Monday, October 7, 2013

Takeshi Yamasaki

Another player who has retired now that the season is over is Takeshi Yamasaki of the Chunichi Dragons.  The Dragons held their retirement ceremony for him after last Saturday's game.

If it seems like Yamasaki has been playing forever, it's because he has.  He was originally drafted in the second round by the Dragons in the 1987 draft (which was actually held in the fall of 1986).  He actually appeared in 10 games for the Dodgers' team in the Gulf Coast League in 1987.  He didn't make his first appearance for the ichi-gun Dragons until 1989, didn't become a regular until 1993 and didn't become a starter until 1996, when he was 27 years old.

His first baseball card was from the 1991 BBM set (#117).  His name was spelled "Yamazaki" on the card - for some reason the spelling of his last name would never quite be consistent.  Most of the time it would be "Yamasaki" but every so often, it would be "Yamazaki".  His first Calbee card was #68 from the 1996 set.

1991 BBM #117
Yamasaki had some very good seasons interrupted by some less good seasons from 1996 through 2001.  In 2002, however, the bottom fell out for him, hitting under the Mendoza line while only appearing in 26 games with the top team.  Following the season, the Dragons traded him to the Orix Blue Wave for pitcher Masafumi Hirai.

Yamasaki would spend only two seasons with Orix, having a comeback season in 2003 followed by a very poor season in 2004.

2003 Calbee #162
Following the 2004 season, Yamasaki was released by Orix during their "merger" with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes.  He ended up signing with the team created to replace Kintetsu - the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.  He would remain with the Eagles through the 2011 season, continuing his mixture of good and poor seasons.  The defining moment of his time with Rakuten was his three run home run that won Game 2 of the First Stage of the 2009 Climax Series - the win clinched the First Stage for the Eagles over the Fighters.

2007 Calbee #047

2010 BBM 1st Version #273
He was released by the Eagles after the 2011 season.  He then did what it seems like every old player in NPB does - he returned to the Dragons.  (Seriously there were four guys playing in 2013 who had appeared in the 1991 BBM set - three of them played for the Dragons.)  He was pretty much a part time player in 2012 and spent a lot of time down at the farm in 2013.

2012 Calbee #038
As I pointed out, Yamasaki had some very good seasons mixed with some not so good season.  He had three truly exceptional power seasons - 1996 (.322 with 39 home runs and 107 RBIs), 2007 (43 home runs and 108 RBIs) and 2009 (39 home runs and 107 RBIs).  Those were the only three seasons he had more than 100 RBIs or 30 home runs.  2000 was the only other season that he had a batting average over .300.  He led the league in home runs in 1996 and 2007 and RBIs in 2007.  Those three seasons (1996, 2007 and 2009) also marked the only three times he made a Best 9 team.

1997 BBM #6

2008 BBM 1st Version #440
He made All Star teams in 1996, 2000, 2001, 2007 (top vote getter), 2008 and 2010.

1996 BBM All Stars #A32
Amazingly for someone who had a 25 year career, Yamasaki never played in a Nippon Series.  He was a victim of lousy timing - hewasn't playing for the top team in 1988 when the Dragons made the Series, he was injured in 1999 when the Dragons returned to the Series and he was in Kobe and Sendai when Chunichi made their run of five Series in eight years from 2004 to 2011.  What's really strange though is that BBM actually gave him a card in the 1999 Nippon Series set despite him not playing in it - I'd have to do some checking but I don't think that's ever happened any other time.  The back of his card shows a picture of him in a cast (he had fractured his wrist) rather than the standard mug shot:

1999 BBM Nippon Series #S58

1999 BBM Nippon Series #S58 Back
I have to say that Yamasaki had one of the strangest careers I've ever seen in NPB.  He seems to have fallen apart offensively several times in his career, only to rediscover how to hit long enough to keep his job or get a new one.  He ended his career with 1833 hits and 403 home runs.  Those 403 home runs are good enough for 17th all time and his 2238 games played ranks around 25th (the links I'm using only have the totals through the 2011 season).


Jason Presley said...

Yamasaki's career reminds me of Bernard King in the NBA. When he was healthy, he was one of the top 5 scorers in the game. Unfortunately, he was almost never healthy.

Sean said...

Living in Nagoya I am a bit of a Yamasaki fan and am a bit sad to see him retire.

The second Chinese character in his name, (崎) can be read as either `saki` or `zaki` which explains the alternate spellings, though it is unusual for someone to use more than one.

NPB Card Guy said...

I don't think it was him so much as it was BBM. Over the years I've seen inconsistencies in some other names. For example, I've seen "Koji", "Kohji" and "Kouji" for the same first name a number of times. The "o" vs "oh" usages shows up a lot - Eto vs Etoh, Ito vs Itoh, Saitoh vs Saito, etc. I think this is the only player I've seen with the "saki" vs "zaki" inconsistency however.