Toshio Naka

From BR Bullpen

Toshio Naka

  • Bats Left, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 6", Weight 160 lb.

Toshio Naka roamed center field for the Chunichi Dragons for 18 years, making six All-Star teams.

Naka debuted with Chunichi in 1955, going 3 for 17 with two walks, two steals and three runs. Becoming a starter in 1956, he batted .262/.286/.361. On June 27, he had 11 total chances in the outfield, a Nippon Pro Baseball record. He fell to .236/.267/.292 in 1957 with 15 steals in 21 tries.

In 1958, Naka hit .248/.281/.348 and stole 26 bases in 33 tries. He led the Central League with 28 sacrifice hits. Naka improved to .266/.339/.487 with 15 homers in 1959. He made his first CL All-Star team. Toshio's line in 1960 was .312/.368/.441 with 9 triples, 80 runs and 50 steals in 65 tries. He made his second All-Star team. He led the CL in steals, runs and times caught stealing and was chosen to the Best Nine for the first time. He was third in the league in average behind Shigeo Nagashima and Kazuhiko Kondo.

Naka hit .271/.330/.427 with 11 triples, 13 homers, 88 runs and 30 steals in 47 attempts in 1961. He led the CL in times gunned down running and in three-baggers and was 10th in average. In 1962, he slipped to .275/.324/.386 with only 11 steals in 32 tries. He did lead the league with 10 triples and in times caught stealing.

In 1963, the Maebashi native fell to .246/.308/.357 though he did steal 27 bases in 36 tries and scored 79 runs. He only struck out in 28 of 516 at-bats. He also dazzled on defense again, with 350 putouts, the most ever by a Central League flyhawk. Unfortunately for Naka, the Diamond Glove Award was not introduced until his final year.

Naka hit .262/.309/.432 with 10 triples, 70 runs and 27 steals in 35 tries in 1964. He led the league in triples for the third time. In 1965, the 29-year-old put up a .283/.345/.377 line with 8 triples, 72 runs and 26 steals in 38 tries. He matched his putout record of 350. He led the CL in triples and was 8th in average (between Akihito Kondo and Masahiko Mori). He joined Shinichi Eto and Kazuhiko Kondo in making the Best Nine among CL flyhawks.

Naka was better yet in 1966, batting .322/.370/.497 with 18 homers, 79 runs and 22 steals in 29 tries. He made his first All-Star team in six years. The veteran Dragon was third in the league in average and joined Eto and Kazuyoshi Yamamoto as the CL's Best Nine outfield selections.

Naka's career year was 1967, when he hit .343/.398/.503 with 25 steals in 38 tries. He beat out Kazuhiko Kondo for the batting championship by .016. He led the league in times caught stealing but made his fourth All-Star squad. He also made his fourth Best Nine, joining Kazuhiko Kondo and Isao Shibata in the outfield.

Limited to 61 games (presumably due to injury) in 1968, Naka still hit .328/.363/.461. Had he qualified, he would have edged Sadaharu Oh for the batting title. In 1969, he hit .290/.328/.439 with 19 steals in 28 tries and 7 triples. He made his fifth All-Star team. He led the CL in triples for a record fifth time.

At age 34, Toshio produced at a .272/.323/.364 rate in 1970. He made his sixth and final All-Star team. He was also picked for his fifth and last Best Nine squad, joining Shigeru Takada and Akira Ejiri in the outfield. He slumped to .218/.288/.289 in 1971 and .231/.303/.280 in 1972 before retiring.

Overall, Naka batted .277/.330/.402 in 1,877 games in NPB, with 951 runs, 249 doubles, 81 triples, 139 homers, only 473 strikeouts in 6,581 at-bats and 347 steals in 514 tries. Through 2009, he was tied with Shosei Go for 6th in NPB history in triples, was 17th in steals and sixth in times caught stealing.

Naka later managed Chunichi. Replacing Wally Yonamine in 1978, he went 53-71-6 to finish fifth. His club improved to 59-57-14 and third in 1979 but fell to 45-76-9 in 1980 to place last. In between 1979 and 1980, he met with Gene Martin, Chunichi's 30-homer outfielder, in Florida and didn't let Martin know he wouldn't be back in 1980 - then on Gene's birthday a month later, the club let him go. Martin said that he lost all respect for Naka but got his revenge with the Taiyo Whales - "I think I made him kick the water cooler more than once".

Naka was replaced as skipper by Sadao Kondo while Toshio became a Chunichi coach.

Sources: Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland, Remembering Japanese Baseball by Robert Fitts