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Morimichi Takagi, who held down second base for Nippon Professional Baseball’s Chunichi Dragons for the better part of 21 years and twice managed the Central League club, died Friday of acute heart failure at the age of 78.

The taciturn Takagi, one of the rare middle infielders in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, turned pro out of high school in 1960 and played 21 seasons, all for the Nagoya-based Dragons. He served two terms as Dragons manager, from 1992 to 1995 and again from 2012 to 2013.

During his playing career, Takagi led the CL in stolen bases three times, won three awards as the league’s best fielder and was named the CL’s best second baseman seven times. Known as a fielder among fielders, Takagi’s name became synonymous with the backhanded flip to the shortstop — a technique he mastered after learning it from American teammate Carlton Handa.

In 1994, Takagi’s Dragons came within one win of the CL pennant, entering the final game of the season against the Yomiuri Giants tied after trailing by a wide margin for most of the summer. In their Oct. 8 finale, the Giants, managed by Hall of Famer Shigeo Nagashima, beat Chunichi 6-3 at Nagoya Stadium to prevent the Dragons from winning their first pennant since 1974.

During the 1974 Japan Series, he fouled a pitch off his body and suffered a fractured left foot in Game 4 but came back to play all of Game 6.

Takagi finished his career with 2,274 hits, 236 home runs, 813 RBIs, 369 stolen bases and a .272 batting average. He never won a league pennant as Dragons skipper but did finish runner-up three times. Takagi was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

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