On Tuesday night we learned that Hiromitsu Kadota, whose 567 career home runs are third most in Japanese pro baseball, was found dead in his home on Monday at the age of 74.
Kadota was famous not just for his home run total but for the shape of his career. Prior to his age 31 season, he hit one homer per 21.8 at-bats. He then missed most of the 1979 season with an Achilles tendon tear, before having the comeback to end all comebacks, with one home run per 12.7 at-bats through his final season at the age of 44.
He surpassed his career-high 31 homers in 1980, hitting 41, and belted 44 the following year. He said at the time that he changed his batting style to take pressure off his ankle.
“Trotting around the bases doesn’t hurt as much, so I altered my approach to try and homer in every at-bat,” Kadota said.
That’s part of the explanation, another part is that Kadota’s career home run output closely tracks that of the Pacific League during his career. He hit 31 and led the PL with 120 RBIs in 1971, the best home run-hitting season in the league’s first 22 years.
That season, PL players with 300-plus plate appearances homered in 2.65 percent of their at-bats. By 1978, the figure was 1.84, the lowest in over 10 years. In 1979, Mizuno came to the rescue, supplying four PL teams with a livelier-than-allowed ball that jacked up home run rates.
The hefty left-handed-hitting Kadota took full advantage of his circumstances. In 1988, the Hawks’ last season in Osaka before their sale to Daiei and their move to Fukuoka, Kadota became Japan’s first 40-year-old MVP after leading the PL in home runs and RBIs while playing for a fifth-place team.
The PL-champion Seibu Lions had a slew of players with seasons that just fell short of being MVP-caliber, allowing Kadota to scoop up the award ahead of the equally deserving Hiromitsu Ochiai and Hiromi Matsunaga.
Kadota’s golden-years achievement must have resonated among the old-timers, since he was named the winner of the Shoriki Award for the greatest contribution that year to pro baseball, an honor typically reserved at that time for league MVPs who ended up hoisting the Japan Series trophy or their managers.
Rather than move with the Hawks to Fukuoka, Daiei allowed him to stay in Kansai and play for the team that first drafted him, the Braves, in their new incarnation as the Orix Braves. He spent two years with Orix before finally rejoining the Hawks for two seasons.
Kadota won seven Best Nines, three in the outfield before his Achilles injury, and four as DH. He led the PL in home runs three times, in RBIs twice, and in on-base percentage three times.
He was inducted into Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.