Tsutomu Itoh

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Tsutomu Itoh (伊東 勤)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Tsutomu Itoh was a 16-time All-Star and ten-time Best Nine pick in Nippon Pro Baseball. He played in 13 Japan Series. Not a major offensive force, he was known as a defensive wizard behind the plate. He later managed and was voted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Itoh was picked by the Seibu Lions in the first round of the 1981 NPB draft. He was a third-string catcher for Seibu in 1982, going 8 for 33 with 3 doubles and a walk while backing up Tomoyoshi Oishi and Masahiro Kuroda. He got his first hit in NPB off Tatsumi Murata, a double. In 1983, he split the position fairly evenly with Oishi and Kuroda. He hit .194/.328/.222 in 56 games. He was 1 for 8 with a double, two walks, a hit-by-pitch and a run in the 1983 Japan Series as Seibu beat the Yomiuri Giants in seven games.

He became a starter in 1984 and hit .284/.371/.420 with 10 homers and 20 steals in 36 tries. He got his first home run in NPB off Murata just over two years after his first hit in NPB came off the same hurler. He was 7th in the Pacific League in swipes (between Hiromi Matsunaga and Takayuki Kono), tied Makoto Shimada for third in caught stealing and was second with 11 times hit-by-pitch (one behind Eiji Kanamori). He made the first of 15 consecutive PL All-Star teams. He started 1984 NPB All-Star Game 1 and went 2 for 4 with a run and two RBI before Koichi Tabuchi batted for him. He was 1 for 3 in the next two All-Star Games that year, replacing Tatsuo Omiya.

In 1985, he batted .258/.341/.423 with 13 home runs. He was 13-for-24 in steals, finishing third in the PL in times caught stealing and tying Yutaka Fukumoto for third with six sacrifice flies. He had a career-high 62 RBI. He was 2 for 5 with a homer, two runs and two RBI in the 1985 NPB All-Star Games. He won the Diamond Glove Award (to be renamed the Gold Glove the next year, in line with American naming) and was picked to his first Best Nine as the top backstop in the PL. In the 1985 Japan Series, he hit .263/.333/.368 as a bright spot for the Lions as they fell to the Hanshin Tigers.

The 23-year-old hit .234/.302/.376 with 11 home runs and 18 steals in 29 tries in 1986; one of his dingers was the 25,000th long ball in PL annals. He was 9th in the league in steals (between Hiromichi Ishige and Kazuyuki Shirai), 4th in caught stealing (between Fukumoto and Ishige) and 6th with 24 sacrifice hits. He was 2 for 3 in the 1986 NPB All-Star Games to remain hot in All-Star competition (he was 7-for-15 in his career to that point). He won the Gold Glove and Best Nine honors. He was only 2 for 23 with a double, run and RBI in the 1986 Japan Series but did have four walks and two times hit by pitch. Seibu topped the Hiroshima Carp that year.

For the 1987 season, Itoh produced at a .247/.311/.360 clip with 10 home runs. He tied Kono for 10th in the league with 15 sacrifice hits and tied Tony Brewer, Dave Hostetler and Ben Oglivie for 4th with 5 sacrifice flies. He was 2 for 5 when the PL swept the three 1987 NPB All-Star Games, their first sweep in 13 years. He hit .316/.421/.368 for Seibu when they topped Yomiuri in the 1987 Japan Series.

Itoh batted .252/.330/.389 with 11 homers in 1988. He hit five triples to tie Hiromasa Arai, Kazunori Yamamoto and Hiroshi Yugamidani for second in the league. He was 1 for 6 in the 1988 NPB All-Star Games; his lone hit was a long ball off Yutaka Ono. He won his fourth straight Gold Glove and Best Nine. He hit .333/.333/.333 with a run and two RBI as Seibu beat the Chunichi Dragons in the 1988 Japan Series.

The Kumamoto native slipped to .235/.319/.350 in 1989 and Seibu did not win the Pl pennant for the only time from 1985-1994. He also did not take the Best Nine and Gold Glove for the only time from 1985-1992 as Satoshi Nakajima made the Best Nine and Kazuhiko Yamashita won the Gold Glove. Itoh did make the All-Star team but did not start either game; in his lone appearance at the plate in the 1989 NPB All-Star Games, he was retired by Hiroaki Nakayama to end a 6-0 game 1 defeat at the hands of the Central League.

