Takahiro Saeki (Otoko-mae)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 1", Weight' 198 lb.
Saeki's father died when he was a toddler. He was a high school roommate of Hideki Irabu. He won four Best Nines and two Triple Crowns in college. He set a Kansai Big Six University League record with 12 career home runs. The BayStars took him in the second round of the 1992 draft. His first hit in NPB came June 5, 1993 off Akira Uehara. His first homer was August 1 off Takeshi Sato. He had a poor rookie campaign, batting .198/.276/.290 in 146 plate appearances as a backup outfielder. The next year, he was a regular for Yokohama and hitting .258/.333/.445 with 11 homers in 318 AB.
Takahiro was picked as an All-Star in 1995 despite not being a starter; Glenn Braggs, Takanori Suzuki and Toshio Haru were the main BayStars outfielders. Saeki hit .264/.352/.453 in 246 plate appearances over 103 games. He joined Braggs, Suzuki and Haru in seeing frequent starts in 1996 and posted a .290/.343/.421 batting line. He was again an All-Star. His playing time fell again in 1997 despite Braggs' exit and he hit .260/.336/.358. On July 15, 1998, he had an out called back due to a balk then homered on the next pitch from Hiromi Makihara to tie the game at 12; the BayStars had trailed 7-0 at one point. Yokohama went on to win. He finished at .289/.357/.457, missing the top 10 in average in the Central League by 4 points behind Makoto Imaoka. He helped Yokohama win the 1998 Japan Series, batting .364/.417/.636 with 4 RBI, 4 doubles and a triple. He led the Series in doubles and extra-base hits but outfield mate Suzuki was named Series MVP with an even better performance. Four of the extra base hits came in a 17-5, game 5 rout, to set a Japan Series record.
The Osaka native continued to progress in 1999 (.309/.367/.444) and would have been 6th in the CL in average had he qualified. He had an off-season in 2000 (.259/.326/.352, 6 HR) while taking over first base from Norihiro Komada for much of the year. As a 1B-OF in 2001, he produced at a .302/.365/.433 clip, tying Tomoaki Kanemoto and Kazuyoshi Tatsunami for 9th in the CL in hits (148) and placing 10th in average. He made his final All-Star team. That year, he had one of his three successful hidden ball trick maneuvers, getting Kazuhiro Kiyohara. After the game, he found that Yomiuri Giants fans had stolen all the tires off his car in retribution.
Saeki split 1B with Hirofumi Ogawa in 2002 and hit .297/.333/.378 as a part-timer; Boi Rodriguez, Tatsuhiko Kinjo and Suzuki were the outfielders. The veteran had trouble finding a position in 2003 as Hitoshi Tamura emerged to join Kinjo and Suzuki in the outfield and the team added Tyrone Woods to play 1B, leaving Saeki as a backup corner outfielder and first baseman. He hit .272/.314/.448 with 11 homers in 287 plate appearances. With Suzuki fading in 2004, Saeki emerged as the starting left fielder and hit third for the last few months for the BayStars; his batting line was .322/.376/.488 and he went deep 19 times in his 12th season. He got a couple milestones that year. On July 16, he singled off John Bale for his 1,000th hit. On September 3, he homered off Yuya Kamada for his 100th dinger. He finished third in the CL batting race behind Shigenobu Shima and Greg LaRocca, not bad for a guy who hadn't even started the year before. In the Nichi-Bei Series, he had the lone homer for the NPB All-Stars, taking Francísco Rodriguez yard.
Takahiro moved to first base full-time in 2005 when Woods left the team and hit .272/.339/.426 with 28 doubles, 19 home runs, 74 runs and 88 RBI for one of his best years in terms of counting stats, at age 35 no less. On September 3, he singled on a 4-2 count when the home plate umpire lost track of the number of balls, connecting off Yuya Ando. He finisheed 8th in the CL in doubles and RBI, third in double play grounders (18, behind Woods and Tamura) and 9th in strikeouts (119). He remained a starter in 2006 but had a rough time of it (.225/.297/.316, 5 HR). He was involved in two unusual plays within a couple weeks that year. On August 23, with the bases loaded in the 9th inning and the game tied, the infield was in to stop the run at home. The batter grounded to Saeki, who leisurely stepped on first instead of throwing home; two runs scored. On September 7, he was involved in a game-ending catcher's interference by Yoshiyuki Ishihara in the bottom of the 10th, only the second such incident in NPB annals.
In 2007, Yuki Yoshimura took over at 1B and Saeki moved back to the outfield, where he rebounded to bat .302/.359/.498 with 16 homers. That year, he got his only walk-off home run, off Rafael Cruz. He was 7th in the CL in average, between Yoshinobu Takahashi and Ryoji Aikawa. As had happened before, he was back of the bench after a successful season, with Seiichi Uchikawa at 1B and Yoshimura, Kinjo and Hiroaki Onishi in the outfield. He hit .269/.318/.360 in 208 plate appearances over 90 games for 2008. He was a starter once more in 2009 when Uchikawa moved to the outfield, Saeki returned to 1B and Onishi hit the pine; the veteran hit .258/.326/.402 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI. He had one steal, but it was of home. On June 2, he got his 1,500th NPB hit, a homer off D.J. Houlton. In 2010, Saeki was just 1 for 9 with a walk and the BayStars let their long-time player go. The Chunichi Dragons gave him a shot and he hit an unimpressive .202/.243/.284 as a bench player for them in 2011. He did have a four-hit game May 20, the first 41-year-old Dragon to do so. He also got to play in his second Japan Series ever; in his lone appearance in the 2011 Japan Series, he drew a walk when pinch-hitting for Yudai Kawai. That ended his career. He tried to sign on for a couple more years but no teams were interested and he finally retired in 2013.
In 1,895 NPB games, Saeki had batted .277/.339/.416 with 290 doubles, 156 home runs, 629 runs and 795 RBI. He fielded .986 in 938 games as an outfielder and .993 in 730 games at 1B. Through 2011, he was among the career NPB leaders in games played (58th, between Toru Ogawa and Katsumi Hirosawa), at-bats (5,772, 86th), hits (1,597, 86th), doubles (63rd), RBI (85th, between Ken Suzuki and Akitoshi Kodama), strikeouts (1,086, 38th, between Isao Shibata and Kiyoshi Hatsushiba), double play grounders (119, tied for 97th with Masuho Maeda and Kazuyoshi Yamamoto) and plate appearances (6,441, 90th, between Seizo Furukawa and Hatsushiba).
He was hired as a minor league coach for 2014.
- Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland
- Michael Westbay database