It would be Yazawa's last chance at a Japan Series title.

In 1983, the Kashiwa native hit .315/.388/.513 with 33 doubles, 21 home runs and 87 RBI. He won his third doubles title (tied with Daisuke Yamashita) and finished 5th in average between Koji Yamamoto and Yutaka Takagi. He won Best Nine once more and his 8th All-Star team. In 1984, he improved to .329/.405/.574 with 84 runs and a career-high 34 homers and 99 RBI. He was second in average (between Kazunori Shinozuka and Sachio Kinugasa) and made his 9th All-Star team. He also tied teammate Tao for the most hits (166) and led in total bases (290). He was picked for his fifth and final Best Nine.

Yazawa fell to .289/.363/.406 with 11 home runs at age 37 in 1985 then .273/.326/.509 with 13 homers in 220 AB as a part-timer in 1986. On October 23, 1985, he joined the meikyukai with his 2,000th hit, the 22nd NPB player to reach that figure.

Yazawa later was a baseball commentator on Fuji TV, a coach for the Seibu Lions (1994-1995) and an industrial league manager.

Overall, Yazawa produced at a .302/.368/.481 rate in 1,931 NPB games, with 348 doubles, 2,062 hits, 273 home runs, 969 RBI and 682 walks. Through 2010, he was 29th in Japanese history in hits (between Taira Fujita and Shinichi Eto, who just missed overlapping him with Chunichi) and 20th in average (between Hiroshi Oshita and Tomonori Maeda). He was 1st in Dragons history in RBI, second in hits, 4th in homers and first in extra-base hits.

Source: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland