Norio Tanabe

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Norio Tanabe (田辺 徳雄)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Infielder Norio Tanabe played in Nippon Professional Baseball in 1985 and from 1987 to 2000 and later was a manager. He spent almost all of his career with the Seibu Lions, though he played for the San Jose Bees of the California League in 1986 and the Yomiuri Giants in his final campaign.

Tanabe was a second-round pick of Seibu in the 1984 draft, after they took Hiromoto Okubo in round one. He spent most of 1985 in the Japanese minors, going 0 for 4 with Seibu in the Pacific League. The team farmed him out to the American San Jose Bees of the California League in 1986 along with Okubo, Kazuaki Yamano and Hisanori Yokota. With the Bees, he hit .306/.324/.413 with 23 stolen bases in 140 games. He led the team in runs (76), doubles (23), homers (9) and RBI (64) while placing second in steals and tying Daryl Sconiers for the top average. He was 6th in the Cal League in average, between Mario Monico and Rob Dewolf.

When he returned to Seibu in 1987, he began playing fairly regularly in NPB. His first hit came off Hiroshi Tsuno and his first home run off Yasumitsu Shibata. He hit only .224/.260/.372 that year, showing good pop for a shortstop at least (7 HR in 223 AB). Tanabe was injured after being spiked by Ben Oglivie and missed the latter part of the year, Masakazu Seike replacing him at SS. Seibu beat the Yomiuri Giants in the 1987 Japan Series without Tanabe available.

In 1988, he hit .258/.279/.424 and stole only one base, again missing time with injury (this time to his shoulder). He missed the 1988 Japan Series as Seibu beat the Chunichi Dragons. 1989 was his first big year in NPB, when he batted .316/.339/.434 with 18 swipes in 28 tries over 114 games. He was second in the PL in average, 8 points behind Boomer Wells. He also ranked 9th in hits (134, tied with Hiromasa Arai), tied Masashi Yokota for 8th in steals, was 5th in times caught stealing, tied for 5th with 21 sacrifice hits and tied Wells for the lead with 8 sacrifice flies. His 51 runs and 68 RBI were his high-water marks in NPB. The lone drawback was just 14 walks. On July 1, he had the fifth inside-the-park grand slam in NPB annals. He won the Gold Glove at short and was picked to the Best Nine team. He was also picked for the 1989 NPB All-Star Game but did not play. He was finally healthy at year's end but Seibu failed to make the Japan Series this time, finishing third in the PL.

Tanabe slumped to .239/.277/.361 in 1990 with 8 steals in 15 tries. He tied Arai for 4th in the PL with 21 sacrifice hits. In the 1990 Japan Series, he was 1 for 4 with a run backing up Hiromichi Ishige at SS as Seibu swept Yomiuri. In 1991, he rebounded somewhat, his batting line at year's end reading .267/.329/.412. He went 2 for 7 with a run in the 1991 Japan Series as Seibu beat the Hiroshima Carp, Ishige again seeing most of the action at short.

Norio hit .302/.336/.479 with a career-high 32 doubles and 13 home runs in 1992. He again was among the league average leaders, placing third behind Makoto Sasaki and Kelvin Torve. was second in doubles, two behind Hiromi Matsunaga and ranked 9th in slugging (between Sasaki and Takayuki Murakami). He made his second and last All-Star team. In the 1992 NPB All-Star Game 1, he starred, going 3 for 4 with a double, two runs and a RBI in a 6-1 PL win over the Central League. He missed game 2 (Hirofumi Ogawa started at SS) and went 0 for 2 in game 3, a loss. He again won a Gold Glove and a spot on the Best Nine (his last time for each of those honors). He was only 2 for 18 with a walk and RBI in the 1992 Japan Series but Seibu beat the Yakult Swallows in 7 games.

Tanabe split Seibu's shortstop duties with Hiroshi Narahara in 1993, hitting .246/.289/.373. He was 4 for 18 with a homer in the 1993 Japan Series, starting ahead of Narahara as Seibu fell to Yakult in seven. In 1994, he was Seibu's starting shortstop for the last season and produced at a .338/.370/.469 clip in 104 games. Had he qualified, he would have been second in the league in average, a distant 47 points behind a kid named Ichiro Suzuki. He hit .300/.333/.500 with four RBI and a homer in the 1994 Japan Series but Seibu went down again, this time to the Giants.

With Kazuo Matsui emerging at short, Tanabe moved to third base in 1995 and hit .256/.299/.353. He grounded into 16 double plays, tying Hiroki Kokubo for second in the league, one behind Koji Akiyama. After five straight Japan Series appearances, Seibu failed to take the PL pennant. In 1996, Tanabe became a backup, subbing for Scott Cooper at 3B and Narahara at 2B; he hit only .219/.247/.357 in his new role.

The Fujiyoshida native produced at a .213/.252/.303 clip in 63 games in 1997, backing up Hiroyuki Takagi at 2B and Ken Suzuki at 3B. Seibu won the PL title but dropped the 1997 Japan Series to Yakult in five games; Tanabe was 1 for 3 off the bench. In 1998, he batted .250/.291/.369 in a similar role. He went 0 for 2 with a walk in the 1998 Japan Series as the Lions were beaten by the Yokohama BayStars. The veteran hit .186/.234/.257 as a utility player in 41 games in 1999. His contract was then sold to Yomiuri, but he was 1-for-7 in 2000 for them before retiring.

Overall, he batted .268/.305/.399 in 1,229 games over 15 NPB seasons. He scored 374 runs, drove in 442, hit 87 home runs and stole 60 bases in 98 tries. His 145 sacrifice hits were 70th in NPB history through 2011.

He worked as a baseball commentator in 2001 then was brought back by Seibu as a minor league hitting coach. He was promoted to hitting coach of the Lions when Okubo (the guy drafted ahead of him back in 1984) had to resign due to off-field scandal. He replaced Haruki Ihara as interim manager partway through the 2014 season and went 42-42 the rest of the way, earning him the managerial role on a regular basis in 2015. He led the team to back-to-back fourth-place finishes at 69-69-5 and then 64-76-3 in 2016. He resigned at year's end and was replaced by former double play partner Hatsuhiko Tsuji.

Sources[edit]

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