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Report by Gary Garland

     Kazuhiko Kondo, a nine time all star centerfielder and six time .300 hitter with the Taiyo Whales for 15 seasons who was known for the odd manner in which he wielded his bat before the pitch was delivered, died in a Meguro Ward hospital Monday of multiple organ failure. He was 66.

     An Osaka native, Kondo graduated from Heian High School in Kyoto and went on to Meiji University before joining the Whales in 1958, batting .270 with 13 homers and 37 RBIs, losing in the Rookieof the Year race to Yomiuri Giants third baseman Shigeo Nagashima. Kondo would then go on to finish second in average in the Central League three years in a row from 1960-1962, two of those occasions behind Nagashima., utilizing what was dubbed the "tenbin daho (balance scales
batting style)." He is still the only player to be a runner up in three consecutive seasons in the battle for batting supremacy. He would then finish as a bridesmaid again in 1967. He did claim a steals title, though, in 1961 with 35. By the time he hung up his spikes, he would finish in the top ten in batting nine times. For pics of his hitting style as well as a contemporary snap, see the links at the end of the article.

     He posted his initial .300 season in 1960,.when he fashioned a .316 mark and drove in a career high 55 runs to help the Whales go from worst to first in the CL and then on to the Japan Series, where he took home the series MVP hardware in the Whales sweep of the Daimai Orions (now the Chiba Lotte Marines). He was also named to the Best Nine squad for the first of what would be seven times.

     Taiyo would then plummet to the cellar in 1961, but that didn't stop him from throwing up another .316 year with eleven homers, the final time he would make it to double figures in dingers. He also hit for the cycle on July 8th against Hanshin. In 1965, he was tops in hits with 152 and brandished a .308 average with 15 steals.

     Kondo was involved in an interesting incident on May 19, 1966 at Kawasaki Stadium in a tilt with Hanshin. The Tigers went into the bottom of the ninth with ace Gene Bacque on the hill holding a 4-1 lead. Whales second baseman Akihito Kondo ripped a single to right and catcher Isao Itoh went yard on the third delivery he saw from Bacque to right. Leftfielder Shozo Shigematsu also creamed a third Bacque offering for the game tying solo jack to left. That brought up Kazuhiko Kondo and the shaken Bacque threw him two pitches before Kondo then picked on number three and clobbered it, leaving it in the leftfield seats for the game winner as the Taiyo bench went nuts. That made back to back to back blasts, all on the third ball out of Bacque's hand. The enthusiasm was for nought, however.

     Hanshin's manager went out to protest. The fact was that after the Shigematsu longball, excited Whales fans had thrown cans of beer on the field and Tigers rightfielder Hiromu Fujii appealed to the rightfield line umpire, a fellow named Tezawa, for time to clean up the mess, which Tezawa agreed to. In the aftermath of the Kondo blast, the umpiring crew huddled together and then issued a ruling that time was indeed out and the homer didn't count. Forced back into the batter's box, Kondo bounced out to Bacque and it went into extra innings, where Hanshin won it on a roundtripper from Kazuhiro Yamauchi in the

     Kondo batted .290 in 1968 and that would be the last season that he would be an effective player, falling to .239 in 1969 and improving to a mediocre .254 as he was being used less and less. In 1973, he was traded to the Kintetsu Buffaloes for outfielder Hideaki Miyahara, where he hit .204 with no homers and four RBIs in 52 games, calling it a day upon conclusion of the schedule.

     He worked for the Whales from 1982-1986 as a batting and strategy coach and then went on to coach for Nippon Hambefore working as a newspaper baseball commentator.

     When asked about Kondo's passing, Nagashima revealed, "I had a chance to talk with him for a while at a party this past spring and he was in good spirits. That unique hitting style and battling for the batting championship....we liked each other from the time we were schoolboys. He was still young. It's really a shame. May he rest in peace."

     Sadaharu Oh commented, "he had a unique way of holding the bat at the plate. He was a good hitter. Even though we played on different teams, we always got along. It's really too bad [he's gone]."

     Hanshin manager Senichi Hoshino had just met Kondo soon after the current season began: "he looked good at the time. He was still yong. It's really hard when people you know pass away."

     Nippon Ham boss Yasunori Oshima averred, "I had heard he wasn't in very good shape healthwise. All one can say is that it's sad. May he rest in peace."

     A former Taiyo player, Kiyoshi Doi, who like Kondo was an alumnus of Meiji University, had this personal take: "when I went to see him three days ago at the hospital, he looked fine. He was my junior by two years at university and we were able to battle together to win [Taiyo's] first ever pennant. This is really sad."

     Kondo owns a record nine game all star game hitting streak, dating from the third game of the all star series in 1960 and extending to the first faceoff of the 1964 classic. He is fifth all time in all star batting average with a .338 (25-74) figure with six doubles.

     His overall lifetime stats are as follows:
G 1789 AB 6081 H 1736 2B 220 3B 20 HR 109 RBI 483 SF 38 SB 159 CS 95 BB 683 IBB 52 HBP 35 TB 2323 R 768 AVG .285 OBP .359 SLG .382



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