Name (Korean): 김지헌
Hometown: Hiroshima City, Hiroshima
Date of Birth: April 3, 1968
Position: Left Field
Height: 180 cm (5’11”)
Weight: 88 kg (194 lb)
Wore #: 10 (1993-2002 with Carp), 6 (2003-2012, 2016- with Tigers)
Drafted by: Hiroshima Carp, 1991 Draft (Round 4)
Made Tigers Debut on: March 28, 2003
Retired as Player in: 2012
Manager Career: Hanshin Tigers (2016- )
Website (blog): http://tomoaki-kanemoto.com/
Website (restaurant): Facebook page here
|Kitaeta sono karada, afureru kihaku||鍛えたその身体 あふれる気迫||That chiseled body, overflowing with spirit|
|Sa- koko made (sore, muko- e) buchi kome||さぁ ここまで（そーれ むこうへ）ぶち込め||OK (go!), bash one here (there)|
|Raito sutando e||ライトスタンドへ||Into the right field bleachers|
|Kattobase- Kanemoto!||かっとばせー かーねーもとー||Slug it hard, Kanemoto!|
Career Achievements/Awards: RBI Champ (2004); Central League MVP (2005); All-CL Team (1995, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008); Nippon Series Fighting Spirit Award (2003); Player of the Month (September 1996, May 2005, June 2008, April 2009); All-Star Game MVP (1996 Game 3; 2003 Game 2); All-Star Game (11 times – 1995-97, 2000, 2001, 2003-06, 2008, 2009) Interleague MVP (2005, 2008); Most Consecutive Full Games Played (1492 – July 21, 1999 – April 17, 2010); Most Consecutive Innings Played (13,686 – July 21, 1999 – April 17, 2010); Most Consecutive At Bats Without Double Play (1002 – May 12, 2000 – September 28, 2001)
Tomoaki Kanemoto (Ji-Heon Kim) was born to Korean (zainichi) parents, the last of four children, in Minami Ward of Hiroshima City on April 3, 1968. He often ate snacks between meals as a child, and rarely did a meal pass at which he did not give the rest of his unfinished meal to his older brother.
Kanemoto started playing baseball in the fourth grade in a community league, but could not keep up with the demands of practice. He also broke a bone in his hand, and stopped playing after just one year. He then switched over to softball for several years before joining the baseball club at his high school, the baseball powerhouse Koryo High School in Hiroshima.
Despite his 20 career home runs as a high schooler, his team did not once advance to the national baseball tournament at Koshien. At the end of his high school career, Kanemoto made the decision to attempt to enter Hosei University through the selection process, but was misinformed by his club coach that the deadline was December, when in fact it was August. He took a year to re-group and was set to enter Chuo University through the selection process, not knowing that the Big 6 university did not select people who took a year off to their baseball program. Once again, his chosen path was the result of false information passed on to him by his club coach.
Disillusioned and frustrated, Kanemoto tried out for the Yakult Swallows but did not get a contract offer. As a last resort, he decided to enter the then-unknown Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, Miyagi, where he joined a baseball club that also included future NPB stars Kazuhiro Sasaki (Baystars, MLB Mariners), Akihiro Yano (Dragons, Tigers), Takashi Saito (Baystars, MLB Dodgers among others, Eagles), Koji Otsuka (Lions) and Chihiro Hamana (Hawks among others). Under manager Yoshihiro Itoh, Kanemoto flourished as a starter from his first year, hitting a career .382 in 52 games. The team made it to the all-Japan tournament in all four years that Kanemoto was on the team, reaching the finals in three of those years (1988, 1990 and 1991) and winning once (in 1991, his final year). In the deciding game, Kanemoto hit the go-ahead 2-run RBI single despite having a chip fracture in his left wrist. He also played on the all-Japan team in an international tournament, rooming with future Tigers teammate Shinjiro Hiyama.
