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 former Lotte Orions third baseman and manager Michiyo Arito. He is 31st on the all-time NPB home run list with 348 home runs. Japanese baseball fans began following Arito’s career dating back to his days in high school. In the 1964 National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium, he was a popular player for Kochi High School, but was hit by a pitch in the first game and was unable to play after that, disappointing the fans. Kochi rallied after losing Arito and defeated Hayamoto 2-0 to win the tournament.
In 1968, the Lotte Orions drafted Arito in the first round of the amateur draft. Arito immediately made his presence known for the Orions. He earned Pacific League Rookie of the Year honors and Best Nine in 1969 when he hit .285 with 21 home runs. Arito would spend his entire 18-year career with the Orions, compiling a career .282 batting average with 348 home runs, 2,057 hits, and 1,061 RBIs.
Arito hit 20 or more home runs 11 times and batted .300 or better five times in his career. He was a 12-time NPB All-Star. Arito was named “Best Nine” ten times in the Pacific League, which set a league record. Arito also won four NPB Diamond Gloves. After he collected his 2,000th career hit, Arito earned acceptance into the “The Golden Players Club” (Meikyuaki). This prestigious club is on par with the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame (Yakyu Dendo) as the highest honor for Japanese baseball players. Players are automatically inducted into the Meikyuaki if they reach career totals of 2,000 hits, 200 wins, or 250 saves. The club was founded by Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Masaichi Kaneda.
Two of his best seasons were 1970 and 1977. In ‘70, Arito batted .306 with 25 home runs and a league-leading five triples (tied with Masaru Tomita and Toru Ogawa), leading the Orions to the Central League pennant. In ‘77, Arito won his only batting title, hitting .329 and beating out Kinji Shimianti by .004 points.
In the postseason, Arito led the Orions to two Japan Series. In 1970, he hit .190, and the Yomiuri Giants won in five games. Lotte would win its first Japan Series in 1974 though, defeating the Chunichi Dragons in six games. Arito led the way to the title by hitting .429 with two home runs, two steals, and five runs.
Arito retired in 1986, ending an 18-year career with Lotte as a player. In 1987, The Orions hired Arito as Manager of the team to replace Kazuhisa Inao. He would bring in a very strict managing approach, which alienated many of his players. Lotte finished in fifth place in 1987 and last place in 1988 and 1989. Arito was fired after three years and then entered sports broadcasting for Tokyo Broadcasting Systems (TBS).
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