Yoshinori Hirose

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Yoshinori Hirose

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Biographical Information[edit]

The former career Nippon Pro Baseball record-holder for stolen bases, Yoshinori Hirose is still second all-time through 2006. A nine-time All-Star, Hirose was not a one-dimensional player, showing good power and contact and playing many positions. He is a member of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and the Meikyukai. He played all twenty-two of his seasons for the Nankai Hawks and later managed them for three years.

Early career[edit]

Hirose was signed initially as a pitcher in a tryout prior to the 1955 season but hurt his arm and only pitched two innings in his career, walking three and allowing two hits but no runs in 1956. Moving to shortstop, Yoshinori hit .400/.423/.520 in 26 plate appearances over 19 games. He also stole his first two bases.

In 1957, the youngster became a starter, hitting .284/.316/.382 but being thrown out 14 times in 39 attempts to steal. Despite routinely topping 40 steals in the future, he would never be caught that many times in a year again.

Hirose batted .288/.326/.421 in 1958 with a Pacific League-leading 36 doubles. He stole 33 bases in 43 tries and scored 82 runs, leading the league there as well. He was 7th in the PL in batting average and made the first of six straight All-Star teams.

In 1959, the Nankai speedster hit .310/.330/.434 and only was 17-for-28 in steals, the only time he failed top 20 in his first decade of play. It was the last time he was even caught stealing 10 times in a season. He tied Takao Katsuragi for third in the PL in average and made the All-Star team again. He also led the league in runs again, with 86. He hit .313/.353/.375 in the 1959 Japan Series to give Nankai its first Japan Series title.

During 1960, Hirose produced at a .269/.291/.411 clip. For the first time, he reached double digits in doubles (24), triples (10) and home runs (10). The All-Star stole 25 bases while only getting caught four times. He led the PL in triples that season.

Star outfielder[edit]

Hirose hit .296/.332/.417 in his fourth All-Star season in 1961. He stole 42 bases in 48 tries and scoring 82 runs. Moved to the outfield that year, he led the league in steals for the first time in his career. He was 10th in the PL in average. He then hit .269/.269/.423 in the 1961 Japan Series.

In the 1962 season, Yoshinori batted .280/.343/.414 and stole 50 bases while only being caught nine times. He drew a career-high 50 walks and scored 99 times. He led the league in steals for the second time and runs for the third time. He made his fifth All-Star team.

In his age 26 season (1963), Hirose hit .299/.342/.435 and scored 92 times. He led the PL in hits (187) and steals (45 in 52 tries). He was fifth in the league in average. His eight triples were one behind Shozo Higuchi's league-leading nine. He set all-time NPB records for at-bats (626) and plate appearances (676) as well as for outfield chances (368). On May 13, he had a three-homer game. He made his sixth straight All-Star club and his first Best Nine.

Glenn Mickens, who competed against Hirose from 1959-1963, reports that he was the one player in Japan "who could fly! They called him Choro, choro, choro - something about the wiggling of a mouse. Boy, he could run." Mickens commented that this was unusual at the time as most Japanese players were not known for their speed.

Hirose had a career year in 1964, producing at a .366/.414/.548 clip and stealing 72 bases while only being caught nine times. He scored 110 runs and led the PL with 35 doubles. It was the second-highest average ever by a right-handed hitter. Amazingly, he missed the All-Star team though he did make the Best Nine. From March 28 till May 30, he stole 31 bases in a row without being caught. He had a 27-game hitting streak from May 14 to June 13. He led the league in runs for the fourth and final time and won his only batting title, 38 points ahead of runner-up Isao Harimoto. He also led the league in a fourth category, this one no surprise - stolen bases. He helped the club to their second and last title by batting .345/.367/.621 in the 1964 Japan Series. He had 4 doubles and two triples in the Series, though he was just 1 for 3 in steal attempts.

