Tomoaki Kanemoto (Big Brother, Leader of the Western Gang)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 190 lb.
Tomoaki Kanemoto was the fourth-round draft pick of his hometown Hiroshima Carp in 1992. After spending two years primarily in the minors and on the bench, Kanemoto began playing somewhat regularly in 1994, hitting .268/.345/.547 with 17 HR in 257 AB. Kanemoto was not quite playing every day by 1995 but he had already established himself as a star, making the Best Nine in the Central League as one of the top three outfielders in the circuit. He hit .274/.381/.515 that year with 24 homers.
In 1996 Kanemoto sealed his reputation as an all-around threat when he hit .300/.407/.544. He hit 27 homers, stole 18 bases (third in the league) and led the Central League with 77 walks. A year later Kanemoto kept on improving, batting .301/.404/.559 and clobbering 33 home runs. He was third in both slugging and homers, trailing Dwayne Hosey and Hideki Matsui .
1998 was a setback year for Tomoaki, who fell to .253/.347/.457 with 21 HR, 9 SB in 15 tries and 68 walks. His 33 doubles ranked third in the Central League. He bounced back a year later, though not quite to his '96-'97 standards. That season he hit .293/.382/.546 with 34 homers. He was not finishing among the elite slots on the league leader lists nor winning major awards, though.
In 2000 the 32-year-old left fielder set career highs to date in average and OBP with a .315/.415/.544 year. He hit 30 homers, stole 30 bases in 40 tries and scored 96 times. He made his second Best Nine and finished third in the league in slugging, second to Matsui in runs, third in walks and second in steals. He became just the 7th 30-30 man in the history of Nippon Pro Baseball.
Kanemoto kept improving and in 2001 posted a line of .314/.463/.536. He scored 101 times, drew 128 walks (the most in the Central League since Sadaharu Oh had been playing), hit 25 homers, stole 19 bases and struck out just 69 times. He made his third Best Nine.
In 2002 Kanemoto had his second decline season. The 34-year-old hit .274/.348/.498 with 29 homers and finished third in the Central League with 60 walks.
Kanemoto left Hiroshima in 2003 to join the Hanshin Tigers. That year Tomoaki fell under 20 homers for the first time as a regular. He hit .289/.399/.449 and stole 18 bases in 22 attempts. He finished 2 points behind OBP leader Kosuke Fukudome, was third with 94 runs and led the CL with 93 walks. He played in his first Japan Series that year as Hanshin ended a 17-year drought of post-season appearances.
The veteran outfielder hit .317/.406/.589 in 2004, setting new career highs in homers (34), RBI (113), slugging and average. His speed was declining (just 5 SB, but never caught) but Kanemoto was clearly getting finer with age. He made the Best Nine for a fourth time, led the league in RBI and walks, was second in doubles (32), third in OBP and total bases (307) and fifth in OPS.
Despite turning 37 in 2005, Kanemoto kept on improving. He hit .327/.429/.615, setting new highs in OBP, average, slugging, homers (40), runs (120), RBI (125) and doubles (35) at an age when most players were faded away. He led the CL in slugging, total bases (344), OPS, runs and walks, was second in homers, RBI and OBP (one point behind Fukudome) and third in average and doubles. He made his fifth Best Nine (four after turning 30) and won the MVP award, his first such time being so honored. Hanshin returned to the Japan Series but again lost.
In 2006 Kanemoto broke Cal Ripken Jr.'s world record for consecutive games played without missing an inning, appearing in 903 straight contests without an inning off. At the game, the electric scoreboard played a congratulatory message from Ripken, who also gave Kanemoto a bat inscribed with the saying "Congratulations, keep playing." On August 16, he played in his 1,000th consecutive game. Kanemoto hit .303/.393/.505 in 2006. He was 8th in the league in average, tied with Tyrone Woods for 8th in runs (85), 9th in hits (165), tied for third in triples (4), 7th in RBI (98), tied with Yuki Yoshimura and Alex Ramirez for 6th in home runs (26), first in intentional walks (18), second in walks (79, trailing Woods by five), 4th in OBP (after Kosuke Fukudome, Woods and Norichika Aoki) and 8th in slugging.
After the 2006 season, the free agent signed a 3-year, 550-million-yen per season contract, making him the highest paid player in NPB. On his 39th birthday, Kanemoto hit a grand slam to give Hanshin's Esteban Yan his first win in Japan.
