Hometown: Chiba City, Chiba
Date of Birth: May 9, 1955
Position: Third Base
Height: 175 cm (5’9”)
Weight: 77 kg (170 lb)
Wore #: 31
Drafted by: Hanshin Tigers, 1973 Draft (Round 6)
Made Tigers Debut on: April 7, 1974
Played Final Game on: October 10, 1988
Manager Career: Hanshin Tigers (2016-present, Farm Manager)
Career Awards/Achievements: Home Run King (1979, 1982, 1984); RBI King (1982); Most Times on Base (1981-82); All-Central League Team (1976-79, 1981-82, 1985); Diamond Glove (1978-79, 1981-83, 1985); All-Star Game (1976-85); All-Star MVP (1978 Game 3, 1981 Game 2, 1982 Game 3); Player of the Month (April 1979); Most Consecutive ABs w/HR (tied w/4: August 31-Sept 1, 1978); Most PAs with Walks (CL-tie w/10: October 3-5, 1984)
Masayuki Kakefu was born on May 9, 1955 in his mother’s hometown of Miyoshi, Niigata Prefecture, but soon moved to his father’s hometown of Chiba. His father knew the game of baseball very well, having managed a baseball club as a teacher at Chiba Commercial High School before the war. In fact, when his father returned to the teaching profession and managed a junior high school baseball club, his own son was on the team. As a high schooler, Kakefu reached the summer Koshien tournament once (as a second-year student) but the team lost in the first round. Through his father’s connections, he got a tryout with the Hanshin Tigers before the 1973 draft, and was chosen with the club’s sixth pick.
In spring training of 1974, Kakefu took advantage of every opportunity he got to start in exhibition games. One teammate’s wedding meant a chance to start at short, and he went 2-for-4. Another teammate’s mother passed away, and his infield start resulted in a 4-for-4 performance. In the end, despite being a late draft pick, the 19-year old rookie played enough on the top squad to hit three home runs and knock in 16 runs.
Despite being drafted as a shortstop, Kakefu was forced to fight for playing time at third because of Taira Fujita, who was firmly entrenched between second and third. First splitting time with co-draftee Yoshinori Sano (first round pick in 1973) depending on the opposing pitcher, by the end of the 1975 season under new manager Yoshio Yoshida, the hot corner belonged to Kakefu. As his numbers improved (top-5 in average and an All-CL selection in 1976), so did the fans’ appreciation of the left-handed slugger. It is said that he was the first player in club history to have a cheer song belonging exclusively to him. (It was a simple “Go, go, Kakefu!” at first, but later evolved.)
After continued growth (he topped 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the first time in his career in 1978), Kakefu was expected to carry much of the load for the team when slugging catcher Koichi Tabuchi was traded to Seibu before the 1979 season. Kakefu responded with a club-record 48 home runs (still a record among Japanese players; Randy Bass owns the team record with 54), enough to supplant Sadaharu Oh as home run king. Unfortunately, the good times did not continue the next season, as injuries slowed him down and limited his playing time to just 70 games. Rumors that he would be shipped off for young pitching talent scared Hanshin fans – it turned out to be a media fabrication, but the losses of Yutaka Enatsu (1976 to Nankai) and Tabuchi (1979 to Seibu) gave fans plenty of reason to believe it could happen to Kakefu, too.
The rumors were not only quashed the next season, but Kakefu went on a 5-season tear of playing in every game. He would win two more home run titles (1982 and 1984) while becoming lovingly known as “Mr. Tiger” – the third player in club history to don the nickname (after Fumio Fujimura and Minoru Murayama – Tabuchi was also given the nickname but not until returning to the club as hitting coach in 2002 – at which point Kakefu was bumped to “4th” to get the handle). He would firmly plant himself in the #4 spot in the order, and his matchups with Giants pitcher Suguru “Dirty” Egawa became legendary. (The two collaborated to put out a book consisting of a dialog between the two that took place some 20 years after their careers ended.)
Naturally the biggest year of Kakefu’s career came in the team’s lone Nippon Series championship: 1985. Kakefu hit 40 home runs and knocked in a career high 108 runs, providing Bass with adequate protection in the lineup to put up MVP numbers. The American slugger in fact attributes much of his success in Japan to being able to hit in front of Kakefu in the Tigers order.
Unfortunately that season would also be his last healthy, productive season: his ironman streak ended at 663 games after taking a pitch to the wrist and breaking a bone. Less than two weeks after coming back from that injury, Kakefu took a ball off the right shoulder while fielding at third base, and missed another month of action. Even later in the season, another broken bone sidelined him even further. Despite a second straight Triple Crown from Bass, the team would finish in fourth place. The next season was even worse for the team and the individual: drunk driving charges in March brought heavy criticism from the front office; back injuries slowed him down considerably at the plate and on the field, and in June, he was sent down to the farm for the first time in his career. He would put up his worst batting average since his rookie season. The team finished in last place, and the “dark ages” set in.
Kakefu lasted just one more season, and it was also injury-plagued. He announced his retirement in September (despite offers from other clubs, who were willing to give him time to physically recover and then limited playing time). He would end his career as the greatest home run hitter in club history with 349. (Tabuchi would end his career with a higher number, but only 320 of his 474 came as a Tiger. Interestingly, it was Tabuchi’s words – Don’t end your career with any other team than the Tigers. Don’t end up like Enatsu or me! – that convinced Kakefu to reject the offers from other clubs.)
His colorful playing career was not rewarded with coaching or management offers – at least not from Hanshin. Instead, he spent years as a columnist and color man with various newspapers and television stations. He received offers from other clubs to become manager, but the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ baseball philosophy did not match with Kakefu’s: he wanted full control over baseball operations, but the company had deeper interests in other fields, and baseball was not its priority. Kakefu also got an offer from his hometown Chiba Lotte Marines (though they were not located there during his playing career), but once again, a difference in baseball philosophy led him to reject the offer.
In the fall of 2013, at long last, Kakefu returned to the Tigers in a capacity that left a lot of people confused. His official job title was Batting and Development Coordinator for the General Manager (abbreviated DC). It was not an officially recognized full-time position, so he did not wear club attire or don a uniform like the regular coaches did. However, he did work closely with some of the club’s up and coming young talent. Kakefu kept the position until the end of the 2015 season, though the title changed slightly when then-manager Katsuhiro Nakamura passed away suddenly on September 15, and the position remained vacant. A month later, Tomoaki Kanemoto was named the club’s 33rd manager, and because their baseball philosophies matched well (and both worked hard to reach superstar status despite being late draft picks), Kakefu was appointed second squad (farm) manager. He started immediately, working with players who were not sent to the club’s autumn camp in Aki. For the first time in 27 seasons, he would wear the Tigers pinstripes again. His number remained unchanged from his playing days: 31.
Kakefu enjoyed moderate success in his first year as farm manager. He continued to show adeptness at customizing his coaching based on the player, and was well liked by the players under his wing. He expressed regret at not being able to send players up to the first squad ‘for good’ as the shuffle of fielders and pitchers from first to second squad was frequent. However, his efforts are unquestioned and he continues to build on the legacy he left on the field back in 1988 upon his retirement as a hard-working player.
Hague, Kakefu Ready for 36’s Promotion (May 16, 2016)
Book Review – Hey Young Tigers! (April 16, 2016)
Monthly Hanshin Tigers – December 2015 (December 1, 2015)
Book Review: Kyojin-Hanshin Discourse (June 13, 2015)
Great Tiger Moments 3: April 17, 1985 (February 8, 2015)