Former big leaguer Hideki Matsui, iron man Tomoaki Kanemoto and former Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo were placed on the 2018 ballot for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
Catcher Kenji Johjima, infielder Takuro Ishii and first baseman Alex Cabrera are the other three former players making their debut on the hall’s player division ballot.
Matsui, who hit 507 home runs in a career spent mostly with the Yomiuri Giants and New York Yankees, and Kanemoto, who played in every inning of 1,492 consecutive games during his time with the Hiroshima Carp and Hanshin Tigers, are good bets to be voted into the hall on their first ballot.
Only four players have so far received that honor, pioneering ace pitcher Victor Starffin, home run legend Sadaharu Oh, trailblazing major league pitcher Hideo Nomo and age-defying lefty Kimiyasu Kudo.
However, changes to voting in recent years have made first-ballot elections likely, with Nomo entering in the first go in 2014 and Kudo this year. Players are eligible to become candidates when they have not played for five years.
Election to the hall requires them to be named on 75 percent of the voters’ ballots.
If Matsui is named among the winners on Jan. 15, he will be, at the age of 43, the youngest player to enter Japan’s hall.
Johjima was, along with Kokubo, a key member of the Daiei (now Fukuoka SoftBank) Hawks’ Pacific League dynasty from 1999 to 2003. He went on to play for the Seattle Mariners before finishing his career with the Hanshin Tigers.
Kokubo, after a brief spell with the Giants, returned to the Hawks and led the team’s 2009-11 resurgence.
Ishii was an outstanding defensive shortstop for the Yokohama BayStars, who finished his career with 2,432 hits as a member of the Carp.
While playing for the Seibu Lions in 2002, Cabrera became only the third player in NPB history to hit 55 home runs after Oh and Tuffy Rhodes, who remains on the ballot.
In addition to his durability, Kanemoto, the Tigers’ current manager, was one of the premier offensive players of his generation. He ranks high among the top-10 in career runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and walks.