Takeshi Kuwata (桑田武)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 9", Weight 191 lb.
Takeshi Kuwata was a six-time All-Star infielder in Nippon Pro Baseball and won a home run title.
Kuwata had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NPB annals. With the Taiyo Whales in 1959, he hit .269/.359/.543 with 31 home runs, 84 RBI and 25 steals in 33 tries. He finished the season among the Central League leaders in runs (64, 8th), doubles (20, 9th), home runs (tied for the lead with Toru Mori), RBI (tied for second with Shinichi Eto, three behind Mori), steals (tied for 4th with Morimichi Iwashita), walks (58, 4th, between Kazuhiko Sakazaki and Hiromu Fujii), intentional walks (21, first by four over Shigeo Nagashima), strikeouts (99, 2nd, one behind Akira Owada), OBP (5th, between Hiroharu Okajima and Tokuji Iida), slugging (3rd behind Nagashima and Mori) and total bases (236, 4th, between Owada and Hideshi Miyake). His first home run came off Norio Haido. He made the CL All-Star team. In the 1959 NPB All-Star Game 1, despite being a rookie, he hit third for the Central League and played first base (due to Nagashima being at 3B). He went 1 for 3 with a walk in a 9-0 loss to the Pacific League. In game 2, he was 0 for 2 with a RBI before Eto replaced him in a 6-4 victory. He set a NPB rookie home run record; Kazuhiro Kiyohara would tie him 27 years later. He was an easy pick for Rookie of the Year and his numbers were far better than the PL Rookie of the Year, Isao Harimoto, who would go on to a legendary career. Kuwata did not win Best Nine honors as the CL's top third baseman (and never would) due to the presence of Nagashima, considered NPB's top player at the hot corner in the 20th Century.
Takeshi did not have a sophomore slump though he would never match his 1959 OPS - he hit .301/.372/.497 with 16 homers, 67 RBI and 16 steals in 19 tries in 1960 as Taiyo won their only CL pennant. He started 1960 NPB All-Star Game 1 at third base for the CL (Nagashima was at SS) and hit cleanup, going 0 for 4 in a 3-1 loss. He sat out game 2, a 5-4 win, in favor of Miyake. In game 3, he pinch-hit for Kiyoshi Oishi and was retired by Joe Stanka in a 6-5 loss. For the season, he was 5th in the CL in average (between Teruo Namiki and Takao Sato), tied for 5th in triples (7), tied Jun Hakota and Nagashima for 7th in home runs, was 4th in RBI (after Katsumi Fujimoto, Mori and a 20-year-old Sadaharu Oh), tied Namiki for 10th in walks (44), was second in intentional walks (12, 20 behind Nagashima), ranked 6th in OBP (between Oh and Miyake), was third in slugging (after Nagashima and Namiki) and trailed the same two players in OPS. He was 3 for 15 with a walk, run and RBI in the 1960 Japan Series as Taiyo swept the Daimai Orions for their lone title.
The Chuo University alumnus kept rolling in 1961 - .280/.352/.505, 25 HR, 94 RBI, 20 SB in 25 tries. He made history on April 8 and April 9 when he hit back-to-back sayonara home runs, off Ryohei Hasegawa and Oishi. No one had ever done that feat before in NPB annals. He hit 6th in the first 1961 NPB All-Star Game (Nagashima again at SS, with Kuwata at 3B) and went 0 for 3 in a 3-0 loss. In game 2, a 4-2 loss, he pinch-hit for Ritsuo Horimoto and was retired by Glenn Mickens. For the regular season, he was again all over the CL leaderboards: 6th in average (between Takeshi Koba and Katsuya Morinaga), 6th in OBP (between Noboru Inoue and Fujii), 2nd in slugging (a whopping .147 behind Nagashima), 2nd in OPS (250 behind Nagashima), 2nd in total bases (238, 54 behind Nagashima), 4th in runs (70, between Kazuhiko Kondo and Miyake), tied for 4th in hits (132, even with Masataka Tsuchiya and Miyake), tied Inoue and Oh for 3rd in doubles, was second in home runs (3 behind Nagashima), led in RBI (8 over Nagashima), was fifth in steals, was 5th in walks (53) and led in strikeouts (108, 11 more than runner-up Yukihiko Machida). Had he been at any position other than Nagashima's third base, he likely would have been a Best Nine pick. His numbers would fall in future seasons, though - three of his top four OPSes had come in his first three years. His speed also vanished as he would never steal more than 7 bases in a season after pilfering 61 his first three years.
Kuwata had an off-year (.260/.313/.455, 22 HR) in 1962. He was an All-Star again. In 1962 NPB All-Star Game 1, he started at shortstop, going 0 for 3 with a walk in a 7-0 loss. In Game 2, he struck out against Masayuki Dobashi in the first. He was replaced in the lineup by 2B Yoshitaka Kosaka, with second baseman Yoshio Yoshida moving to short. He tied Mori for fourth in the CL in home runs, tied Tatsuro Hiroka for 4th in strikeouts (83) and was third in slugging (after Oh and Nagashima; former MLB pitcher Don Newcombe was also higher but did not qualify; on the other hand, Hall-of-Famer Larry Doby was much lower at .396).