Itoh rebounded to .281/.341/.443 with 11 home runs in 1990. He missed the top 10 in average by .004 for his second-best OPS (his best had been 1984) and was 10th with 17 sacrifice hits. He won his fifth Gold Glove and Best Nine. He was 1 for 3 in 1990 NPB All-Star Game 1, a 7-0 win, and played but did not bat in game 2, a 12-7 victory. He starred in the 1990 Japan Series, batting .333/.353/.733 with 3 doubles, a homer, four runs and four RBI, allowing no steals and throwing out one as the Lions swept the Giants. He was a good candidate for Japan Series MVP but that went to Orestes Destrade instead.

Tsutomu batted .212/.283/.316 for one of his lowest OPSes in 1991 and was 5th with 27 sacrifice hits (between Hirofumi Ogawa and Yugamidani). He still won his sixth Best Nine and also his sixth Gold Glove. In 1991 NPB All-Star Game 1, he got the PL's first hit, a third-inning one off Tatsuji Nishimura but the PL lost 1-0; Jim Traber batted for Itoh his second time up. In Game 2, a 3-3 tie, he replaced Fujio Tamura late and did not bat. He hit .278/.409/.333 as Seibu beat Hiroshima in the 1991 Japan Series.

In 1992, his batting line read .263/.350/.351 and he stole 10 bases in 12 tries. He laid down 23 sacrifice hits to tie Daijiro Oishi for 8th and his six times hit-by-pitch tied for 5th. He won the Best Nine and Gold Glove honors. He went 1 for 3 in the 1992 NPB All-Star Games; he was now at .382 in 9 All-Star Games. He batted .217/.280/.217 in the 1992 Japan Series and the Lions topped the Yakult Swallows in seven games; the catcher for Yakult was another future Japanese Hall-of-Famer, Atsuya Furuta.

Itoh had an off-year in 1993 (.224/.305/.319) and lost the Gold Glove and Best Nine honors to Tamura. He was 6th in the league with 19 sacrifice hits. In the 1993 NPB All-Star Game 1, he replaced Koichiro Yoshinaga late in a 10-0 romp and did not bat. In Game 2, a 10-8 loss, he started and was retired by Toshiro Yufune in his lone at-bat before being pinch-hit for by Matt Winters. In the 1993 Japan Series, he hit .174/.240/.348 as Yakult this time beat Seibu in seven.

Beginning 1994 with a blast, he hit the first come-from-behind sayonara grand slam in Opening Day history in Japan, taking Motoyuki Akahori deep. For the year, he put up a batting line of .254/.331/.379 and stole 17 bases in 22 tries. He tied Masahiro Takumi for 5th in steals and was 4th with 22 sacrifice hits (between Shirai and Chihiro Hamana). He was 0 for 3 in the 1994 NPB All-Star Games, replacing Yoshinaga both times. He won his 8th Gold Glove, the first time he got the Gold Glove without making the Best Nine; Yoshinaga got that honor instead. He hit .278/.381/.278 in the 1994 Japan Series as Seibu lost to Yomiuri.

The veteran posted a .246/.302/.347 line in 1995 and won his 9th Gold Glove (Nakajima got the Best Nine). He started 1995 NPB All-Star Game 1 and was retired by Shinji Imanaka before being replaced by Kenji Furukubo. In Game 2, he was a late substitute for the PL and did not bat. He hit .258/.320/.371 in 1996, tying for 5th in the league with five sacrifice flies and did not get the Gold Glove (which went to Makoto Takada). He was 0 for 3 in the 1996 NPB All-Star Games.

At age 34/35 in 1997, he had one of his best years - .280/.332/.417, 13 home runs (tying his career high) and a career-high 122 hits. He was 8th in the PL with 21 sacrifice hits. He made his 8th Best Nine and first in five years and won his 10th Gold Glove - he did not make an error all year. In 1997 NPB All-Star Game 1, he replaced Kenji Johjima and went 1 for 2 with a RBI in a 5-0 win, his first All-Star Game hit in five years. In Game 2, a 6-3 loss, he started and was retired by Masato Yoshii before being replaced by Johjima. Seibu returned to the Japan Series; in the 1997 Japan Series, he was 3 for 16 with 3 walks and a RBI as the Swallows downed the Lions.

