Sachio Kinugasa (衣笠 祥雄)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 9", Weight 160 lbs.
- High School Heian High School
- NPB Debut May 16, 1965
- NPB Final Game October 22, 1987
- Born January 18, 1947 in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto Japan
- Died April 23, 2018
A longtime member of the Hiroshima Carp, Sachio Kinugasa played 2,215 consecutive games between 1970 and 1987; unlike Cal Ripken Jr., he retired with his streak intact. Kinugasa also hit 504 career home runs in his long career that started in 1965. The third baseman was a 13-time All-Star and was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. While often among the league leaders, he rarely led in major categories, leading once in RBI, once in steals and once in hits and never in home runs. He might not have gotten much Black Ink, but he had a lot of Gray Ink.
Kinugasa's father was an African-American soldier who abandoned Kinugasa's family when he was young. Sachio would not discuss the topic and it was a policy of the Carp not to raise the issue, which was not mentioned in either of his authorized biographies.  Roommate Tatsuo Okitsu said that Kinugasa studied English at night, hoping his father would return and meet him. Even when Sachio broke Lou Gehrig's Most Consecutive Games Played record, though, his father did not contact him. 
Kinugasa employed a batting style which employed long, aggressive swings. This was highly unusual in Nippon Pro Baseball as it was deemed an "American" type of swing and not authentically Japanese. Sachio's batting coach did not tamper with it, saying "Kinugasa wasn't really Japanese, so it couldn't be helped."  Robert Whiting writes that "Kinugasa swung so hard that for many years he suffered from whiplash." 
The subject of childhood insults due to his racial heritage, Kinugasa was an outsider as a youth. He took up judo but his middle school did not offer it, so he opted for baseball over rugby, a smart choice in retrospect.  A star catcher in high school, he signed with Hiroshima for a 10-million-yen bonus and bought a Ford Galaxy with the money, starting his reputation as a guy who loved fancy cars.  After an accident, though, the team made him give up his driver's license. 
1965-1967: Early pro struggles
In 1965, Sachio hit .159/.178/.250 in 28 games. His first hit was July 25 off Nobuji Oikawa and his first home run August 22 against Minoru Murayama.  As a backup first baseman in 1966, he only managed a .147/.275/.294 line in 32 games. The next year, in 28 outings, he batted .250/.308/.417 as a backup to Hiromu Fujii at 1B.
1968-1970: Before the streak
Kinugasa became a regular at age 21 and produced at a .276/.377/.494 clip with 21 homers. He was among the 1968 Central League leaders in home runs (tied for 8th with Tatsuhiko Kimata and Kazuhiro Yamauchi), steals (11, tied for 9th with Morimichi Takagi), walks (54, 5th, between Kazuyoshi Yamamoto and Yamauchi), slugging (9th, between Makoto Matsubara and Willie Kirkland), OBP (5th, between Yamauchi and Shinichi Eto), OPS (6th, between Yamauchi and Kimata) and times hit by pitch (11, 2nd, one behind Shigeru Takada. In 1969, he hit .250/.329/.383 with 15 long balls. He was caught stealing 15 times, the most in the Central League, while stealing 32. He was second in steals, 3 behind Isao Shibata, tied Hiroaki Inoue for second in hit-by-pitch (11, behind Takada) and grounded into the most double plays (17, 2 more than Shigeo Nagashima).
In 1970, he batted .251/.333/.431 with 19 homers and tying Kirland for the league lead with 81 strikeouts. He tied for 8th in steals (13), was 6th in walks (42), tied for 4th in times plunked (8), tied Matsubara for third in double play grounders (14), tied Dave Roberts for 8th in home runs, was 6th in RBI (57, between Kimata and Koji Yamamoto), was 7th in OBP (between Goro Toi and Shiro Takegami), was 6th in slugging (between John Miller and Kazuyoshi Yamamoto) and was 7th in OPS (between Motoo Ando and Toi). Known for his drinking, Kinugasa came back to the Carp dormitory after a game that year drunk. Coach Junzo Sekine was still there, waiting for his nightly batting practice with Sachio. Kinugasa took 100 swings and then collapsed to the ground in tears. For years afterwards, he made such practices part of his routine and would often vanish from a bar to go swing the bat. 
