Tomohiro Nioka (二岡 智宏)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 179 lb.
Tomohiro Nioka has made six All-Star teams in Japan through 2008 and hit over 150 homers. He was the MVP of the 2002 Japan Series as well.
Nioka played for the Japanese national team when in college. He hit .172/.286/.276 in the 1997 Intercontinental Cup but played error-free ball as Japan's starting shortstop. He was 0 for 4 in their 11-2 Gold Medal game upset rout of the Cuban national team. In the 1998 Baseball World Cup, Tomohiro batted .353/.452/.618 with 12 runs in 9 games. His big game was in the semifinals, when he had 3 runs and 3 RBI in a win over Australia. He stole four bases in four tries during the Cup. That tied Lingfeng Sun and Yusuke Nishizawa for second, one behind Davide Rigoli of Italy.
Nioka was drafted in the second round in 1998 by the Yomiuri Giants, replacing veteran Masahiro Kawai at short. He hit .289/.342/.452 as a rookie in 1999 and made the Central League All-Star team. He hit 18 home runs, third on the club behind Hideki Matsui and Yoshinobu Takahashi and outpowering established sluggers Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Domingo Martinez.
In 2000, Nioka hit .265/.329/.399 and again made the All-Star team. He played 86 games in 2001, slumping to .233/.278/.342. Nioka bounced back in 2002 and had his best OPS (through 2008) with a .281/.329/.520 batting line. He also clubbed 24 home runs and fielded .987, but was left off the All-Star team. Hirokazu Ibata beat him out for Best Nine honors at shortstop. Nioka was second on the Giants in long balls, trailing only Hideki Matsui and ahead of power hitters Akira Eto, Shinnosuke Abe, Kiyohara and Takahashi. He was even better in the postseason. In the 2002 Japan Series, Nioka went 9 for 19 with 2 doubles, a homer, six runs and 5 RBI as Yomiuri swept the Seibu Lions. That earned him MVP honors.
Nioka had another big year in 2003, if not quite as productive. He hit .300/.338/.487 with 88 runs and 29 home runs and made his third All-Star team. He tied Norihiro Akahoshi for second in the CL in hits (172), trailing Alex Ramirez. He led Yomiuri in steals (14) and was second to Roberto Petagine in homers. He again had more homers than some big power threats - Kiyohara, Abe, Eto and Takahashi. Nioka was named to the Best Nine as the top shortstop in the Central League. He played in the 2003 Asian Championship, in which Japan won a spot in the 2004 Olympics.
Nioka had a left foot injury in 2004 and hit .269/.331/.382 in 91 games, making the All-Star team despite his off-season. In 2005, he was back in form, hitting 16 homers and batting .301/.354/.436. Nioka's batting line in 2006 was .289/.329/.472, 25 home runs and 79 RBI. He fielded .986 and made his fifth All-Star team. On April 30, he had a historic performance. He became the first player in Nippon Pro Baseball history to connect for grand slams in consecutive at-bats and tied Akira Eto's Central League record for RBI in a game (10). He thus set a new Yomiuri RBI single-game record despite the club's rich history of sluggers such as Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, Hideki Matsui or Kazuhiro Kiyohara. He finished 9th in the league in RBI.
Nioka hit .295/.346/.457 for the Giants in 2007 and went deep 20 times. He had a horrible year in 2008, hitting .279/.349/.351 in 31 games. He was moved to third base to make room for Hayato Sakamoto but he spent most of the year on the bench as Michihiro Ogasawara started at third. Nioka had a right ankle sprain in September as well. In July, he was caught cheating on his wife with TV personality Mona Yamamoto, who had been involved in a previous adulterous episode. The poor play and off-field behavior caused pressure among Giants fans to force Nioka out. Shortly after the season ended, he was traded with Masanori Hayashi to the Nippon Ham Fighters for Micheal Nakamura and Takahito Kudoh.