Munetaka Murakami, the youngest man to win a batting Triple Crown while mashing a historic number of home runs, has opened eyes and shattered the stereotypical perceptions of how sluggers attack baseballs and put them in the seats.
Not only did the 22-year-old cleanup hitter for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows surpass the best single-season total of the nation’s career home run king, Sadaharu Oh, he did so in unique fashion.
Murakami’s 56 home runs this season, second most in Japanese pro baseball history and one more than Oh’s iconic 1964 total of 55, were hit with a bat that is a stark departure from those favored by history’s great sluggers.
The reception area of the Mizuno Technics Corp. factory in Yoro, Gifu Prefecture, is decorated with bats used by three-time Triple Crown winner Hiromitsu Ochiai and two-time winner Randy Bass, whose bats look nothing alike except for their thin handles and long barrels.
Bass’ stick resembles a beer bottle’s shape, while the silhouette of Ochiai’s bat consists of two straight lines fanning out from grip to tip. Murakami’s, however, is shorter in length and thicker in the handle.
After hitting one homer in six Central League games in his first season as an 18-year-old, Murakami was introduced to the Yoro facility by teammate and former MLB player Norichika Aoki, and has since used a type of bat favored by average hitters.
Murakami wanted a bat that was easy to swing rather than one that would help him generate power through centrifugal force from the bat’s length, and craftsman Tamio Nawa was astounded by what he heard.
“His opinions were well formed at a young age,” Nawa said. “He settled on that style because he could generate power with his bat speed.”
Although a left-handed hitter like Oh, Murakami is not the same kind of dead pull hitter. When Oh hit 55 home runs 58 years ago, 49 of them went out to right field. Murakami pulled 25 of his to right, while hitting 18 to the opposite field and 13 to center.
Murakami had a slight adjustment made to his bat part-way through this season. To move the bat’s center of gravity and sweet spot closer to his body, he had the grip reshaped and the tip hollowed out.
This, Nawa said, marked another departure from the slugger stereotype.
“He looks for pitches as close to his body as possible and hammers them,” Nawa said. “I think that’s part of what allows him to hit for power to all fields.”