Kinugasa's streak began at the very end of 1970 on October 19th. He had only missed a few games in each of the three years he had been a regular, but would never miss another contest in the next 17 years.
1971-1974: Becoming a star
Kinugasa batted .285/.388/.509 in 1971, becoming a star. He made his first All-Star team, swatted 27 homers, drove in 82, led the league with 15 times hit by pitch (3 ahead of runner-up Toshiyuki Mimura), had a streak of home runs in five straight contests and went yard three times in another game. He finished 4th in runs (72, between Takada and Taira Fujita), 3rd in hits (131, behind Nagashima and Jitsuo Mizutani), tied Kimata for 6th in home runs, was third in RBI (after the great Sadaharu Oh and Nagashima), third in caught stealing (11, behind Shibata and Masayuki Nakatsuka), was second with 64 walks (a distant 57 behind Oh), tied for 6th in strikeouts (71, even with Fujita and Akira Hishikawa), was second in average (35 points behind Nagashima), ranked third in OBP (behind Oh and Nagashima), was 5th in slugging (between Kimata and Fujita) and was third in OPS (after Oh and Nagashima). He had no chance of the Best Nine nod at first base, which Oh had locked up as usual.
In 1972, he hit .295/.368/.510 with 29 HR and 99 RBI, leading the loop with 147 hits (3 ahead of Fujita and Mimura). He was 7th in runs (67), 3rd in home runs (behind Oh and Koichi Tabuchi), second in RBI (21 behind Oh), 8th in steals (12), tied for 4th in sacrifice flies (6, even with Yukinobu Kuroe), second in hit-by-pitch (12, 7 behind Mimura), tied for 5th in strikeouts (77, between Yasunori Oshima and John Sipin), tied for third in double play grounders (16, behind Nagashima and Isao Ito), 4th in average (after Tsutomu Wakamatsu, Mimura and Oh), 7th in OBP (between Wakamatsu and Kazuyoshi Yamamoto), 4th in slugging (trailing Oh, Tabuchi and Wakamatsu), 4th in OPS (behind Oh, Roberts and Wakamatsu) and second in total bases (254, 44 behind Oh). He hit his 100th home run off Yutaka Enatsu.
The next season, his batting line read .207/.310/.363 in a major off-year, though he still clubbed 19 homers. He tied Koji Yamamoto for 7th in the 1973 CL in dingers, was third in walks (65, behind Oh and Tabuchi), ranked fifth in whiffs and tied Kimata for 5th in double play grounders (15). In 1974, the 27-year-old hit .253/.327/.482 with 32 home runs and was an All-Star for the second time. He took Jun Misawa deep for his 150th homer. He was among the league leaders in runs (72, 8th, between Kenichi Yazawa and Takagi), home runs (4th, between Gene Martin and Koji Yamamoto), RBI (86, 4th, between Martin and Matsubara), walks (48, 7th), strikeouts (78, 3rd, behind Kazumasa Kono and Roger Repoz) and total bases (227, 8th, between Yazawa and Kimata).
1975-1986: Mr. Consistency
While playing every day, Kinugasa hit 20 homers a year every season for the next 12 to extend his total run to 13. He moved to third base at the recommendation of Joe Lutz  and hit .276/.340/.457 in 1975, made his third All-Star team and the first of three Best Nines (now that Nagashima was gone and he no longer shared a position with Oh, he had a chance). He only finished 9th in home runs (21, one behind Martin and one ahead of Clete Boyer and Kinji Shimatani), tied for 8th in RBI (71, even with Yazawa), tied Roger Repoz for third in doubles (22) and was second in grounding into twin killings (21, 2 behind Bob Taylor, not as good as some of his prior leaderboard showings. He hit only .130/.231/.261 in his first Japan Series as Hiroshima dropped the 1975 Series to the Hankyu Braves. It was the first time Hiroshima had ever won the CL pennant.
