Hiroshi Narahara (奈良原 浩)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 6", Weight 143 lb.
Hiroshi Narahara played 16 seasons in Nippon Pro Baseball. A prototypical light-hitting, good-fielding shortstop, he also was an accomplished base stealer.
Narahara hit .409 in the spring of 1990 to lead his collegiate league in average; he made five Best Nine picks in college. He helped the Japanese national team win a Silver Medal in the 1990 Goodwill Games. The Seibu Lions took him in the second round of the 1990 draft. He made his debut in 1991 as a pinch-runner for Orestes Destrade. His first hit came against Shintaro Yamasaki. He hit .228/.267/.246 in 63 plate appearances over 70 games as a rookie, mainly used as a defensive sub for Norio Tanabe. He was 0 for 2 with a run in the 1991 Japan Series as Seibu beat the Hiroshima Carp.
In 1992, Narahara hit .171/.237/.200 in 40 plate appearances over 60 games and played error-free ball, backing up Tanabe at SS and Hatsuhiko Tsuji at 2B. He was 1 for 3 with a RBI in the 1992 Japan Series, playing in six of seven games as Seibu beat the Yakult Swallows. By 1993, he was splitting shortstop with Tanabe, hitting .248/.354/.267 with 10 steals in 14 tries and fielding .985 at SS. He was 2 for 7 with a double and a run in the 1993 Japan Series, which again went 7 games with Yakult, though the Swallows won this one.
Hiroshi backed up Tanabe at SS and Tsuji at 2B in 1994, producing at a .248/.326/.284 clip and going 14-for-18 in steal attempts. He tied Kazuyuki Shirai for 8th in the Pacific League in steals. The Lions won their fourth straight PL pennant. In the 1994 Japan Series, he was 0 for 1 with a walk and a run in three games as Seibu fell to the Yomiuri Giants. In 1995, the little infielder hit .226/.282/.260 in 102 games (245 PA), fielding .988 at SS (which he split with Tanabe and a young Kazuo Matsui) and .987 at 2B (backing up Tsuji). He stole 19 bases in 25 tries, finishing 5th in the league in swipes despite his backup role and also tying Mitsuchika Hirai for 6th with 18 sacrifice hits.
The Aoyama Gakuin alumnus batted .218/.295/.312 in 1996 with 22 steals in 27 tries. He had 215 plate appearances in 108 games, fielding .985 at 2B, where he saw more action than any other Seibu player; by this point, Matsui had become the everyday shortstop. Narahara was 5th in stolen bases in the PL (between Chihiro Hamana and Tetsuya Kakiuchi) and tied for 8th with 22 sacrifice hits. He got his first two career home runs, the first coming off Masaru Imazeki. In 1997, his playing time dropped further as Hiroyuki Takagi became the regular at 2B. Narahara hit .191/.242/.247 in 100 plate appearances and 94 games, stealing 13 bases in 19 tries. He had more runs than hits for the second time, indicating he probably pinch-ran frequently. He was 0 for 2 in the 1997 Japan Series, in which Yakult beat Seibu.
With Matsui and Takagi establishing themselves as the Lions' middle infield, Narahara became expendable. He was dealt to the Nippon Ham Fighters. He finally became a regular starter, hitting a solid .280 with a .388 OBP, though he only slugged .327 in 1998 (just 11 extra-base hits out of 102 hits). He swiped 30 bases while only being caught six times and scored 72 runs. He finished among the PL leaders in runs (9th, between Norihiro Nakamura and Taisei Takagi), OBP (5th, between Hiroshi Shibahara and Troy Neel), steals (3rd, behind Makoto Kosaka and Matsui), walks (60, 9th) and sacrifice hits (36, 3rd after Kosaka and Takashi Muto). It would be his career year.
Narahara hit .175/.241/.223 in 121 plate appearances over 88 games in 1999, backing up Makoto Kaneko at 2B and Yukio Tanaka. In 2000, he batted .256/.346/.354 with 14 steals in 17 tries. He tied Tatsuya Ide and Akira Otsuka for 7th in the PL in swipes. During 2001, he reached 1,000 career games, batting .237/.304/.347 in 124 games, stealing 27 bases in 32 tries. He fielded .981 in 96 games at SS and backed up Atsushi Kataoka at 3B as well. For the year, he was tied for third in the league in steals (even with Yoshitomo Tani, behind Tadahito Iguchi and Kosaka) and 3rd with 31 sacrifice hits (behind Eiji Mizuguchi and Tatsuya Ozeki). His four homers were a career high.
The veteran backed up Kaneko at SS in 2002 and was the most-used of numerous 2B options for the Fighters. He hit only .203/.251/.231 and stole 13 bases in 17 tries. He produced 40 runs in 116 games but fielded .996 overall. He tied Saburo Omura and Koichi Oshima for 6th in the league in steals and tied Makoto Shiozaki and Shibahara for 6th with 21 sacrifice hits.
Narahara was Nippon Ham's main second baseman in 2003 and fielded .993 there while improving his batting line to .259/.336/.353. He tied Oshima for 8th in the PL with 16 sacrifice hits but at age 35 was no longer in the top 10 in steals (though a still-successful 12 for 16). He did have a career-best 24 doubles. Kuniyuki Kimoto won the second base job for 2004 as Narahara would return to a backup role for the rest of his career - in 109 plate appearances over 85 games, he hit .242/.286/.303. He batted .230/.263/.333 in 98 games in 2005, backing up Kimoto at 2B and Kaneko at SS. Sold to the Chunichi Dragons, he was 6 for 31 with a walk and two doubles in 2006 to end wrap up his career.
In 1,508 NPB games, Narahara had hit .237/.311/.302 with 413 runs and 212 RBI. Never a power threat, he had 13 career homers, but stole 198 bases while only being caught 55 times. He fielded .979 in 718 games at SS, .991 in 641 games at 2B and .948 in 83 games at 3B. Given his few seasons as a starter and his low offense, he did not win any Gold Gloves. Through 2011, he was 74th in NPB history in steals (one behind Ichiro Suzuki, 26th in sacrifice hits (215, between Ryuzo Yamasaki and Keiichi Hirano) and 45th in steal percentage (between Yasuyuki Kataoka and Takeshi Miyazaki). He was the 147th NPB player to 1,500 career games.
From 2007-2011, he was a minor league coach for Chunichi. He then returned to Seibu as a defensive and base-running coach, in 2012. He coached for Japan in the 2014 Nichi-Bei Series in which they topped the MLB All-Stars.