Yoshitomo Tani (谷 佳知)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 8", Weight 170 lb.
- School Osaka Shogyo University
- High School Jinsei Gakuen High School
Tani won a Triple Crown in college and garnered a MVP award as well. He then went on to Mitsubishi Motors Okazaki in the industrial leagues. He played for the Japanese national team in the 1995 Intercontinental Cup, hitting .333/.366/.615 with 3 home runs, 11 RBI, 8 runs and 3 steals in 9 games. He tied Jeffrey Cranston for third in steals, trailing Byung-kyu Lee and Adonis Kemp. He tied 7 others, including Lee, Omar Linares, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Evert-Jan 't Hoen for second in homers, one behind Juan Rodriguez. He failed to make the tournament All-Star team.
In the 1996 Olympics, he put on an excellent effort, hitting .421/.463/.868 with 8 runs, 3 doubles, a triple, 4 homers, 2 steals, 11 RBI, 20 putouts and one outfield assist in 9 games. He was 7th in home runs, third in hits (16) behind Linares and Orestes Kindelan and tied for 4th in steals. He was Japan's top performer in their 13-9 loss to Cuba in the Gold Medal game, going 3 for 5 with 2 homers, 3 runs and 3 RBI out of the #3 slot in the batting order, doing well against Omar Luis and Pedro Luis Lazo.
Tani was picked in the second round of the 1996 NPB draft by the Orix BlueWave, joining a team that was coming off of two Pacific League titles and being added to an outfield already featuring Ichiro Suzuki and So Taguchi.
Stardom with Orix
Tani became a regular as a rookie in 1997. Getting his first game on May 11, he got his first hit two weeks later in a big game. He singled in a run against Yasuhiko Yabuta and added a triple, steal of home and 3 more RBI before the game was over. He quickly established himself as Orix's third outfielder alongside the two future major leaguers and hit .272/.326/.375.
Tani hit .284/.341/.391 in 1998. In 1999, the Orix outfielder batted .291/.350/.400 with 24 steals in 26 tries. He was third in the Pacific League in steals (trailing Kazuo Matsui and Makoto Kosaka) and hits (155, trailing Matsui and Michihiro Ogasawara). He joined Ichiro and Tuffy Rhodes as the PL Best Nine outfielders that season.
In 2000, Tani produced at a .284/.338/.395 clip with 23 steals in 32 attempts. His 7 sacrifice flies led the Pacific League. 2001 was a breakthrough year for Tani, who had to pick up more slack with Ichiro gone. He hit .325/.398/.503 with 27 steals (in 34 attempts), 52 doubles and 99 runs. He set a new NPB record for doubles in a season and was 5th in average behind Kazuya Fukuura, Ogasawara, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Rhodes. He made his first PL All-Star team and second Best Nine while winning his first Gold Glove Award.
Tani batted .326/.383/.418 in 2002 and swiped 41 bases while only being caught four times. His 171 hits were second to Kazuo Matsui and he led the PL in steals, 8 ahead of Matsui. Tani was 4th in the PL in average behind Matsunaka, Matsui and Alex Cabrera. He made his second All-Star team and won his second Gold Glove. He made his third Best Nine, joining Rhodes and Tatsuya Ozeki in the outfield.
In 2003, the Orix star hit .350/.409/.539 for a career year. He hit 37 doubles, 21 home runs, scored 86 runs and drove in 92 though he only stole 9 bases. He set a PL record for hits by a right-handed batter (189), hit in 21 straight games, won his third Gold Glove and made his third All-Star team. He joined Rhodes and Kazuhiro Wada as the Best Nine outfielders in the PL. He led in his, 7 ahead of Kenji Johjima and was second in average, 10 points behind Ogasawara. He tied Tadahito Iguchi for third in doubles. Tani helped Japan win Gold at the 2003 Asian Championship.
Tani's production fell in 2004 as his batting line was .317/.387/.513 with 15 home runs. He made his fourth All-Star team and won his fourth and last Gold Glove. He finished 7th in the PL in average. He made his fifth and final Best Nine, joining Wada and Tsuyoshi Shinjo in the outfield.
Tani also appeared in the 2004 Olympics, again helping Japan win Silver. He was far less successful than in the 1996 Games, hitting .200/.273/.333 and was left out of the Gold Medal game.
Injuries and struggles
In 2005, Tani batted .248/.291/.336 in his worst year to that point. He only stole 3 bases and hit 6 home runs while battling back problems. Tani rebounded only slightly in 2006, hitting .267/.316/.346 and made his fifth All-Star team despite an elbow injury to add to his back injuries.
Tani was traded to the Yomiuri Giants for Masahiro Nagata and Takashi Kamoshida in the off-season. In 2007, he hit .318/.357/.431 in an excellent comeback year, making his sixth All-Star team. Tani finished third in the Central League in average behind Norichika Aoki and Alex Ramirez, 5th in doubles (31) and 6th in hits (172).
Tani has hit .301/.357/.428 through 2007, with 285 doubles, 107 home runs and 154 steals (in 197 tries) in 1,378 games. He is among the top 25 in NPB history in batting average for players with 4,000+ at-bats.
Tani is married to Olympic judo star Ryoko "Yawara" Tamura. They have one son.
- Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland
- Defunct IBAF site