At age 39, Kanemoto hit .265/.361/.482 while still hitting cleanup for Hanshin in 2007. He tied Michihiro Ogasawara for sixth in the CL in home runs (31), was 7th in RBI (95), third in walks (81, trailing Woods and Aaron Guiel), tied with Takahiro Arai for 4th in sacrifice flies (7) and not in the top 10 in OBP or slugging. He likely had more RBI opportunities because Hanshin's regular #3 hitter, Andy Sheets, only slugged .337 and drove in 54 runs. Kanemoto passed up Hideki Matsui to have the second longest consecutive games played streak in NPB, following only Sachio Kinugasa. Kanemoto had left knee surgery following the 2007 campaign but was back in action by Opening Day of 2008.
After the 2007 season, Kanemoto's career line was .292/.392/.524. Through 2006, he ranked 23rd all-time in NPB in homers (363), was 12th with 1,010 walks, was 21st in runs (1,113) and was 21st with 1,121 RBI.
On April 12, 2008, Kanemoto collected his 2,000th career hit, becoming the 37th Japanese pro player to reach that level. He had gone 0 for 15 while stuck at 1,999 hits before a line-drive single off of Hayato Terahara. Hiroshima Carp manager Marty Brown, who had played alongside Kanemoto 15 years earlier, said "He has the same body type as he had back then--not filled out--but you could see he has taken tremendous care of himself. He has a great work ethic." On April 13, he took Ryuji Yokoyama deep for his 400th career homer. The 15th NPB player to accomplish that, he was the oldest to reach the level (40 years, one month) and the first player to do so with Hanshin. For the 2008 campaign, Tomoaki batted .307/.392/.527 with 33 doubles, 27 homers, 77 walks, 87 runs and 108 RBI. He was third in doubles (behind Seiichi Uchikawa and Kazuhiro Wada), 4th in runs, 5th in hits (164), 3rd in RBI (trailing Alex Ramirez and Shuichi Murata), was 5th with 282 total bases, ranked 6th in home runs, led with 8 sacrifice flies, was second in walks (one behind leader Tyrone Woods), placed 6th in OBP and 7th in slugging. He joined Ramirez and Norichika Aoki as the Best Nine outfielders in the CL.
Finally showing some signs of age but still productive in 2009, the 41-year-old hit .268/.368/.454 with 37 doubles, 21 home runs, 91 RBI and 88 walks. He was an All-Star. On April 3, he became the oldest player to hit a home run on Opening Day, taking Masanori Ishikawa deep. He finished among the CL leaders in doubles (2nd to Masahiko Morino), RBI (5th), sacrifice flies (8, 1st), walks (1st) and OBP (tied for 7th with Takashi Toritani).
On April 18, 2010, Kanemoto asked to be removed from the starting lineup after beginning the year .167, ending his 1,492 consecutive games playing in every inning. He did pinch-hit to keep his consecutive game streak alive. He hit only .241/.321/.411 with 16 homers and 45 RBI for the year. It was his worst OPS in 17 years.
Kanemoto's streak of 1,766 consecutive games played ended on April 15, 2011. He did pinch-hit in the 8th inning, batting for Tomoyuki Kubota against Junichi Kawahara. Tomoaki did not get to bat, though, as Shunsuke Fujikawa was caught stealing to end the inning. As he did not stay in the game to take the field, his streak ended even though he had nearly had a plate appearance. He hit .218/.269/.359 for the year, still showing some pop (12 HR in 348 AB). In 2013, he was a regular at age 44 and hit .258/.347/.360 to end his playing career.
In 2,578 NPB games, he had batted .285/.382/.503 with 440 doubles, 476 homers, 2,539 hits, 1,430 runs, 1,521 RBI and 1,368 walks. Through 2011, he was among the career NPB leaders in games (9th, between Hiromitsu Kadota and Masahiro Doi), plate appearances (7th, between Yutaka Fukumoto and Kazuyoshi Tatsunami), runs (5th, trailing Oh, Fukumoto, Isao Harimoto and Katsuya Nomura), hits (10th, between Doi and Takuro Ishii), doubles (6th, between Atsunori Inaba and Oh), homers (11th, between Koichi Tabuchi and Doi), total bases (8th, between Koji Yamamoto and Hiromitsu Ochiai), RBI (9th, between Katsuo Osugi and Yamamoto), sacrifice flies (13th), walks (4th, behind Oh, Ochiai and Kazuhiro Kiyohara), strikeouts (6th, between Tuffy Rhodes and Sachio Kinugasa), extra-base hits (6th, between Shigeo Nagashima and Yamamoto) and OBP (25th, between Wada and Tetsuharu Kawakami.