- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 5' 9", Weight 162 lb.
- High School Hosei Number Two High School
Isao Shibata is similar in many ways to Earle Combs. Both were leadoff hitters and center fielders for the top team in their country's history. Both were stars who were overshadowed by two legends who hit third and fourth - in Combs' case, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, while Shibata was outshone by Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh. Shibata won five Gold Gloves (though they were only awarded for the latter half of his career), was a 12-time All-Star, 4-time Best Nine and six-time league leader in stolen bases in his dazzling career. Unlike Combs, he did not make his country's Hall of Fame.
Amateur career and rookie season
Shibata was a star pitcher in high school. His team won two Koshien Tournaments and he went 10-1 in Koshien play. He made six appearances as a rookie pitcher in 1962 for the Yomiuri Giants but went 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA, allowing five home runs in 11 innings. He never pitched again in 20 years with the club.
As an outfielder
In 1963, Isao became an outfielder and hit .258/.333/.345 and stole 43 bases in 57 tries. He led the Central League in times caught stealing and was 7 steals behind leader Morimichi Takagi. In the 1963 Japan Series, Shibata hit .292/.370/.500 with 5 runs and 7 RBI in six games as Yomiuri took the title. He also made his first All-Star team.
Shibata batted .253/.343/.408 in 1964 with 86 runs, 15 home runs, 68 walks and 50 steals in 61 tries. He was seven steals behind the leader, Takeshi Koba and again was an All-Star. In 1965, Yomiuri started their run of nine straight Japan Series; the "V-9" Giants are considered the greatest dynasty in Nippon Pro Baseball history. Led by Nagashima and Oh, the team had no foreign players those years.
In 1965, Shibata hit .239/.317/.343 in an off-year and stole 26 in 32 tries; he still was an All-Star. On October 21, he had sayonara (game-winning, game-ending hits) in the 10th inning in both ends of a doubleheader against the Hiroshima Carp. He hit .118/.238/.294 in the 1965 Japan Series, though he did homer in game one.
In 1966, Isao produced at a .251/.359/.352 clip with 46 SB and 13 times caught stealing. He led the CL in steals for the first time (getting more than the next two players combined) and made his fourth All-Star team. His 65 walks were second in the league to Sadaharu Oh, albeit 77 less than the famed slugger's total. In the 1966 Japan Series, the leadoff man batted .565/.643/.870 with two home runs, 13 hits, 5 walks, 6 runs, 7 RBI and two steals in six games. He won the Series MVP award that year.
During 1967, the 23-year-old improved, hitting .287/.374/.443 with 70 steals in 83 tries. He hit 18 home runs, scored 88 runs and drew 64 walks. He had more stolen bases than any of the either five teams in the CL that year, leading the league easily. He also led the league in times caught stealing despite his great steal percentage. He made his fifth All-Star team and his first Best Nine. He batted .208/.345/.375 in the 1967 Japan Series.
The fleet-footed center fielder batted .258/.313/.507 in 1968 with a career-high 28 doubles, 26 home runs and 86 RBI. He stole 37 bases in 47 tries and was two steals behind Koba, the leader. An All-Star for a sixth time, he was MVP of the second All-Star game that year. He hit .333/.360/.792 with 7 runs, 7 RBI and two steals in the 1968 Japan Series. He smacked another three homers, as many as Oh hit that Series.
In either 1968 or 1969, Shibata did not switch-hit, instead batting solely from the right side.
In the 1969 season, he hit .228/.310/.355 and went 35-for-45 in steals, leading the league in swipes. He missed an All-Star team for the first time since he became an outfielder. One bright spot was that he hit cleanup, the only Giant other than Oh and Nagashima in the many years tthose two were on the club. He struggled in the 1969 Japan Series, going 1 for 12 with no walks and getting caught in his only attempt to steal.
Shibata was an All-Star once again in 1970, batting .256/.303/.375; he drew only 23 walks and was caught stealing in 16 of 38 attempts. He led the league in times caught stealing. He hit .333/.364/.381 in the 1970 Japan Series.
In 1971, Isao put up a .282/.352/.369 line and was caught 20 times while stealing 35 bases. An All-Star for the 8th time, he was 4th in the CL in batting average. He made his second Best Nine, though he led the league in times caught stealing. In the 1971 Japan Series, he hit .222/.364/.333 as Yomiuri claimed their 7th straight title.