The Yokohama native hit .239/.319/.446 in 1963 with 25 home runs and 76 RBI. He failed to make the CL All-Star team for the first time. He did tie Yoshida for 10th in the league in doubles (22), tie Eto for 4th in home runs, place sixth in RBI, tie Kondo and Yoshiyuki Ikezawa for third in sacrifice flies (8) and draw the 8th-most walks (58). On the down side, he was third in whiffs (72, behind Jim Marshall and Tatsuo Okitsu) and second with 21 double-play grounders (two behind Tsuchiya). He became the 30th NPB player to 100 career home runs when he took Kunio Jonouchi deep on June 28.
Kuwata rebounded at the plate in 1964 (.299/.357/.508, 30 2B, 27 HR, 75 R, 96 RBI). Moving to short, he made 30 errors, though. He was back as an All-Star. In the 1964 NPB All-Star Game 1, he hit cleanup for the CL and played short. He went 2 for 4 with an error in a 1-0 win, moving to 3B to replace Mike Krsnich when Yoshida moved from 2B to SS. In Game 2, he again hit cleanup, going 1 for 4 while starting at short and replacing Krsnich at third later in a 5-1 win. For game 3, Marshall replaced him as cleanup and Kuwata hit 5th, going 0 for 2 with a walk before Eiji Fujii replaced him in a 10-2 loss. He was on the leaderboard in numerous departments: runs (tied for 6th with Yoshida), hits (161, 1st by six over Owada), doubles (tied for first with Eiji Fujii), home runs (6th), RBI (2nd, 23 behind Oh), walks (49, 10th, between Kazuyoshi Yamamoto and Eto), whiffs (81, tied for 3rd with Oh and Taisuke Kobuchi), errors (1st), average (6th, between Kobuchi and Yukio Osada), OBP (8th, between Marshall and Kondo), slugging (6th, between Krsnich and Eto), OPS (6th, between Eto and Kazuhiro Yamauchi) and total bases (274, 2nd, 66 behind Oh). He again did not get the Best Nine nod, which went to Yoshida at short, who hit somewhat less (.318/.383/.429) but was a better defender and had the benefit of playing on the pennant-winning team.
Remaining at short in 1965, he hit .267/.315/.473 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI. He again led the CL in errors (20) but was also 8th in runs (65, between Akira Kunimatsu and Marshall), tied Goro Toi for 8th in doubles (21), 4th in home runs (between Motoyasu Kuroki and Yamauchi), 3rd in RBI (trailing Oh and Nagashima), 3rd in slugging (behind Oh and Eto), 4th in Ks (84, between Marshall and Tatsuhiko Kimata) and first in errors. Easily outhitting Yoshida, he again didn't get the Best Nine pick, presumably based on defense. In his last All-Star appearances, he started two of the three 1965 NPB All-Star Games for the CL. In game 1, he was 1 for 4 hitting 6th in a 5-2 loss. In game 2, he batted 5th and was 1 for 4 with a run and an error in a 6-3 defeat. In game 3, a 1-1 tie, he batted for Yoshida and took over at short but struck out against both Toshihiro Hayashi and Yukio Ozaki before leaving in a triple switch (Hiroka taking over at short). Also that year, he became the 19th NPB player to 150 career home runs when he took Takuro Morikawa deep May 8.
Moving back to third base in 1966, Kuwata continued to be one of the CL's premier power threats though his average and walks were down - .238/.268/.435, 25 HR. He was 4th in home runs, trailing only Oh, Nagashima and Eto (the latter two by just one) and 5th in RBI (64, between Yamauchi and Masahiko Mori). He was third with 70 whiffs (behind Isao Hirono and Kunimitsu Yanoura). In 1967, he became the 63rd NPB player to 1,000 hits (victimizing Jonouchi again for a milestone hit) and the 13th to 200 dingers (taking Hidetake Watanabe deep). He hit .265/.333/.508 with 27 home runs. He was 6th in the CL in home runs (only Oh and Eto had more among Japanese natives, with three MLB vets following them), tied Yamauchi for 8th in RBI (63), placed sixth in slugging (between Dave Roberts and Toshio Naka) and was 5th with 73 strikeouts. One drawback was a lack of a set position - with Dick Stuart joining the team at 1B, emerging threat Makoto Matsubara was moving more often to 3B, putting Kuwata in CF at times.
At this point, it looked like Kuwata would still be a productive player - he had topped 20 home runs in seven straight seasons (over 25 in five of them) and had been on the offensive leaderboards fine in 1967. At age 30, he could be projected to still have several solid years left. Instead, he imploded in 1968. Moving to center field more often with Stuart at 1B and Matsubara at 3B, he got into conflict with manager Kaoru Betto. He hit just .132/.225/.175 with 34 whiffs in 114 AB and only one home run, his production seemingly vanishing overnight.
He was traded to the Yomiuri Giants for backup catcher Isao Ohashi but was 0 for 14 with 3 walks and eight strikeouts as a backup outfielder in 1969. In 1970, he joined the Yakult Atoms and went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. He was arrested that September for his role in the auto race-fixing part of the Black Mist Scandal and was suspended for three months. He would never play in NPB again.
He finished his career with a batting line of .264/.329/.475 in 1,194 NPB games, with 223 home runs, 554 runs and 674 RBI. He stole 89 bases in 126 tries. Despite his relatively short career, he was still 78th in NPB history in home runs through 2011 and tied for 62nd in intentional walks (49, even with Taira Fujita, Yasuaki Taiho and Kazuhiro Wada).