Roberto Barbon

From BR Bullpen


Roberto Barbon

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 11", Weight 160 lb.

BR Register page

Biographical Information[edit]

"His hitting is weak but his Japanese is good, and (Hankyu) Brave fans like his comic antics." - from a Sports Illustrated article in 1962 about Barbon and other foreign players in Japan

Roberto Barbon was the first Latin American star in Nippon Pro Baseball, preceding the likes of Orestes Destrade, Felix Millan, Alex Ramirez and Alex Cabrera.

Barbon came from a family of 12. He is listed by some sources as playing in the Negro Leagues but this is unconfirmed. He played in the integrated baseball circuits of western Canada in 1952-1953. In 1954, he hit .283 in 42 games for two Brooklyn Dodgers farm clubs, the Bakersfield Indians and Hornell Dodgers.

Barbon then became the first Latin American to sign in Japan, thanks to the efforts of promoter Abe Saperstein. Roberto was signed by the Hankyu Braves, who had already taken a lead in integration by picking up Negro Leaguers Larry Raines, Jonas Gaines, Jimmy Newberry and John Britton.

In 1955, Roberto hit .280/.342/.389 for Hankyu with 13 triples, 105 runs and 49 steals in 63 tries. He led the Pacific League in runs, tied Takuji Iida for the most hits (163) and led in triples in an excellent debut. In 1956, he faded to .239/.314/.341 but stole 55 bases in 78 tries, legged out 8 triples and managed to score a PL-high 94 times. He also set a PL record with 828 total chances (since broken).

Barbon dropped to .213/.296/.309 in 1957 and was only 33-for-48 in steals. He bounced back in 1958 when he batted .268/.329/.383 with 10 triples and 38 steals (in 53 tries). He made his first PL All-Star team. He led the league in at-bats (515), triples (tied with Kingo Motoyashiki) and steals. He also made his only Best Nine, chosen as the best second baseman in the circuit.

Chico hit .233/.284/.281 in 1959 and stole 38 bases in 49 tries, again leading the league in swipes. He made his second and final All-Star team. He batted .225/.282/.289 in 1960 and stole 32 bases while being caught 11 times; it was his third and last time pacing the league in steals.

Barbon hit .215/.254/.256 in 1961 and stole 20 bases in 27 attempts. He batted .239/.278/.323 in 1962 as his steal total fell to 14. He hit .224/.288/.304 and stole 14 again (in 24 tries) in 1963.

The Matanzas native hit .285/.307/.326 in 96 games in 1964 then concluded his career in 1965, hitting .231/.271/.272 as a regular with only 11 steals in 19 tries.

Overall, Barbon's batting line in NPB was .241/.299/.320 in 1,353 games. He set a record for games played by a foreigner (broken by Tuffy Rhodes in 2007). Through 2023, he ranks 29th all-time in NPB in steals (308 in 434 tries), second among non-natives behind Shosei Go.

Barbon stayed in Japan after his playing career ended, marrying a local woman and becoming an interpreter for Hankyu.

Primary Source: Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland.

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