Route 56

Twenty-two-year-old Munetaka Murakami was praised to the heavens Monday for becoming Japan’s youngest triple crown winner, and for surpassing Sadaharu Oh’s best single-season total.

Hitting more than Oh ever did is really something, but not the record the media is telling us it is. Depending on who you ask, Murakami set the record for home runs by a Japan-born player, or the record for a Japanese citizen.

NPB separates its players into those who can be activated without restriction and “others” who have been subject to roster and activation quotas. NPB does not currently recognize its unrestricted players as “Japanese citizens” or “Japan-born” although definitions were used in the past.

Through 1975 players were defined as:

  1. Japanese citizens with no roster restrictions.
  2. Everyone else.

From 1976 it was:

  1. Japan-born with no roster restrictions.
  2. Everyone else.

Currently it is:

  1. Those turning pro through the draft—because they are Japanese citizens or amateur ballplayers with sufficient residence time in Japan–or those with nine years of major league service time. These have no roster restrictions.
  2. Everyone else. These are currently restricted to four active players and an unlimited number of inactive players.

Oh was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and ineligible for birth citizenship. According to Robert Whiting, as a non-citizen, Oh was an “other” when he broke Japan’s single-season home run record with 55 in 1964, and remained subject to quotas until 1976, when the Yomiuri Giants had the rules changed in order to keep Oh and free agent signing Isao Harimoto, a Japan-born South Korean citizen, from counting against Yomiuri’s “other” quota.

The sole record holder from 1964 to 2000, Oh was an other until he became a “Japan-born” player in 1976 for the final five years of his career. Calling Oh’s 55 the Japan-player record is not unlike calling Wladimir Balentien’s 60 the Japan-player record, since like Oh, he was an “other” when he set the record, but finished his career in the unrestricted category.

Before Murakami, the record for a player with no roster restrictions was the 52 hit by Katsuya Nomura in 1963 and equaled by Hiromitsu Ochiai in 1985. Murakami broke their record on Sept. 9, but which no one talked about because the sports media wants to pretend Oh is Japanese.

As I told Mr. Whiting a couple of weeks ago, it is a damned shame Japan-registered outfielder Chen Ta-feng (Yasuaki Taiho) never hit 55 for the Chunichi Dragons, because then the media would have to explain how his record was different, even though he was a domestically registered player from Day 1, having joined the Dragons through the draft after playing amateur ball in Japan.

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