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A Beginner’s Guide to Munetaka Murakami

Last Updated: September 23, 2022
Ichiro Suzuki. Hideki Matsui. Shohei Ohtani. Munetaka Murakami? The up-and-coming slugger hopes to follow in the footsteps of the great Japanese baseball players that came before him.

The most impressive baseball player in the world doesn’t play in America.

Munetaka Murakami is a 22-year-old third baseman for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan who hit a pair of home runs Tuesday to give him 55, tying him with all-time great Sadaharu Oh for his single-season best and putting him just five behind Wladimir Balentien’s single-season NPB record of 60 set in 2013. He has 15 regular-season games to tie or break the record, a phenomenal feat considering he’d just be out of college in the U.S., possibly still in the minor leagues in the States, or just starting his MLB career.

He’s not just a power hitter either. Murakami also leads the Central League with a .333 average (as of Monday) to go with 128 RBIs, a Barry Bonds-like .469 on-base percentage, and a .747 slugging percentage.

(Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

Just how dominant of a season is Murakami having relative to his counterparts? In NPB, Seibu’s Hotaka Yamakawa’s 39 homers are still 16 fewer than Murakami’s 55, and his 84 RBIs and .946 OPS pale in comparison to Murakami’s 1.216. He’s on pace to become the first NPB player to win a triple crown since Randy Bass did it in 1986.

Where the hell did this kid come from?

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Born to rake

Wanna feel old? Murakami was born on Feb. 2, 2000, in Kumamoto Prefecture, hitting 52 home runs in high school and earning the nickname “Babe Ruth of Higo,” the old name for Kumamoto. Despite never making it past the first round of the world-famous Koshien high school tournament, Murakami was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NPB draft by Yakult, the Yomiuri Giants, and the Rakuten Golden Eagles. The Swallows won a lottery for him, bringing him up to NPB after less than one minor league season.

Murakami, then 21, showed out at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, hitting a solo home run against Team USA in the gold medal game. (Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images)

Murakami hit for power immediately during his first full season in 2019, with 36 homers, 96 RBIs, and a .481 slugging percentage to earn Central League Rookie of the Year despite hitting just .231. The average and on-base prowess came in 2020 when he slashed .307/.427/.585 with 28 homers, 86 runs driven in, and 11 stolen bases in 120 games. In 143 games last season, those numbers improved to 39 dingers, 112 RBIs, and 12 steals with a .974 OPS.

But 2022 is where he truly put it all together, with more than 130 RBIs and a chance at one of the greatest single seasons in the 72-year history of NPB. Like 20-year-old pitching phenom Roki Sasaki of Chiba Lotte, Murakami is an insanely talented player who will one day become an MLB superstar.

But until then, watch the most impressive hitter on the planet, at 22 years old, chase history.

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About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.