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 Tokuji “Atsushi” Nagaike, former outfielder for the Hankyu Braves and former coach for the Braves, Seibu Lions, Nankai Hawks, Yokohama BayStars and the Chiba Lotte Marines. He is tied for 33rd with Masaru Uno on the all-time NPB List with 338 Home Runs.
Nagaike hit 30 or more home runs five times and batted .300 or better four times in his career. He won the Pacific League Most Valuable player award in 1969 and 1971. Nagaike was named the Best of Nine seven times in the Pacific League. He played 14 years for the Braves and compiled a career .285 batting average with 338 home runs, 1,390 hits, and 969 RBIs.
Nagaike was a dominant player in the Pacific League, with a great combination of hitting for average and power for the Braves. In 1969, he led the Pacific League with a .316 batting average, 41 home runs and 101 RBI. Nagaike followed up that season with another spectacular one in 1971. He had a then-league record 32 game hitting streak (Yoshihiko Takahashi would break the record in 1979). Nagaike led the Pacific League with 87 runs scored and had a .317 batting average with 40 home runs and 114 RBI.
From 1975 to 1977, Nagaike’s role with the Braves was reduced to a bench player but he was part of a team that won three Japan Series titles in a row. Hankyu defeated the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in 1975 and the Yomiuri Giants in 1976 and 1977
After playing 14 years with the Braves, Nagaike retired in 1979. He would return to the Braves as coach from 1980-1982. Nagaike also coached the Lions in 1985, the Hawks from 1987-1988, the Bay Stars from 1993-1995, and the Marines from 1997-98.