Swallows star Murakami makes home run history

22-year-old sets single-season HR record by a Japanese-born player in NPB, with No. 56

October 3rd, 2022

After 20 homerless days, Munetaka Murakami has made history.

On Monday, Murakami, a 22-year-old third baseman playing for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, slugged his 56th home run of the year. With the home run, Murakami broke the legendary Sadaharu Oh's record for the most homers in a season by a Japanese-born player in Nippon Professional Baseball.

Murakami’s home run came in the seventh inning of the Swallows’ season finale against the DeNA BayStars. After smashing a towering home run to right field to break the record, Murakami received a standing ovation on his trip around the bases before being greeted in the dugout with hugs from his coaches and teammates. He took a final curtain call after being handed a special sign commemorating his record-breaking home run.

Along with passing Oh, Murakami’s home run pushed him to second place in the Nippon League for single-season home runs, passing Oh, Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera. Wladimir Balentien of Curaçao set the league record when he hit 60 home runs in 2013.

“He’s a special human being and everything you want in a superstar,” Swallows outfielder Patrick Kivlehan said of Murakami to MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi in September. “He’s humble and respectful. He’s still so young, and he’s taken the whole country by storm. There are Murakami jerseys everywhere. People are waiting at hotels just to get a glimpse of him. It’s like playing with a rock star.”

After hitting his 54th and 55th home runs in the same game on Sept. 13, Murakami went through a 13-game home run drought that nearly ran up until the end of the season.

The record-breaking home run brings an end to a wild two years for Murakami, who won Central League MVP honors, a Japan Series title for the Swallows and a gold medal with Team Japan at the Olympics last year before following it up with a historic season in 2022.

“Last year, I thought he was great,” Swallows starter Cy Sneed, formerly of the Astros, said of a year in which Murakami posted a .974 OPS and hit 39 home runs. “You saw his eye getting better. He was laying off pitches off the plate. You could see the wheels starting to turn. You had to remind yourself that he was only 21 years old.”

And while Japanese baseball observers don’t expect the Swallows to make Murakami available to MLB teams through the posting process anytime soon, MLB fans are most likely to get their first extended look at Murakami during the upcoming World Baseball Classic, where he should star alongside Shohei Ohtani.

And, if the past two years are any induction, Murakami should make an immediate impact at the Classic.

“As a pitcher, if I was facing him, it would be difficult to come up with a plan to get him out,” Sneed said.