Itoh hit .243/.313/.363 in 1998 and stretched his consecutive error-free chance streak to 1,263, a NPB record. He would win another Gold Glove and Best Nine at year's end. In 1998 NPB All-Star Game 1, he pinch-hit for slugger Tuffy Rhodes and was retired by Shigeki Noguchi. In Game 2, he started at catcher and was fanned by Takeo Kawamura before leaving (Johjima replaced him at catcher, Taisei Takagi took his spot in the lineup). He was 2 for 6 in the 1998 Japan Series as the Lions fell to the Yokohama BayStars. He had now faced all six CL teams in a Japan Series; it is unclear if this is unique in Japanese annals or not.

In 1999, he became the 178th NPB player to 1,500 hits when he connected off Hideo Koike September 3. He was only a part-timer that year, splitting catching with Nakajima; he hit .287/.345/.368 in 296 plate appearances. He ended his run of 15 straight All-Star appearances. He became the 30th NPB player to appear in 2,000 games, hitting that mark in 2000, when he batted .212/.281/.310, again splitting time with Nakajima.

Itoh produced at a .203/.310/.258 clip in 2001. It was thus surprising when he had one last solid season left, hitting .255/.310/.367 in 2002 at age 39/40. He made his final All-Star team. In 2002 NPB All-Star Game 1, he started and struck out against Kei Igawa before Takeshi Hidaka batted for him. In Game 2, he replaced Hidaka late in a 4-2 win. He was the fourth NPB player to 300 sacrifice hits and the 121st to 150 home runs (taking Mike Johnson yard). He made his 10th Best Nine, second all-time to Katsuya Nomura among catchers. It was his first Best Nine without a Gold Glove, as Kenji Johjima won the Gold Glove. As Johjima slugged over .500 and won the Gold Glove, it would seem surprising Itoh beat him out for the Best Nine; being on the pennant winner one last time probably played a role. In the 2002 Japan Series, he went 0 for 5 as Seibu got swept by Yomiuri.

In his final season as a player, he hit .168/.218/.253 in 73 games in 2003, backing up Toru Hosokawa. In 2,379 games in NPB, he had batted .247/.319/.363 with 286 doubles, 156 home runs, 134 steals in 215 tries, 798 runs, 811 RBI and 691 walks. While rarely a league leader or making many top-10 lists, he made the career leaders in numerous categories thanks to his longevity. Through 2011, he was 13th in NPB annals in games played (between Takuro Ishii and Kazuhiro Kiyohara), 36th in at-bats (between Kenjiro Nomura and Hiromasa Arai), 82nd in runs, 66th in hits, tied for 64in doubles (with Shoichi Busujima), 78th in RBI (between Koichi Hada and Koichi Hori), tied for 76th in caught stealing, 4th in sacrifice hits (305, trailing only Masahiro Kawai, Ken Hirano and Shinya Miyamoto and first in PL history in that category), tied for 26th in sacrifice flies (60, even with Furuta and Hiroki Kokubo), tied for 55th in walks (with Michiyo Arito), tied for 30th in hit-by-pitch (85, even with Katsuo Osugi), 47th in strikeouts (1,044, between Hiromi Matsunaga and Yasumitsu Toyoda), tied for 53rd in double play grounders (146) and 83rd in total bases (2,566, between Atsushi Nagaike and Koichi Ogata).

Immediately after retiring as a player, he was hired as manager of the Lions, replacing Haruki Ihara. He was 74-58-1 in 2004 and led them to the 2004 Japan Series title over Chunichi. Seibu fell to 67-69 in 2005, rebounded to 80-54-2 and second in the PL in 2006 and then dropped to 66-76-2 in 2007. He was succeeded as Seibu skipper by Hisanobu Watanabe.

From 2008-2011, he worked as a sports commentator for NHK and he coached for the Japanese national team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He coached for the Doosan Bears in the 2012 KBO. In 2013, he became skipper of the Chiba Lotte Marines, succeeding Norifumi Nishimura. He was 74-68-2 his first year, 66-76-2 in 2014, 73-69-1 in 2015 and 72-68-3 in 2016. After falling to 54-87 in 2017, he was replaced by Tadahito Iguchi.

After a few years on the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, he started skyrocketing in the vote count. He had 33 votes in 2014, tied for 13th with Masumi Kuwata, then had 96 votes in the 2015 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame Election to place 6th, 172 votes in 2016 to be 3rd (behind Masaaki Saito and Kimiyasu Kudoh, both of whom won election. In 2017, he was the only one player to win entry from the Sportswriters Committee, with 265 of 333 votes; he needed 250. Kazuyoshi Tatsunami (217) was the only other player over 200 that year.

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