Kanemoto was chosen in the fourth round of the 1991 NPB draft by his hometown Hiroshima Carp. He was given number 10. He saw limited playing time in his first two years, as he did not show much power and let minor injuries slow him down. His coaches instructed him to hit grounders and use his speed to get on base. He was also nicknamed “Mole Killer” due to his poor throwing arm (his relay throws to the infield were often low and skipped on the ground). Fearing he may never become a steady player, Kanemoto started working out more seriously in the 1993 offseason.
It was also then that he met a man who would change his life: Kazuyoshi Yamamoto. It was this Carp hitting coach that constantly reminded Kanemoto that “(Shigeo) Nagashima would simply put a splint on his finger after being hit by a pitch and keep on going,” and that “No matter how tired he was, (Sadaharu) Oh never once showed it on his face.” From that day forward, Kanemoto made it his motto that “if I don’t tell you I’m hurt, I’m not hurt.” In 1994, Kanemoto got a lot more playing time and hit 17 long balls, giving him the inside track on a full-time position the following season.
It was in 1995 that Kanemoto started to truly hit his stride. He played in every game and batted fifth until August 29th, when a broken left wrist cost him several weeks of action. However, he played in enough games to be eligible for individual titles. He would finish with 24 home runs and his first all-CL team selection. He would bat .300 for the first time in his career in 1996, while also leading the league in walks and reaching base in over 40% of his plate appearances.
He repeated the over-.300 batting average again in 1997, also reaching 30 home runs in a season for the first time in his career. The following year was substandard for the now-consistent all-star Kanemoto, though July 10th would mark the beginning of a remarkable ironman streak, one which would see him play in every game until the middle of the 2011 season.
Kanemoto posted career highs in home runs (34) and RBIs (94) in 1999 (though the mark would be surpassed in future years), and even hit for the cycle on April 24. This would be the first season in which Kanemoto played in every game, and from July 21st until the start of the 2010 season, he never missed a single inning of ball.
Perhaps 2000 was Kanemoto’s best statistical year ever, as he completed the rare “triple three” (at least a .300 average, 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases) – the seventh man to accomplish it. (There have only been three more triple three achievements since – two of which came in 2015.) It took until the final game of the season for him to hit that 30th home run, and even then it came with some managerial help – he batted at the top of the order in the team’s final two games in order to get more plate appearances.
Despite all of his records and accomplishments, Kanemoto says the one he is most proud of is going 1002 consecutive plate appearances without hitting into a double play. This streak started in 2000 and ended on September 28, 2001. That season also saw Kanemoto collect 128 walks (plus 16 intentional walks), which led the league and gave him the fifth highest total in NPB history. (The rest of the top 10 places are held by Sadaharu Oh alone.) Furthermore, his .463 on-base percentage was only good for second in the game that season despite it being a career best. Kanemoto also got married in 2001, and changed his citizenship from Korean to Japanese.
His final year with the Carp was far from his best, and despite his offer to stay with the team at a reduced rate (but one that would give him a re-signing bonus), the low-budget Carp would not sign him on for the next season. That offseason, Hanshin Tigers manager Senichi Hoshino, who was determined to rebuild the Tigers and bring a new attitude and work ethic to the clubhouse, convinced Kanemoto to sign with the club that offseason. Hoshino said, “With you in the lineup, my worries are over,” but Kanemoto joked that he was half bullied into signing the contract that was thrust before him.
Either way, 2003 brought about a big change in Kanemoto’s playing career, and not just in the uniform he wore. In his 11 seasons with the Carp, the team only finished in the upper half of the standings four times, and never won the league. The move to the Tigers would see him lead the team to two league pennants in his first three seasons, and his individual numbers also reached new highs. What’s more, his popularity as an iconic figure in the game and his legend as a tough guy grew exponentially after he left the Hiroshima Carp.
