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Takahashi’s 300th homer bittersweet

by Jason Coskrey

Yoshinobu Takahashi looked more relieved than happy after his 300th home run. Many fans and observers had expected it to come earlier in his career, before later wondering if it would come at all. That helped give the moment feelings of both admiration and incompletion.

Takahashi’s 300th homer put him in good company alongside Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, Tatsunori Hara and Hideki Matsui as the only players to reach that number while playing solely in the uniform of the Giants. Takahashi is the 37th overall to hit 300 home runs.

“Well, if you narrow (the criteria) down, the number of players tends to get smaller,” Takahashi joked. “But I’ve been able to do this on a team that has a rich history and that’s a privilege.”

The difference between Takahashi and the others is that the aforementioned quartet have concrete legacies with the team. Oh (868 home runs) is hailed as Japan’s greatest home run hitter, and Nagashima (444), affectionately known as ‘Mr. Giants’ and ‘Mr. Pro Yakyu,’ as its biggest star. Hara (382), was the heartthrob of the 80′s, while Matsui (332) was a monster at the plate worthy of the moniker ‘Godzilla.’

Comparatively, Takahashi has had a good career, but with a history as rich as the one the Kyojin boast, good careers tend to get lost in the shuffle as the years pass.

Takahashi, an All-Star in his first seven years as a pro, might have carved out a place alongside Yomiuri’s legends had a number of injuries not kept him off the field so much.

He played in a career-high 140 games in 2001, but appeared in 105, 118 and 109 over the next three seasons. Since 2004, he’s played in more than 100 games just three times and was limited to one in 2009 because of a lower-back injury.

His 2007 campaign was the outlier, offering a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been as Takahashi hit .308, with 35 home runs, 88 RBIs and an on-base plus slugging percentage of .982 over 133 games. His nine leadoff home runs that season (the first coming with the celebratory Opening Night fireworks still going off over Yokohama Stadium) set a new NPB record.

Overall, the Chiba native is a career .292 hitter with 300 homers and 890 RBIs. Who knows what his numbers would look like had he been able to stay healthy.

“If you start talking about what ifs, there’s no limit,” Takahashi said. “But I’ve had injuries, that’s a fact, and I’ve had times I couldn’t play, that’s a fact, too.”

Takahashi’s injury history meant his 300th homer was met with joy, and questions of what might have been.

“I don’t really look back at the past,” he said. “However, I lost a big target and was just hoping that I would be able to have a good day every single day.

“I should have seen more of these (milestones such as 300 homers), had things gone more smoothly. But it didn’t go that way. . .”

At 37-years old, Takahashi doesn’t envision hitting any more milestones, even if his manager, Hara, jokes that he’s aging in reverse.

“I don’t know, I don’t think I’m getting younger,” Takahashi said. “But I’ve been able to play without injuries this year so far, so I’m pleased.”