Tetsuharu Kawakami

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Tetsuharu Kawakami (川上 哲治) (The God of Batting)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Tetsuharu Kawakami played and coached for more than 30 years and won 15 Nippon Series titles in Nippon Pro Baseball (and 8 more titles prior to the Nippon Series's creation). He was called "The God of Batting" for his incredible hitting skill.

Kawakami was signed by the Tokyo Giants in 1938 as a pitcher. He was 2-2 with a 2.55 ERA in the spring of the 1938 season. When Fujio Nagasawa was injured in fall, Kawakami was turned into a batter, and he hit .263/.359/.398 with 3 homers. Therefore, the Giants decided to use him as a two-way player in the next season.

The Kumamoto native just pitched OK in 1939, as he had a 6-4 record with a 2.36 ERA in 18 appearances. However, he was elite at the plate, hitting .338/.404/.493 and won his first Japanese Professional Baseball League batting title. He also led the JPBL in hits, total bases, triples, RBI and slugging. He set the NPB record as the youngest to win a batting title at 19 years' old, and also broke the NPB record for most hits with 116 (broken by Kazuo Kito in 1940), triples with 12 (broken by Kito in 1940) and RBI with 75 (broken by Kazuto Tsuruoka in 1946).

Kawakami extended his elite performance in 1940, hitting .311/.389/.485 with 9 homers. He won his first home run king title, and led the league in games, total bases and slugging. He broke the NPB record with 41 extra-base hits (broken by Fumio Fujimura in 1946). Kawakami also ranked 2nd in batting (.01 behind Kito), 2nd in hits (2 behind Kito), 2nd in RBI (1 behind Haruyasu Nakajima) and won his first Best Nine award as a first baseman.

The "God of Batting" won another JPBL batting title with a .310/.395/.460 batting line in 1941, and also led the league in games, runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, OBP and slugging. In addition, since the Giants lost some pitchers because of the military service, Kawakami also needed to eat some innings. He set the NPB record for most walks in a game with 11 on October 20 and got the loss. Kawakami took his first JPBL MVP award. He only hit .266/.374/.347 in 1942, then he was conscripted into the Army and missed the next three seasons.

When World War II ended, Kawakami returned to the JPBL in 1946. The layoff from the war seemingly didn't have any influence to him, as Kawakami hit .305/.388/.513 with 10 homers. He batted .309/.400/.449 with a league-leading 137 hits in 1947, and won another Best Nine. He was 3rd in batting (.006 behind Hiroshi Oshita), 7th in RBI (14 behind Fumio Fujimura) and 8th in homers (11 behind Fumio Fujimura). He used a red bat starting in 1946, similar to another superstar, Oshita.

Kawakami blasted a league-leading 25 homers with a .298/.375/.522 batting line in 1948, and also ranked 4th in batting (.008 behind Noboru Aota), 2nd in RBI (3 behind Fujimura) and 5th in hits (224 behind Aota). He won the Best Nine as a first baseman again. The Kumamoto native improved and batted .330/.388/.565 with 24 homers and 129 RBI in 1949 and won his fourth Best Nine award. He broke the NPB record for RBI in a season by a left-handed batter, and it is still the record as of 2022. However, he lost the RBI title to Fujimura who had 142 RBI, but still led the league in doubles. He was also 4th in hits (7 behind Fujimura), 3rd in batting (.031 behind Makoto Kozuru) and 10th in homers (12 behind Fujimura).

When the JPBL split into two leagues in 1950, Kawakami and the Giants joined the Central League. In an interview in the middle of the 1950 season, Kawakami said the famous quote "The ball seemed stopped" to describe his feeling while batting. He indeed played well, hitting .313/.380/.551 with 119 RBI and a career-high 29 homers (NPB used a juiced ball called "rabbit ball" in 1950, so the slugging numbers were very incredible relative to the low-offense 1940s). Kawakami was 8th in batting (.049 behind Fujimura), 8th in homers (22 behind Fujimura) and 7th in RBI (42 behind Fujimura). He became the first player in NPB history to crush three homers in a game two times in a season, when he went yard on April 16.

Kawakami was selected into the first NPB All-Star Game - the 1951 NPB All-Star Game [ in the next summer, and went 2-for-4 with a clutch RBI double to win the first All-Star MVP ever; he was 2-for-7 in the other two All-Star Games that year. Kawakami broke the CL record with .377 batting average, and he would hold the record for 35 years until Randy Bass broke it in 1986. He recorded a .377/.450/.580 batting line with 15 homers, ranked 5th in hits (14 behind Tsuguo Goto), 7th in homers (15 behind Aota) and 5th in RBI (24 behind Aota). Kawakami also set an incredible record when he collected 6 strikeouts in a season, and that's still the NPB record as of 2022. In the 1951 Nippon Series, Kawakami went 8-for-17, with a homer off Haruyasu Eto in Game 5. The Giants beat the Nankai Hawks in 5 games, and he won his first Nippon Series title. He won his first CL MVP and fifth Best Nine in this year.

