EDITORIAL | 22-year-old Murakami’s great performance hopes for an even bigger record next season

The number 55 has had a special meaning for the Japanese for more than half a century. But now a 22-year-old baseball player has put an end to that story.

Munetaka Murakami, a slugger for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of Nippon Professional Baseball, hit his 56th home run in the final game of the regular season on Oct. 3, breaking the long-standing record for most home runs by a Japanese-born player.

He also led the Central League in batting averages (.318) and RBIs (134) to become the NPB’s first Triple Crown winner since 2004, while also helping the Swallows capture back-to-back Central League pennants. He is also Japan’s youngest player in history to win the Triple Crown.

His performance was nothing short of spectacular. We expressly appreciate his achievements.

Sadaharu Oh led the Central League in home runs 15 times in his illustrious career.

number 55

“Conte 55,” a popular sketch comedy duo formed in 1966, was named after Sadaharu Oh (Yomiuri Giants), who had the most home runs by a Japanese-born player during the 1964 season.

Murakami, in his fifth year as a professional player, has worn the #55 uniform since joining the team. The number was chosen to represent team management’s hope that he would beat Oh’s record.

Randy Bass (Hanshin Tigers) hit 54 homers in 1985. With two games remaining in the series against the Yomiuri Giants, the Giants pitchers deliberately went bass six times in his nine at-bat, preventing him from setting the record. The same was true for Tuffy Rhodes (Kintetsu Buffaloes) and Alex Cabrera (Saitama Seibu Lions), who hit 55 homers in 2001 and 2002, respectively. (The Swallows’ Vladimir Balentien broke the season record with 60 homers in 2013.)

Accordingly, while the number 55 was a source of nostalgia for fans of yesteryear, it was also criticized as a “record for the Japanese”.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows star Munetaka Murakami hits a triple home run against the Hiroshima Carp June 28 at Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima. (ⒸSANKEI)

Murakami ends the homerless drought

For Murakami, too, 55 seemed like a psychological barrier. After hitting his 55th home run on Sept. 13, it took him 61 shots to hit his 56th in the final game of the season. Sighs erupted from the spectators’ seats after each goal, and news programs reported the sight of disappointed fans watching on television izakayas (Japanese style pubs).

“There was a lot of pressure to win the championship and challenge the record,” said Murakami. He overcame the obstacles and broke the record under extraordinary circumstances while fans from all over Japan watched him. An achievement that deserves the highest respect.

Five NPB pitchers turned no-hitters this season, including a perfect play by 20-year-old Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines in April. In what has been called a “season of good throwing and bad hitting,” Murakami’s batting record will surely be remembered as an enduring milestone.

Sadaharu Oh (KYODO)

Positive expectations for Murakami

Sadaharu Oh, NPB career home run leader at 868, commented on Murakami’s performance, saying, “I hope he will challenge himself to hit bigger home runs and more of them.”

In the coming season and beyond, we hope Murakami will continue to boldly challenge baseball’s professional baseball record of 60 home runs, unmatched by any Japanese player.

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On October 8, the first phase of the Pacific League and Central League’s Climax Series began, which determined which teams would advance to the final stages and a possible attempt at promotion to the Japan Series. The Swallows are the reigning champions.

Let’s hope all players keep playing inspirational games and keep the excitement of pennant racing alive.

TIED TOGETHER:

(Read the editorial in Japanese with this link.)

Author: Editor, The Sankei Shimbun

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