An All-Star once more in 1965, Yoshinori hit .298/.331/.498 with 35 steals in 47 tries. He tied his career high with 10 triples and had his best home run season with 15. He made his third straight and final Best Nine selection. He was fifth in the PL in average, led in steals for the fifth and final time and also led in doubles (33) and triples. He and Daryl Spencer (walks) were the only players other than Hirose's star teammate Katsuya Nomura to lead the league in an offensive statistic. It would be Hirose's last top-notch season as he declined from that point.

In 1966, Hirose batted .261/.293/.434. He stole 28 bases in 35 attempts and made his eighth All-Star team. He was second in the PL in steal behind Koji Yamamoto. He only hit .125/.192/.208 in the 1966 Japan Series. The next season, the veteran had a .204/.259/.309 line in a most disappointing year, limited to 76 games, many in a bench role.

During the 1968 season, Yoshinori hit .294/.336/.425 in a fine comeback. He stole 44 bases while being caught only twice but was 10 steals behind PL leader Tomonori Yasui. Still, he set the all-time NPB record for base-stealing percentage. He had 7 triples to tie Don Blasingame for the league lead, his last time leading the league in anything. He was 5th in the PL in average.

Decline phase[edit]

Hirose made his ninth and last All-Star team in 1969. The 32-year-old had his only career pinch-hit homer, batted .284/.304/.409 and stole 39 bases in 48 attempts, eight swipes behind leader Toshizo Sakamoto. Continuing to decline, Yoshinori hit .224/.281/.306 in 1970 and stole 28 bases in 35 tries. In 1971 in Japanese Baseball, he hit .277/.335/.382 with 36 steals in 42 attempts.

Yoshinori's batting line read .241/.307/.289 in 1972. On July 1, he became the 6th player in NPB history to get 2,000 hits when he connected off of Osamu Higashio. In his last fine year on the bases, he stole 42 while being caught just 7 times. The league had a new base-stealing legend, though, one who would break his records - Yutaka Fukumoto. Hirose won a Diamond Glove Award that year, the first year they were distributed; one presumes he would have won another seasons if they had been given out in his prime.

Bench duty[edit]

In 1973, the old-timer hit .244/.333/.293 in 40 games, used almost entirely as a pinch-hitter. He saw regular action in the 1973 Japan Series, though, and batted .231/.333/.231 in four games. In a part-time role, Hirose hit .279/.350/.396 for the Hawks in 1974. He stole 10 bases in 12 tries in 1975 and batted .278/.387/.317 in a similar role. A year later, the 38/39-year-old had a .179/.281/.214 batting line in 64 plate appearances over 27 games. He played 50 games in 1977 and hit .244/.258/.311 in 125 plate appearances; he also stole his final base.

Managerial career[edit]

Hirose retired as a player to become Nankai's manager but they finished last (42-77-11) his first year, 1978. In 1979, Nankai was 46-73-11, rising one spot to fifth. They fell back to last with a 48-77-5 mark in 1980, Hirose's last year at the reigns.

Announcing Coaching[edit]

Hirose was a baseball commentator for 10 years with NHK (1981-1990) then coached for the Daiei Hawks in 1991 and 1992. In 1999, he was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Career Statistics[edit]

Hirose hit .282/.326/.409 in 2,190 career games in NPB. He stole 596 bases in 719 tries for a stellar 82.9% steal success rate. He scored 1,205 runs, had 2,157 hits, 394 doubles, 88 triples, 131 home runs and 705 RBI. He only struck out 564 times in 7,637 AB but also drew just 482 walks. Through 2006, he was 5th all-time in NPB in triples, 11th in doubles, tied with Koji Akiyama for 19th in hits, 14th in runs, tied with Makoto Matsubara for 20th in games played, 19th in at-bats and second in steals, behind only Fukumoto. Don Blasingame opined that "He was quick as a cat on that first step. He didn't steal bases just to run up his numbers...only when he could help the team...I think that he could have stolen even more bases than he did."

Sources: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland, Remembering Japanese Baseball by Rob Fitts