Koichi Tabuchi touched Senichi Hoshino’s Hall of Fame plaque and jokingly wondered why his friend was wearing a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles hat.
“He played for Chunichi, didn’t he?” Tabuchi asked. He gave a broad smile and nodded in approval when told it was because Hoshino had won the Japan Series as Rakuten’s manager (in 2013).
There was plenty for Tabuchi to smile about on this day. In 2008, his friend and fellow 1968 draftee Koji Yamamoto went into the Hall of Fame. In 2017, the two held a party to celebrate their friend Hoshino’s induction.
On Tuesday it was Tabuchi’s turn, as the former Hanshin Tigers catcher was announced as one of the three new members of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. He joined former college managers Yukichi Maeda and Renzo Ishii as part of the Class of 2020.
Tabuchi was elected on the Experts Division ballot. Maeda and Ishii were voted in by the Special Selection Committee, which considers those from amateur baseball.
No one was chosen from the Players Division.
It was a special day for Tabuchi, who was happy to join Hoshino, who passed away in 2018, in the Hall.
“We had a party, the three of us, in 2017 when Hoshino got into the Hall of Fame,” Tabuchi said. “At that time he said, ‘Buchi, you’ll probably be getting into the Hall of Fame in a few years. So when that happens, let’s have a party together with Koji, the three of us.’ I never forgot that.”
Tabuchi went into the 1968 draft with the intention of playing for the Yomiuri Giants. When the dust settled and he ended up with Hanshin, Hoshino helped lift his spirits. Hoshino, who also thought he was headed to the Kyojin, also told him he was going to play with everything he had against the Giants.
Like Hoshino, Tabuchi turned his initial frustration into success on the field. He played for the Tigers from 1969-78 and the Seibu Lions, where he won a pair of Japan Series titles, from 1979-1984.
He had his best years for Hanshin, and is one of the players fondly known as “Mr. Tigers.” He was the Central League Rookie of the Year in 1969 and made the Best Nine team from 1972-1976. He won the home run title with 43 in 1975 to end Yomiuri legend Sadaharu Oh’s 13-year reign as home run king.
Tabuchi hit .260 over his career and drove in 1,135 runs.
He retired with 474 home runs and is currently 11th on NPB’s career list. He was known for hitting majestic homers, even at Hosei University, and was nicknamed the “Home Run Artist.”
“His home runs were long and just had a beautiful arch to them,” said former Hosei teammate Masatake Yamanaka, a fellow Hall of Famer and current president of Baseball Federation of Japan.
Tabuchi retired in 1984 and managed the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks from 1990-1992. He coached under Hoshino with the Tigers (2002-2003), the Japan Olympic team (2008) and the Eagles (2011-2012).
Maeda and Ishii were elected posthumously.
Maeda won the Tokyo Big 6 title three times as a player at Keio University. He later managed the team from 1960-65 and 1982-1993.
Ishii won the autumn league title as the Waseda University captain as a senior and later coached at the school. After leaving in 1963, he returned as manager in 1988. He led the school to the spring title in 1990 before retiring in 1994.