By Scott Melesky
Statistics are a way journalists and fans can measure the greatness of athletes in sports, especially baseball. In the major leagues in both Japan and the United States, four prestigious statistical clubs demonstrate a player’s greatness: the 3,000 hit and 300 home run clubs for batters and the 300 win and 3,000 strikeout clubs for pitchers.
In a series of articles, I will write stories on each Japanese player in these prestigious clubs. I want to focus on the distinguished players that played in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and highlight their contributions to the game. I am going to start this series by highlighting the NPB players in the 300 Home Run Club.
Next in my series is Masayuki Kakefu, former third baseman (and coach) for the Hanshin Tigers. He is 30th on the all-time NPB home run list with 349 Home Runs. Kakefu played for the Tigers for 15 years and compiled a .292 batting average with 1,019 RBIs, 1,656 hits, and a club record 349 home runs. Kakefu batted .300 or better seven times in his career. He was a ten-time NPB All-Star (every year from 1976-85), two-time NPB All-Star Game MVP, “Best Nine” seven times, and won six NPB Diamond Gloves.
Kakefu was beloved by the Tigers fans, who deemed him “Mr. Tiger.” He was only the fourth player in the team’s history to have that moniker formally bestowed on him; Fumio Fujimura, Minoru Murayama, and Koichi Tabuchi also received this honor in their time with Hanshin.
In 1985, Kakefu cemented his lore in Tigers and NPB history by hitting two home runs and helping the Hanshin Tigers defeat the Seibu Lions in six games to win the Japan Series. It would be the Tigers’ only Japan Series title in franchise history and first appearance in the series since 1964.
Kakefu hit 30 or more home runs six times, highlighted by a then club record of 48 home runs in 1979. He was the Central League home run leader in 1979, 1982, and 1984 and the RBI leader in 1982. Kakefu batted .300 or higher seven times. Tigers fans may also remember Kakefu for two notable streaks. In 1978, Kakefu hit four consecutive home runs over two games on August 31 and September 1, which tied an NPB record. Second, from 1981 to 1986, Kakefu played in 663 consecutive regular-season games, including all 130 games each season from 1981-85. His “iron man” streak would end when he was hit by a pitch that broke a bone in his wrist.
Kakefu suffered several injuries after his wrist injury, which diminished his production and playing time with the Tigers. In 1988, he would retire as a player but stay active in the game, first becoming a columnist and reporter. He is a true student of the game and traveled to the United States to observe the California Angels’ Spring Training Camp in 1995. The Major League Baseball strike was still in effect, and Kakefu spent five days observing the replacement players’ drills and practices over a five-day span. He told the American sports media that he was not impressed by what he witnessed.
Japanese baseball fans would get an inside look at Kakefu’s vast knowledge and insight into the sport when they read Kyojin-Hanshin Discourse. In this book, Kakefu and former Yomiuri Giants pitcher Suguru Egawa give a frank discussion and reflection on their baseball draft experiences, their careers with their respective teams, showdowns between each other on the field, retirement, post-retirement, and hypothetical managerial situations.
In 2013, Kakefu returned to the Tigers as a Batting and Development coordinator for the General Manager. He then moved to the farm manager position in 2016, where he specialized in customized coaching each player for two years. Kakefu was then promoted to senior executive director in the Tigers’ front office in 2018.
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