In his first home game in pinstripes, the soon-to-be 35-year old Kanemoto went 3-for-3 at Kyocera Dome, immediately winning over the hearts of the fans. Despite starring as the clean-up hitter in Hiroshima’s lineup, Hoshino put him in the #3 slot. Kanemoto responded by giving fleet-footed #2 hitter Norihiro Akahoshi ample opportunities to steal a base, often taking extra pitches and falling behind in the count, just to advance him an extra base on a ground ball after the stolen base. This acute awareness of his role as #3 hitter would win him accolades with the fans, his teammates and coaches alike. Akahoshi would finish the year with 61 stolen bases, while Kanemoto’s previously high numbers would take a step down. His 19 home runs and 77 RBIs were considerably lower than his career norms, but his leadership and selfless play led the team to its first pennant in 18 years. In the Nippon Series, Kanemoto contributed with 4 home runs, including long balls in three consecutive games. Despite his record-tying numbers, the Tigers fell to the Daiei (now SoftBank) Hawks in seven games.
The Tigers came under new management in 2004. New manager Akinobu Okada shifted Kanemoto back into the #4 slot, and his production increased markably. This would be the season in which his consecutive games played streak would nearly come to an end, as he took a fastball to the left wrist, causing serious cartilage damage. Doctors recommended he take two weeks off, but the very next day, using a light bat borrowed from teammate Teruyoshi Kuji, Kanemoto swung one-handed, spraying singles to left and right. The following day, he laid down a bunt and legged it out for an infield single. Two days later, the consecutive games record was his, but he had to delay the start of the press conference as the pain from icing his injured wrist was too unbearable for him to speak. He would finish the season with a personal-best 113 RBIs (a league high), tying his personal-best 34 home runs in the process. The team, however, could not replicate its 2003 magic and finished in third place.
The year of the 1000s came next. Kanemoto would play in his 1000th consecutive game on August 11, record his 1000th career run scored on August 25th and collect his 1000th career RBI on September 9th. His career-highs in home runs (40), RBIs (127), and batting average (.327) would all be major factors in the club’s fifth pennant. He would be rewarded with the Central League MVP award – all at age 37. Unfortunately, the Tigers bowed out to the Chiba Lotte Marines in four straight blowout games, and Kanemoto contributed just one single.
In 2006, Kanemoto was in the world’s spotlight as he broke Cal Ripken’s records for most consecutive innings played (8243) on March 31, and most consecutive full games played (904) on April 9. He would keep the streaks in tact through the season and receive a handsome reward that offseason, signing the richest single-season contract for a Japanese player in NPB history at 550 million yen. He also received several awards for his streaks, and in a gesture of benevolence, gave one of them to the Koshien staff. His generosity became well-known among Hanshin fans, earning him the nickname “Aniki” (big brother) and endearing him further to all. His numbers remained strong, though not quite up to his 2005 career pinnacle season.
Kanemoto suffered a knee injury in the middle of 2007, which brought his numbers significantly down. However, he did not sit out a single inning despite the pain. Because of the team’s poor performance, much of the criticism fell upon the cleanup hitter. Furthermore, Kanemoto openly criticized young Takashi Toritani for not attempting to score from second base on one of his hits. This was one of the first times Kanemoto called a player out through the media. That offseason, Kanemoto opted to have surgery on his knee – the first such procedure of his career. He would return in time to finish spring training with the team and play in every game in 2008.
Despite going hitless in 18 at-bats after his 1999th career hit, an NPB longest at that stage, Kanemoto hit his 2000th against Yokohama on April 12th – the same day that Takahiro Arai got his 1000th. Both were interviewed as heroes after the game, and despite Arai saying he felt it was “destiny” for them to reach their feats on the same day, Kanemoto jokingly retorted that he felt sick to his stomach at Arai’s comment. The two were famous for how Kanemoto endlessly picked on Arai off the field.
On May 7, the ironman streak was in jeopardy once again as Kanemoto took a pitch to the back of his head, falling to the ground and requiring medical attention. However, after a delay of game, the tough guy returned, and in his next at-bat, hit a home run to right field. Kanemoto reached the 100-RBI mark for the first time in 3 years and hit over .300 for the final time in his career. The team came close to winning the pennant, but were overcome by a fiercely charging Yomiuri Giants squad in the season’s final days. Kanemoto would undergo knee surgery for the second consecutive offseason.
