Baseball’s Biggest Hitters: Murakami Munetaka Joins Japan’s Triple Crown WinnersSports
The triple crown is one of the most revered achievements in baseball. In offensive terms, this refers to a single batter leading the league in home runs, batting average, and runs batted in for the season. In the long history of professional baseball in Japan, just eight players have snagged the triple crown, a feat only achieved 12 times in the last nine decades. Below we list the batters in this elite category, including Murakami Munetaka of the Yakult Swallows, who joined their ranks in the 2022 season as the youngest-ever triple crown holder, at just 22 years old.
Nakajima Haruyasu (autumn 1938; Tokyo Giants)
Born in 1909, this first baseman for the Giants—a team then in the Japanese Baseball League, which had launched in 1936—earned his triple crown in an era when two seasons were played each year, in the spring and the fall. He hit 10 home runs and batted in 38 runs over just 38 games in the autumn season.
Nomura Katsuya (1965; Nankai Hawks)
In 1965 this celebrated catcher won the first triple crown in the postwar era, when competition was split into the Pacific and Central Leagues. His offensive prowess was combined with prodigious talent behind the plate, where he was famed for keeping tabs on the quirks of opposing batters and signaling for the perfect pitches to get them out. He was a playing manager for Nankai in 1970–77 and went on to manage the Yakult Swallows, where his team won three Japan Series championships. He remains the only catcher ever to take a triple crown.
Oh Sadaharu (1973, 1974; Yomiuri Giants)
Born to a Chinese father and Japanese mother, Oh was a Japanese baseball legend, becoming the first player to win the triple crown twice while also winning 11 Japan Series rings, being named the Central League’s most valuable player nine times, and slugging his way into the history books with a world-record 868 career home runs.
Ochiai Hiromitsu (1982, 1985, 1986; Lotte Orions)
This infielder won his first triple crown in 1982 at age 28, making him the youngest player to date to accomplish the feat. He would go on to take the crown two more times, becoming the only player ever to do so three times in all. He was named Pacific League MVP twice and went on to a managing career for the Chūnichi Dragons after hanging up his glove.
Boomer Wells (1984; Hankyū Braves)
Gregory De Wayne “Boomer” Wells became the first foreign player to win a triple crown in Japan by taking the honor in 1984, when he was also named the Pacific League’s MVP.
Randy Bass (1985, 1986; Hanshin Tigers)
In 1985 and 1986, when Ochiai was winning his consecutive triple crowns in the Pacific League, US slugger Randy Bass was doing the same in the Central League. In the 1986 season he marked a batting average of .389, which remains the all-time Japanese baseball record to this day.
Matsunaka Nobuhiko (2004; Daiei Hawks)
The left-fielder Matsunaka was the only player in Japan to win a triple crown during the Heisei era (1989–2019). He was named the Pacific League’s MVP twice and also played on the world stage, taking the field for the Japanese national team at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Murakami Munetaka (2022; Yakult Swallows)
Murakami’s ferocious season at the plate slowed down toward the end, but in the final regular season game, he hit his first home run in 15 games to bring his season total to 56, placing him ahead of Oh Sadaharu, Tuffy Rhodes, and Alex Cabrera (all at 55) and behind only Wladimir Balentien (60) on the single-season record list. At age 22, he is the youngest-ever triple-crown winner in Japanese baseball history.
Japanese Professional Baseball Triple Crown Winners
|Season||Player (Team)||Batting avg. / HRs / RBIs|
|1938 (autumn)||Nakajima Haruyasu (Giants)||.361 / 10 / 38|
|1965||Nomura Katsuya (Hawks)||.320 / 42 / 110|
|1973||Oh Sadaharu (Giants)||.355 / 51 / 114|
|1974||Oh Sadaharu (Giants)||.332 / 49 / 107|
|1982||Ochiai Hiromitsu (Orions)||.325 / 32 / 99|
|1984||Boomer Wells (Braves)||.355 / 37 / 130|
|1985||Ochiai Hiromitsu (Orions)||.367 / 52 / 146|
|1985||Randy Bass (Tigers)||.350 / 54 / 134|
|1986||Ochiai Hiromitsu (Orions)||.360 / 50 / 116|
|1986||Randy Bass (Tigers)||.389/ 47 / 109|
|2004||Matsunaka Nobuhiko (Hawks)||.358 / 44 / 120|
|2022||Murakami Munetaka (Swallows)||.318 / 56 / 134|
Data from the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization.
(Originally written in Japanese. Banner photo: Murakami Munetaka celebrates his fifty-sixth home run in the season closer on October 3, 2022. © Jiji.)