Isao batted .293/.393/.394 in 1972 for the best OBP of his career. He scored 88 runs, stole 45 bases in 64 tries and drew 73 walks with only 48 strikeouts. It was his 5th and last time leading the league in times caught stealing and his 4th time leading in steals. His eight triples also led the league, as did his 107 singles. He made his third Best Nine and was sixth in the CL in average. In the first year the Diamond Glove Award was given out, he was one of the awardees. In the 1972 Japan Series, Yomiuri won their 8th straight title and he hit .095/.174/.095 with two steals.
In 1973, the veteran center fielder hit .277/.344/.372 with 81 runs and 24 SB in 35 tries. He made his fourth and final Best Nine, was 9th in the league in average, led with six triples, made his 9th All-Star team and led the league with 108 singles. In the 1973 Japan Series, Shibata was 0 for 10 but Yomiuri still won their 9th Series in a row to conclude their amazing run.
At age 30, Shibata batted .275/.339/.395. For the first time in 11 years as a position player, he failed to steal 20 bases (he was 13-for-22). He was an All-Star for the 10th time and won his third consecutive Diamond Glove.
In 1975, Isao hit .262/.354/.376. He stole 24 bases in 34 tries and scored 73 runs. The next season, Shibata batted .284/.366/.425 and stole 20 bases while only getting caught six times. He won his fourth Diamond Glove. After two years away from the Japan Series, he hit .407/.433/.741 in an impressive show in the 1976 classic. He had 11 hits, 6 runs, 5 RBI, two homers and two steals in seven games but Yomiuri lost. He won the Fighting Spirit Award as the MVP of the losing team.
During 1977, the 33-year-old produced at a .287/.353/.468 with 18 homers (tying his second-best level), 94 runs (a career-high) and 34 steals (while only getting caught five times) in a fine all-around year. He made his 11th All-Star team and first in three years and won his fifth and final Diamond Glove Award. His 7 triples led the CL, the third time he had done so in that area, and he led in stolen bases for the fifth time. On June 14, he became the first switch-hitter in NPB history to score 1,000 career runs. He hit .250/.318/.400 in the 1977 Japan Series, his 11th Series in 16 seasons.
In 1978, Shibata hit .292/.396/.473 in his last big year. He made his 12th and final All-Star team, scored 90 runs, had 6 triples, 13 homers and a career-high 32 doubles, drew 76 walks and stole 34 bases in 42 tries. He led the Central League in stolen bases for the sixth and final time. It was the 15th time he had stolen at least 20 bases in a season.
Shibata's production fell off significantly in 1979, as he hit .241/.326/.359 with only 10 steals in 19 tries. He batted .249/.348/.390 in 1980 and played just 86 games, his fewest since his rookie year as a pitcher. He went 10-for-12 in steal attempts that year.
In 1981, the 37-year-old played his final season, batting .186/.230/.279 in 47 plate appearances over 40 games, with one final steal in two tries. He had one last flare of brilliance in the 1981 Japan Series, his 12th Series, hitting .400/.455/.400 in six games in a losing effort.
Overall, Shibata had batted .267/.347/.400 in 2,208 games in NPB. He had 1,223 runs, 62 triples, 194 home runs, 906 walks and 579 steals (in 772 tries). Through 2006, he is tied with Makoto Kozuru for 17th all-time in triples, 12th in runs, third in steals (behind only Yutaka Fukumoto and Yoshinori Hirose and first in CL history in steals, 20th in NPB in walks (four less than Koji Akiyama and seven ahead of Akira Eto), 28th in strikeouts (1,087), 19th in games played and 22nd in at-bats (7,570).
Shibata coached for Yomiuri after his retirement. In this role, he ran into conflict with Reggie Smith. Shibata was the club's outfield coach and was doubtful of Smith's defensive skills. He hit numerous flies just out of Smith's reach in one practice session, with Shibata and the Japanese media laughing at the results. Smith felt that the exercise was being done for Isao's amusement rather than useful practice. Reggie eventually called off the drill. It was the first of numerous run-ins for Smith with the Japanese press and management during his time there.
Later, he became a baseball commentator for Fuji TV.