Despite the injuries slowing him down, Kanemoto’s first half of April 2009 (at age 41!) was historical. He became the oldest player to hit a home run on opening day, and twice in three days hit home runs in three consecutive at bats (April 8 and 10). By the middle of the month, he already had 8 home runs and 25 RBIs after just 12 games. Obviously the pace was unsustainable, but he finished the year with a respectable 21 home runs and 91 RBIs.
At long last, Kanemoto’s ironman streak would come to an end in early 2010. On March 17, he ruptured a tendon in his right shoulder in a collision with a teammate. He continued to play through the injury, until one day in April, he was unable to throw to home plate on a sacrifice fly, and a few days later allowed two runners to score from second base. He recognized that his fielding, along with his slump at the plate, were “interfering with team interests” and asked manager Akinobu Mayumi to pull him from the lineup the next day. He would continue to pinch hit on days that he did not start, playing in every game until the start of 2011.
On April 15, 2011, Kanemoto was called on by manager Mayumi to pinch hit for a pitcher in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner (Shunsuke) on first base. Before his plate appearance could be made official (ending with a hit, walk, or out), Shunsuke failed in his steal attempt, ending the inning. Mayumi replaced Kanemoto with a pitcher, and his consecutive games streak came to an end. He stayed on the active roster the rest of the year, but his numbers continued to decline as age and poor health took its toll.
His final season, 2012, started well enough, but as the year went on, the persistent right shoulder ailment resulted in glaringly poor fielding. Finally on September 12, Kanemoto held a press conference announcing that he would retire at season’s end.
He subsequently hit his 475th career home run, surpassing Koichi Tabuchi for 10th on the all-time list. Then in the last game of his career, October 9th (Koshien, vs. BayStars) Kanemoto started in left, batted 4th, and got a single in his next-to-last at bat. He also broke his own record for oldest man (age 44) to steal a base when he swiped second. Because the team won 3-0, the Tigers were in the field to end the game. Kanemoto made the final out when he caught a fly ball hit to left.
Kanemoto spent three years as a freelance sports reporter and analyst. He primarily did play-by-play announcing for Hanshin Tigers games. He continued to do so through the end of the 2015 season, even deftly dodging questions from co-hosts about the possibility of taking the helm as Tigers manager once Yutaka Wada stepped down at the end of that season.
On October 17, 2015, the Hanshin Tigers announced that Kanemoto would become the 33rd manager in team history. He would continue to wear the same #6 as he wore during his playing days.
Kanemoto went to work immediately, taking part in the team’s fall camps, giving players personal advice and putting clear expectations on his veteran players. He also announced the team’s 2016 slogan, 超変革 (chohenkaku = Ultra Reform) at the team’s Fan Appreciation Day on November 22.
The 2016 season was a tough one, as most of the veteran players did not pull their weight and Kanemoto was forced to use inexperienced players more than he had initially hoped to. He changed the hitting order more than 100 times during the season, and the club struggled to score runs, hit for power and run the bases well. The defense also had several game-costing mishaps. Through it all, Kanemoto worked hard to put a competitive team on the field, but in the end, the club finished a disappointing 64-76-3 and missed the playoffs for the first time in 4 seasons.
Kanemoto announced that the club’s 2017 slogan would be 挑む (idomu = Challenge / Defy). He and farm manager Masayuki Kakefu continue in their endeavor to bring the club its first pennant since 2005.
Kanemoto loves Korean BBQ (yakiniku) and one of his favorite restaurants is Koriante (コリアン亭) in Ashiya, Hyogo. He also loves fugu (puffer fish) and has reportedly treated teammates to the expensive delicacy at spring training.
Kanemoto Boosts Team Morale (November 8, 2015)
Kanemoto Talks Toritani Streak (October 22, 2015)
Kanemoto’s Press Conference (October 19, 2015)
Kanemoto Named New Manager (October 18, 2015)