In 1976, Sachio had a .299/.346/.506 batting line and led the league in times hit by pitch (10, one ahead of Davey Johnson and Kono), times grounded into double play (19, tied for first with Katsuo Osugi and Mike Reinbach) and at-bats (522). He hit 26 homers and led the CL in both steals (31, 11 more than runner-up Isao Shibata) and times caught (14) in the first of 2 20-20 campaigns. He also tied Tabuchi for 5th in runs (82), was 4th in hits, tied Koji Yamamoto for 4th in doubles (26), was third in strikeouts (84, behind Martin and Repoz) and tied Martin for fourth in total bases (264). On July 7, he hit for the cycle in the only time in his career. That year, he became the 95th player to 1,000 hits (off Misawa) and the 25th to 200 home runs (off Takashi Nemoto). He stole 28 in 1977 (2nd, 6 behind leader Shibata), led with 15 times caught and had 582 plate appearances, most in the CL. Making his 4th straight All-Star squad, he hit .265/.340/.461 with 25 HR and 88 runs. He also was among the leaders in runs (5th, between Matsubara and Shibata) and walks (53, tied for 7th with Hal Breeden, Martin and Yazawa). He just missed the home run leaderboard, tying Willie Davis for 11th, two behind Yasunori Oshima. On both October 4th and October 5th, he led off the game with a home run.
In the 1978 season, the third baseman batted .267/.372/.505 with 30 circuit clouts and 87 RBI. He went 9 for 10 in steals - that is, if you leave out a stretch where he was gunned down in 12 straight tries. He became the 14th player to 250 home runs when he took Masao Tamura deep. He was plunked by 11 pitches, tied with Yoshihiko Takahashi and Kono most in the CL. He was 8th in runs (81, between Keiji Nagasaki and Yoshikazu Takagi), tied Osugi for 9th in home runs, was second in times caught stealing (behind Takahashi), 6th in walks (69, between Nagasaki and Masayuki Kakefu), 4th in strikeouts (83, between Kakefu and Charlie Manuel), 5th in double play grounders (14, tied with Manuel and Matsubara).
In 1979, the 32-year-old veteran produced at a .278/.376/.485 clip with 20 homers and 15 steals in 19 tries. His streak was almost snapped in August when he was hit in the back by a pitch from Takashi Nishimoto and the doctors told him not to play; he had appeared in 1,123 contests in a row at that point. He appeared the next day, saying "If I had played and swung the bat, the pain in my shoulder would last only an instant. If I had to stay home and watch the game on TV, I'd hurt all over for three hours."  He was 5th in the CL in runs (82, between Takahashi and Wakamatsu), tied Koji Yamamoto for 8th in steals, tied Wayne Garrett and Mitsuo Motoi for 7th in walks (55), tied Yukio Yaegashi for 4th in times plunked (9) and was 9th in OBP (between Sugiura and Oshima). It was the last time he failed to make the All-Star team. Playing only part-time in the 1979 Japan Series, he went 2 for 14 and hit into two double plays as Hiroshima won their first title. Missing one game of the Series did not affect his consecutive-game streak.
1980 marked his 6th All-Star appearance, his second Best Nine and his first Diamond Glove Award. He improved to .294/.361/.526 with 31 homers, 16 steals (in 22 tries) and 85 RBI. He was hit by 10 pitches, most in the circuit. He also tied Akinobu Mayumi for second in runs (79, 12 behind Koji Yamamoto), was 5th in hits (144, between Yamamoto and Jim Lyttle), ranked third in home runs (behind Yamamoto and Tomio Tashiro), was third in RBI (after Yamamoto and Yashiro), tied for 9th in steals (with Yasushi Tao and Wakamatsu), was second in strikeouts (89, 15 behind Tashiro), was 6th in slugging (between Sugiura and Mayumi), was 6th in OPS (between Sugiura and Roy White) and was 4th in total bases (behind Yamamoto, Tashiro and Yazawa). He hit several milestones: the 60th player to 1,500 hits (off Osamu Nomura), 13th to 300 home runs (taking Kimiya Fujisawa deep) and the 6th to 1,000 strikeouts (against Takenori Emoto). He hit .174/.267/.348 in the 1980 Japan Series as Hiroshima won again. He homered in game 7 to help send the Kintetsu Buffaloes packing.
