Baseball: Munetaka Murakami Matches Oh’s Best with 55th Home Run

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Munetaka Murakami, the 22-year-old clearer of the Yakult Swallows, hit his 55th homerun on Tuesday, tying the best season total of Japanese home leader, Hall of Famer Sadaharu Oh.

Murakami hit two home runs at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium in the Swallows’ 9-7 Central League loss to the Yomiuri Giants, and is now tied for second behind the 60 Wladimir Balentien hit for the Swallows in 2013. Oh hit 55 with the Yomiuri Giants in 1964 and hit 868 in his career.

Munetaka Murakami of the Yakult Swallows hits his 55th home run of the season in the ninth inning of a Central League game against the Yomiuri Giants on September 13, 2022 at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo. (TBEN)

“It’s a great honor to be associated with him,” Murakami said. “This is the result of the trial and error process as I worked on developing my hitting style. That’s how I hit home runs.”

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Oh’s Japan’s record was unmatched until two Pacific League hitters tied it, the Kintetsu Buffaloes’ Tuffy Rhodes in 2001 and the Seibu Lions’ Alex Cabrera in 2002.

The record Oh long held was tinged with controversy the first three times an import player came close, starting in 1985.

In 1985, Randy Bass of the Hanshin Tigers reached 54 when most pitchers for the Giants, then managed by Oh, infamously refused to challenge Bass to protect their skipper’s record.

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That folly resumed in 2001 when Rhodes struck out against Oh’s defending PL champion Daiei Hawks at the end of the season. Although Oh said he told his team to get Rhodes out, they avoided throwing the Buffaloes slugger strikes.

It was much the same when Cabrera was stopped at 55, although neither of the other PL teams were eager to serve number 56.

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“No pitcher wants to be the one to hand in the record home run, so it’s very difficult, especially when there are only a few games left,” Oh said in 2002.

In 2013, Oh was the chairman of the Hawks, and while none of the other CL teams tried to give him fat pitches, Balentien was thrown to him as Oh cheered him on and then congratulated him.

(TBEN)