The "God of Batting" was still productive in 1952, hitting .322/.374/.453 with 26 steals. He was 3rd in batting (.033 behind Michio Nishizawa), 4th in hits (10 behind Wally Yonamine) and 4th in RBI (16 behind Nishizawa). He attended the 1952 NPB All-Star Games, and went 4-for-13 in 2 games. The Giants won the CL pennant again in this year, and Kawakami went 8-for-25 to help the Giants beat the Hawks in 6 games in the 1952 Japan Series.

Kawakami won his fifth batting title in 1953 with a .338/.432/.460 batting line, and won another Best Nine award. He was s0 for 7 in the 1953 NPB All-Star Games. He also led the league in hits and ranked 4th in RBI (21 behind Fujimura). In the 1953 Nippon Series, Kawakami went 13-for-27 to help the Giants beat the Hawks three years in a row, and won the series MVP. He "only" hit .322/.374/.453 with 26 steals in 1954, but still managed to attend the 1954 NPB All-Star Games; he went 0-for-6 in 2 games. He ranked 5th in batting (.036 behind Yonamine), 4th in hits (8 behind Yonamine) and 7th in steals (25 behind Yoshio Yoshida).

The Kumamoto native bounced back soon, hitting .338/.432/.460 with 79 RBI in 1955; he won his fifth batting title. He also led the league in hits, RBI, walks, OBP, and set the NPB record by getting 34 intentionally walks in a season. That is still the 6th-most as of 2022; Shigeo Nagashima topped his mark six years later. The Giants advanced into the 1955 Nippon Series again, and Kawakami went 8-for-25 with a homer off Motoji Takuwa in Game 1 to help the Giants beat the Hawks in 7 games. He won his 7th Best Nine and second CL MVP in this year.

Kawakami still hit .327/.388/.420 with 16 steals at age 36 in 1956, and led the league in hits again. He was 2nd in batting (.012 behind Yonamine), 2nd in RBI (2 behind Toshio Miyamoto) and 9th in steals (34 behind Yoshida). He collected his 2,000th career hit on May 31, became the first batter ever to reach this milestone. In the 1956 NPB All-Star Game, Kawakami started as cleanup hitter in both games, and went 3-for-7. The Giants won the CL pennant and met the Nishitetsu Lions in the 1956 Nippon Series; Kawakami went 9-for-23, with a homer off Yukio Shimabara in Game 2. However, the Lions still beat the Giants due to Kazuhisa Inao's solid pitching.

The batting average of Kawakami fell under .300 for the first time in his career in 1957, but he still won the Best Nine award with a .284/.346/.385 batting line. He was selected into the 1957 NPB All-Star Game, and went 1-for-5. He ranked 5th in batting (.59 behind Yonamine), 8th in RBI (26 behind Toshio Miyamoto) and 4th in hits (28 behind Yonamine). During the 1957 Japan Series, Kawakami went 5-for-18, with a homer off Hisafumi Kawamura in Game 5, but couldn't stop the Lions from beating them at that game.

Kawakami decided that if his batting average wasn't above .300 in 1958, he would retire. However, he slumped to .246/.295/.361 and Nagashima took his cleanup hitter spot. He still helped the Giants win the CL pennant and went 7-for-24 in the 1958 Nippon Series. Nevertheless, Inao had one of the most impressive performances in NPB history - four straight wins plus a walk-off homer, and led the Lions past the Giants in 7 games. Although he still won the Best Nine in this season, Kawakami announced his retirement and became a coach. He was the bench coach for the Giants from 1959 to 1960.

When Shigeru Mizuhara left the team in 1960, Kawakami was chosen to become the new manager of the Giants, and he became the most successful manager career in NPB history. He won the Nippon Series title in 1961 and 1963, then won 9 straight Nippon Series titles from 1965 to 1973. His team was called the V-9 Giants, contained two legendary sluggers Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima, and also had several solid pitchers such as Tsuneo Horiuchi and Kazumi Takahashi. After the Giants failed to win the CL pennant in 1974, Kawakami left the team and Nagashima succeeded him. He holds the NPB record for winning the most Nippon Series titles as of 2023. The Giants retired his number 16 in 1965, and he was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in the same year.

Overall, Kawakami had hit .313/.383/.467 with 2,351 hits and 181 homers in 18 seasons in NPB. He was 1,066-739 with 11 Nippon Series titles as a manager.

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