Hometown: Matsudo City, Chiba
Date of Birth: September 2, 1962
Position: Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base
Height: 174 cm (5’8”)
Weight: 72 kg (159 lb)
Wore #: 6 (as player); 86 (as coach/manager)
Drafted by: Hanshin Tigers, 1984 Draft (Round 3)
Made Tigers Debut on: July 11, 1985
Retired as Player in: 2001
Manager Career: Hanshin Tigers (2012-2015)
|Otoko nara inochi kakete||男なら命賭けて||If you’re a man, bet your life on it|
|Bo-ru ni kurai tsuke||ボールに食らいつけ||Dig into the ball|
|Ike yo ike yo Wada Yutaka||行けよ行けよ 和田豊||Go, go, Yutaka Wada|
|Omae no deban da ze||お前の出番だぜ||It’s your turn to shine|
|Kattobase~ Wa-da-!||かっとばせ～わーだー！||Slug it hard, Wada!|
Yutaka Wada was born in Matsudo City, Chiba, where he attended elementary and junior high school. He then went to the neighboring Abiko High School, and in his first year, he made it to the summer national Koshien tournament as a third baseman. (He would also meet his future wife at school, where they were classmates. She went on to become a stewardess after high school.) Upon graduating, he went to Nihon University. At the time, the school’s baseball team was extremely weak and two straight years had to fight off an opponent in a sink-or-swim match, barely remaining in the upper tier. At long last, in part thanks to Wada’s .326 average (which earned him a “best nine” selection), the team finished in second place – its best finish in years.
Wada was chosen to be a member of Japan’s National Team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The team advanced to the finals and faced the United States, winning 6-3 and taking the gold medal. He was one of 16 players on the team to turn pro after the games. Wada was drafted by the Hanshin Tigers in the third round of the 1984 draft. He made his way to the top squad in July 1985, but mostly played a backup role through that season and the next two as well.
Upon Minoru Murayama’s appointment as team manager in 1988, Wada saw a lot more playing time at shortstop, and in conjunction with Hisashi Ohno and Satoru Nakano, was part of the “Boys’ Army”. That same season, he established a new NPB record for most sacrifice bunts in a single season with 56 (a mark that has since been surpassed). He also led the league in sacrifice bunts the next season. Known primarily for his solid defense (mostly as a middle infielder) and his ability to play the small game well, Wada never struck out more than the 59 times he did in 1990, which was also the year he set a career high in home runs with 8.
Unfortunately, for the duration of Wada’s playing career, the team was mired in what historians now refer to as “the Dark Ages” – a stretch of 17 seasons in which the team finished in second place just once, and stayed in the bottom half of league standings all the other years. Still, in that one competitive season (1992), Wada earned his first of three consecutive Golden Gloves at second base, and was chosen to the all-Central League team at season’s end.
Further, he recorded what would have been the highest number of singles (147) in a single season, were it not for the fact that Ichiro Suzuki (lefty playing for the Pacific League’s Orix Blue Wave) also chose 1994 as the year to set his record (151). (Wada established the CL and right-handed batter records.) Also, before that season began, thanks to his hard work in the field and steadiness at the plate, he became the first drafted player in team history to be given a ¥100-million annual salary.
Wada’s final great accomplishment as a player came in 1997, when he set the NPB record (still standing) for longest hitting streak to start a season, at 24 games. Ever humble and hard working, the only time Wada really found himself in trouble was at the beginning of Katsuya Nomura’s stint as manager in 1999. Asked about his new manager’s inauguration, Wada said something to the effect of, “a change in manager doesn’t change what we do.” Meaning to say, “baseball is baseball and our jobs remain the same,” it was interpreted to mean, “we have no intention of changing how we play the game.” So on the first day of camp, the new manager lashed into his team, saying, “The reason you’ve been stuck in last all these years is because of your refusal to change!” (Ironically, Nomura was unable to help the team out of last during his three years as manager.)
Wada took on the role of player-coach in 2001, but was used sparingly. In fact, he did not record his first hit of the season until July 11th – the 16th anniversary of his first-squad debut. He announced his retirement on September 21 of that year, and played just one more game after that – on October 1, his lone start of the season. He managed to get a hit and a walk in that game, which also happened to be Giants’ legend Shigeo Nagashima’s final one as a manager. Wada thanked everyone during his retirement speech, including groundskeepers and stadium staff. Upon his retirement, no more players from the 1985 championship were active.
His seventeen seasons as a player (including one as player-coach) were followed by 14 as coach and manager of one of the squads. He switched his uniform to number 86 and served as bench coach for 2002 and 2003 (when the team won its first pennant in 18 years), then spent a year as general coach on the farm, before coming back up to the parent club as hitting coach in 2005. This team also won the Central League pennant, but were swept convincingly by the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Nippon Series.
Two seasons later, Wada was shifted to make room for Katsumi Hirosawa, and took on the role of defensive and base running coach in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, he was reinstated as hitting coach once again, and remained there through the end of Akinobu Mayumi’s time as team manager.
In the fall of 2011, the team named Wada as Mayumi’s replacement. At his press conference, he delivered one of his most famous lines as skipper: “Mix in a little spice and we’ve got a contender.” However, his first season as manager was a turbulent one. Tomoaki Kanemoto was in his final year (at age 44), Matt Murton had a career worst season, and the team lost badly to its chief rival, the Yomiuri Giants, all year. It would end 2012 in fifth place.
That offseason was a crucial one for the team, as Wada chose the lucky ballot at the 2012 draft meeting, and winning the right to negotiate with Shintaro Fujinami. The Tigers also signed MLB returnees Kosuke Fukudome and Tsuyoshi Nishioka to contracts and hopes were high. The team stayed near the top of the standings until a 3-game sweep at the hands of the eventual title-winning Giants in late August sealed their fate. The team officially surrendered on September 22 with a loss to the Yakult Swallows. The Climax Series was unkind to them (a two-game sweep at home to the Carp) and the Tigers were sent home early.
The next season, the team came out strong but despite the efforts of the foreign players (all of whom won individual titles), it did not win the pennant – barely avoiding third place on the season’s final game. Its stronger record (75-68-1) plus a good showing in the playoffs (1-0-1 in round 1 vs. the Hiroshima Carp, then a 4-game sweep of the Giants on the road) gave the team hopes of its first league title since 1985. Because they didn’t win the pennant, Wada refused the traditional hoisting of the manager in the air when the team beat the Giants, saying he would only accept it when they beat the SoftBank Hawks in the Nippon Series. However, that day never came, as the Tigers lost 4 straight after winning the series opener.
In what would be Wada’s final season as manager, he struggled to lead the team to success. It took until the season’s 90th game for the team to crawl above .500 for good, and while they spent nearly a month at the top of the Central League standings, yet another poor September meant that once again, the team had to rely on luck to finish ahead of the Carp and reach the playoffs. This time, it bowed out in the first round against the Yomiuri Giants, and Wada’s career as player, coach and manager at last came to an end, 31 years after its beginning.
Yutaka Wada is now the club’s senior advisor (SA) and works closely with the owner, facilitating the exchange of information between the front office and the field management and coaches. He also appears as a guest commentator from time to time on Hanshin Tigers TV broadcasts.