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 Masaru Uno, former infielder for the Chunichi Dragons and Chiba Lotte Marines and coach for the Dragons. Uno is tied for 33rd with Tokuji “Atsushi” Nagaike on the all-time NPB List with 338 Home Runs.
Uno played most of his career at shortstop and demonstrated unique offensive power at the traditionally defensively-oriented position. Uno hit 30 or more home runs four times, was named “Best Nine” three times, and was a three-time NPB All-Star. Despite only notching 30+ home runs four times, his teams could always rely on his power, as he tallied double-digit home run totals for a remarkable 14 seasons in a row from 1979-1992.
Uno played 18 years for the Dragons and the Marines, compiling a career .262 batting average with 338 home runs, 1,620 hits, and 936 RBIs. Despite his power for a shortstop, Uno had his struggles in the game. He led the Central League in errors seven times and struck out 1,306 times in his career.
In 1984, he tied for the Central League lead with 37 home runs with Hanshin Tigers third baseman Masayuki Kakefu. In August of that season, he had a 10-game RBI streak and was also walked ten consecutive times! The following season, Uno hit 41 home runs. It was the new NPB record for home runs by a shortstop, but it was not good enough to lead the Central League, as Randy Bass of the Tigers hit 54 home runs (one short of the NPB record for home runs in a season).
In the postseason, Uno played in two Japan Series. He went 4-for-20 with five walks and a double in the 1982 Japan Series. Despite his efforts, the Seibu Lions defeated the Dragons in six games. Uno and the Dragons returned to the Japan Series in 1988. He had another productive effort with two homers and five RBIs in the series, but it would not be enough, as the Lions again defeated the Dragons, this time in five games. Uno earned the Fighting Spirit Award, the MVP for the losing team in the Japan Series.
After playing 16 years with the Dragons, Uno moved to the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1993. He would retire a year later. Ten years later, in 2004, Uno returned to the Dragons as a coach. He coached for the Dragons from 2004-2008 and 2012-2013. Uno also has worked extensively in television and radio since his retirement.