In 1981, Kinugasa had a .271/.334/.507 batting line with 30 HR. He hit into a league-leading 16 double plays (one ahead of Tashiro) and made the All-Star squad. He scored 82 runs (4th, between Lyttle and Kono), tied for 5th in doubles (23, even with Tatsunori Hara, Akinobu Okada, Yoshihiko Takahashi and Gary Thomasson), tied Tashiro for third in home runs (behind Koji Yamamoto and Lyttle), tied for second in hit-by-pitch (8, 2 behind White), was 5th in strikeouts (83), was 5th in total bases (251, between Masayuki Kakefu and Oshima) and was 10th in slugging (between Kiyoshi Nakahata and Oshima). A year later, his 10 times hit by pitch tied Masaaki Iwashita for the league lead. He produced at a .280/.351/.505 clip, smacked 29 homers and stole 12 of 14 at age 35. He finished 8th in the CL in runs (74), tied Okada for 9th in doubles (22), was 5th in home runs (behind Kakefu, Hara, Masaru Uno and Koji Yamamoto), was 9th in RBI (74), tied for 9th in walks (44), was third in strikeouts (89, after Tashiro and Uno), was 10th in OBP (between Sugiura and Wakamatsu), was 4th in slugging (after Kakefu, Yamamoto and Hara), was 7th in OPS (between Mizutani and Hara) and was 5th in total bases (294, between Tao and Ken Macha). He was an All-Star and lost out the Best Nine to Kakefu for the second straight year. He got his 350th homer (off Nomura, the 11th player to do so) and scored his 1,000th run (the 17th player to score that many).
In 1983, he made his 4th straight and 8th All-Star team and hit .292/.359/.510 with 27 HR and 84 RBI. He reached 2,000 career hits on August 9 (joining the meikyukai), the 18th player to do so (the hit coming off Shigeru Kobayashi), became the 9th person to 400 home runs (off Kenji Miyamoto) and had a grand slam on Opening Day. He had three of his seven career grand slams that season. He tied Koji Yamamoto for third in runs (86), was 8th in hits (145), tied Kakefu for 9th in doubles (25), tied Uno for 9th in home runs, was 8th in RBI (between Yazawa and Randy Bass), was second in strikeouts (89, 8 behind Uno), was 7th in total bases (253) and was 10th in slugging (between Yazawa and Tashiro).
The '84 season saw him produce at a .329/.373/.573 rate for his best year. The veteran homered 31 times, drove in 102 and stole 11 in 12 attempts. He led the CL in RBI for the only time in his career (3 over Yazawa), tied for the most sacrifice flies (7, even with Okada and Noriyoshi Sano), was third in average (behind Sadaaki Yoshimura and Kazunori Shinozuka), tied for 4th in runs (79, even with Kakefu and Ryuzo Yamasaki), was third in hits (161, behind Tao and Yazawa), tied Leon Lee and Macha for 7th in doubles (25), tied Macha and Nakahata for 6th in homers, tied Kakefu for 4th in strikeouts (83), was 4th in slugging (behind Bass, Macha and Yazawa), was 5th in OPS (between Kakefu and Koji Yamamoto, despite not making the top 10 in OBP), ranking second with 281 total bases (9 behind Kakefu), won his second Diamond Glove, made his third and last Best Nine and his 9th All-Star team. He was honored with his only MVP award. In the 1984 Japan Series, he hit .200/.355/.600, scored six runs and homered three times as his poor contact in the post-season again was compensated for by power and walks. He homered in games 1, 3 and 7, all Hiroshima wins as the team topped the Hankyu Braves. Kiyoyuki Nagashima, who also hit three homers in the Series, was named MVP. Through 2013, Hiroshima has yet to win another Series.
