Isao Ito (伊藤 勲)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 176 lb.
- High School Tohoku High School
Catcher Isao Ito played 20 seasons in Nippon Pro Baseball and made five All-Star teams.
Ito debuted with the Taiyo Whales in 1961 but did not bat in four plate appearances that year. He was 1 for 6 in 1962, his hit coming off Minoru Kakimoto. As a third-stringer in 1963, he was 9 for 45 with a double, two home runs and three walks. His first home run was a sayonara 3-run shot off Shigetaka Nishio May 30; it also gave him his first RBIs. Ito replaced Kiyoshi Doi as the starter for Taiyo behind the plate. He hit .217/.274/.350 with 13 home runs his first year as a starter, making the Central League All-Star team but finishing among the leaders in strikeouts (100, 1st by 10 over Tadakatsu Takayama), errors (16, 6th) and double play grounders (18, tied for 5th with Eiji Fujii). He fell under the Mendoza Line at .197/.208/.294 with only four home runs in 1965.
Isao batted .226/.273/.315 in 1966, .235/.302/.343 in 1967 and .188/.282/.333 with 14 home runs in 1968. In '68, he made his second All-Star team and was among the CL leaders in walks (44, 9th) and strikeouts (76, tied for 8th with Sachio Kinugasa). He had a career year in 1969, hitting .266/.311/.466 with 23 home runs and 60 RBI. He made his third All-Star team and finished among the CL leaders in home runs (8th, between Koichi Tabuchi and Morimichi Takagi), RBI (tied for 10th with Tatsuhiko Kimata), slugging (8th, between Akira Ejiri and Taira Fujita) and strikeouts (75, 6th, between Takumi Ejima and Koji Yamamoto). Another season, he might have won the Best Nine award as the CL's top catcher but Kimata hit 30 home runs with a 865 OPS.
The Sendai native returned to form (.209/.271/.327, 7 HR) in 1970, followed by .195/.256/.287 with only 4 home runs in 1971 and .212/.254/.341 with 12 home runs in 1972, when he made his fourth All-Star team. He ground into 20 double plays in 1972, second to Shigeo Nagashima. He hit .236/.317/.355 and went deep 11 times in 1973, his last time as an All-Star. He hit his 100th career homer off Hisanobu Mizutani. He finished 9th in the CL in walks (45, between Kimata and Yasunori Oshima) and tied Oshima for 6th in strikeouts (72).
The veteran catcher hit .217/.272/.366 in 1974, .262/.296/.411 in 1975 and .281/.330/.472 with 13 HR in 267 AB in 1976, playing outfield sometimes as Hisaaki Fukushima was becoming Taiyo's main catcher. He did become the 6th NPB catcher to 1,500 games. As a backup in 1977, he hit .295/.350/.438 in 120 plate appearances over 80 games. He was 9 for 47 with two doubles, four walks and 18 whiffs in 1978. Taiyo then sent him with pitcher Masao Tamura to the Nankai Hawks for former star Michio Sato.
As Nankai's main catcher at age 37, he hit .251/.306/.475 in 1979. He got his 1,000th career hit off Shizuo Shiraishi. He batted .279/.359/.462 as a backup in 44 games in 1980. He became the 57th NPB player to 150 homers when he took Isamu Kida deep in July. Ito has a severe leg muscle pull in 1981 and did not get into a game, retiring at year's end.
Overall, Ito had hit .231/.292/.371 in 1,771 NPB games, with 399 runs, 152 home runs, 495 RBI and 355 walks. Through 2011, he was among the career leaders in games played (81st, between Takeo Daigo and Kazuya Fukuura), intentional walks (39, tied for 90th with Kenji Johjima, Tomonori Maeda, Jitsuo Mizutani and Tyrone Woods, not bad company), times hit by pitch (55, tied for 90th with six others), strikeouts (850, 81st, between Tatsuo Okitsu and Yoshihiko Takahashi) and double plays grounded into (156, 47th).
He returned to Taiyo as a coach from 1982 to 1984 then worked as a baseball commentator. From 2004-2006, he coached for NTT East in the industrial leagues before poor health forced him to step down. He died the next year of lung cancer.