Tatsunami leads hit parade

Longtime second baseman Kazuyoshi Tatsunami and former Dragons ace and BayStars manager Hiroshi Gondo are two of the newest members of Japan’s Hall of Fame.

2019 votes tells us hits matter more than anything

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was admitted to Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday in a vote that favored 2,000-hit guys. Tatsunami, with 2,480 career hits got 287 votes, eight more than needed for his selection, while two first-timers with 2,000 hits, Shinya Miyamoto and Alex Ramirez, shot up the rankings.

Tuffy Rhodes, easily the most deserving player on the ballot along with former major league catcher Kenji Jojima were left in their dust.

Ramirez is a decent candidate, and there’s nothing one can do to make Rhodes’ career any better or worse than it was. It is not an insult that more people voted for Ramirez, because we all look at things differently.

The way I see, it, Ramirez had 208 more hits than Rhodes, but Rhodes hit 84 more home runs, stole 67 more bases, scored 234 more runs, and — wait for it — drew 650 more walks. That’s a huge number in two careers that lasted about the same length.

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, left front, with fellow Hall of Famer Hiroshi Gondo. Behind them are Tatsunam’s high school coach Junji Nakamura and Gondo’s predecessor as Chunichi Dragons ace, Shigeru Sugishita.

Rhodes, who was on 36.6 percent of the ballots two years ago, was at 22.8 percent last year and 29.6 this year. By contrast, Miyamoto, a sturdy player and a good leader if an underwhelming bat despite 2,133 career hits got 41.2 percent and Tomonori Maeda (2,119 hits) matched Rhodes’ 29.6 share.

To be fair, this leaves me at a loss to explain the lack of improvement for Takuro Ishii, a player of Tatsunami’s caliber with more speed and defense but fewer extra-base hits. Ishii. At 19.3 percent last year, Ishii improved to just 24.8 percent this time around.

The ultimate sacrifice

Or maybe its not just hits, but hits and sacrifices. That could explain why Masahiro Kawai, another solid baseball man of that generation was named on 50.7 percent of this year’s ballots. Kawai had 5m528 plate appearances with a .676 career OPS. The thing that sets him apart is his sacrifice hit total, a Japan-record 533. Like Miyamoto, he bunted more than he walked.

The last year there were no knockout first-year candidates, 2017, voters selected the player who got the most votes who was still on the ballot. That was Tsutomu Ito, a superb catcher and good hitter in an underrepresented position. But Ito is also fourth in career sacrifice bunts with 305. So Kawai is the leader, Miyamoto is third and both may be going into the Hall of Fame with Ito. This begs the question of why voters overlooked Ken Hirano, whose 451 career sacrifices rank him second. What could they have been thinking?

Or is thinking optional?

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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