In 1985, Kinugasa hit .292/.354/.500 with 28 long balls and made the All-Star team. He was 10th in the CL in home runs, 9th in RBI (between Mayumi and Sugiura) and 10th in total bases (240). He became the 8th NPB player to 450 home runs (off Kazuyuki Yamamoto). The next year, the 39-year-old infielder batted only .205/.266/.379 but still cracked 24 home runs and won his third award for being the top fielder at his spot. He tied for the league lead by getting hit by seven pitches (tying Yoshimura and Warren Cromartie), the sixth time he led in that category. He was 10th in home runs (24, between Okada and Yoshimura) and 10th in strikeouts (80, between Yutaka Takagi and Lee). He made his 12th All-Star roster. He reached more milestones: the 4th player to 2,500 NPB games and the first to 1,500 strikeouts (whiffed by Yujiro Miyako) He only hit .129/.156/.129 as Hiroshima fell in a close 1986 Japan Series. He had only hit .155 in his five trips to the Series.
1987: At the end of the line
In 1987, Kinugasa hit .249/.297/.432 with 17 homers. On June 13, he broke Gehrig's consecutive game streak; 55,000 fans showed up and there was a huge ceremony with lots of Japanese media coverage. Even while he was approaching the record, and at age 40, he maintained one of the hardest workout routines on the club. Rick Lancellotti said "He played hard and did all the drills that the younger kids did. The last week, we were all just hoping that he wouldn't get hurt... He would dive for a ball, and everybody would run over, 'Are you okay? Are you okay?'"  He got his 2,5000 hit (the 4th NPB player to do so) off Koichi Emoto) and his 500th homer (the 5th player to do so, August 11th, off Takao Obana). In his final game, on October 22nd, he went out in style with a homer.
Overall, Kinugasa had a .270/.345/.476 batting line and his 23 seasons in the Central League are tied for the record. Through the end of the 2011 season, he ranked tied for 7th all-time in Nippon Pro Baseball in homers (even with Isao Harimoto), 18th in doubles (373), tied for 5th with Yutaka Fukumoto in hits (2,543), 11th in RBI (1,448, between Koji Yamamoto and Masahiro Doi), 6th in runs (1,372, between Tomoaki Kanemoto and Yamamoto), 5th in total bases (4,474, between Hiromitsu Kadota and Nagashima), 21st in walks (931, between Yasumitsu Toyoda and Takuro Ishii), 3rd in times hit by pitch (161, behind Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Masashi Takenouchi), second in double plays ground into (267, a distant 111 behind Katsuya Nomura), 4th in games (2,677, between Harimoto and Oshima), 3rd in at-bats (9,404, behind Nomura and Harimoto), 49th in intentional walks (55), 8th in extra-base hits (900, between Yamamoto and Yamuachi), 37th in steals (266, between Munenori Kawasaki and Takeshi Koba), 15th in times caught stealing (130), tied for 52nd in sacrifice flies (50, even with Fujita, Bobby Rose, Tashiro, Boomer Wells and Kazuyoshi Yamamoto) and seventh in strikeouts (1,587, between Kanemoto and Norihiro Nakamura, having fallen four spots in just 8 years).
Kinugasa was hired by TBS as a baseball announcer in 1994 and two years later was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. The same year, on June 14th, Ripken broke his world record for consecutive games. 
He died of colon cancer at 71 in 2018.
- ↑ You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting, pg. 64
- ↑ ibid, pg. 65
- ↑ The Meaning of Ichiro by Robert Whiting, pg. 153
- ↑ You Gotta Have Wa, pg. 64
- ↑ Japan Baseball Daily website by Gary Garland
- ↑ You Gotta Have Wa, pg. 62
- ↑ Japan Baseball Daily
- ↑ Statistics are from Michael Eng's Japanese database, Gary Garland's Japan Baseball Daily site (no link provided as the site is scheduled to go down shortly) and the BR Japan page. Information on milestone hits comes from the Japanese Wikipedia
- ↑ You Gotta Have Wa, pg. 63
- ↑ Japan Baseball Daily
- ↑ You Gotta Have Wa, pg. 63-64
- ↑ Remembering Japanese Baseball by Rob Fitts, pg. 173
- ↑ Baltimore Sun
- ↑ Obituary
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