Mitsuru Manaka (真中満)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 5' 7", Weight 165 lb.
- School Nihon University
- High School Utsunomiya Gakuen High School
- Born January 6, 1971 in Ōtawara, Tochigi Japan
Mitsuru Manaka played in Nippon Professional Baseball from 1993 to 2008, spending his entire career with the Yakult Swallows. The outfielder hit .286/.329/.386 with 54 home runs and 1,122 hits in his career and topped .300 several times.
He played in two Koshien Tournaments in high school. As a college senior, he led the league in batting and RBI. The Swallows took him in the 3rd round of the 1993 draft. As a rookie in 1993, he was 12 for 44 with a walk and two doubles. His first hit came against Masaki Saito in his debut, on September 3. He was 0 for 1 in the 1993 Japan Series, in which Yakult beat the Seibu Lions in seven contests. In 1994, he batted .329/.350/.434 in 27 games, and got his first homer (off Makoto Kito). He was significantly worse in 1995 (.214/.244/.262 in 137 PA over 99 G, 10 SB, 3 CS). He was second among Yakult outfielders in gamed played, after Tetsuya Iida. He excelled in the 1995 Japan Series, though, going 6 for 11, as Yakult rolled past the Orix BlueWave. Only Series MVP Tom O'Malley had more hits, despite Manaka's part-time role.
Manaka was 3 for 9 with a walk in 1996, missing time with hernia surgery. He hit .338/.384/.452 in 87 games in 1997. Had he qualified, he would have edged out Takanori Suzuki for the Central League batting title (by .003). He was 7 for 21 with a double in the 1997 Japan Series as Yakult beat Seibu again. In 1998, he replaced Tetsuya Iida as the Swallows' starting center fielder. He put up a .275/.318/.378 batting line with 8 triples. He led the league in three-baggers.
The Tochigi native had a good year in 1999 at .308/.365/.421 with 33 doubles and 71 runs. He was 6th in the CL in average (between Yoshinobu Takahashi and Koichi Ogata) and second in doubles (just one shy of leader Bobby Rose). During 2000, the 29-year-old hit .279/.315/.389 with a career-high 9 home runs.
In 2001, he was selected to the only All-Star team of his career. He hit .312/.369/.421 with 26 doubles that year. He finished 6th in average for the second time in three years (this time sandwiched between Tomoaki Kanemoto and outfield mate Atsunori Inaba). He was superb as Yakult routed the Kintetsu Buffaloes in five games in the 2001 Japan Series for his 4th and final Japan Series title, going 6 for 19 with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 4 walks, 6 runs and 5 RBI. He was presumably a strong candidate for Series MVP, an honor that went to Atsuya Furuta, who did even better.
Mitsuru slumped to .248/.281/.316 in 2002. He rebounded to .293/.317/.415 in 2003. Down to a part-time role in 2004, his batting line was .272/.319/.366. In 2005, the veteran got his 1,000th hit, off Shuichiro Osada. He had a solid campaign, hitting .302/.344/.422 in 244 plate appearances. He was now backing up Ryuji Miyade in right field, with a younger and better Norichika Aoki emerging in center (and winning the batting title). Had he qualified, Manaka would have nearly made the top 10 in average.
Manaka batted .238/.283/.302 in 2006, backing up Miyade in right field and Alex Ramirez in left field. He hit .319/.344/.395 in 125 plate appearances over 105 games in 2007, rarely seeing action in the field. Had he qualified, he would have been third in the CL in average; the top two were both Swallows outfielders, Aoki and Ramirez. He set a NPB record for pinch-hits in a season with 31. In his final year as a player, 2008, he was 1 for 14.
After retiring as a player, Manaka remained with Yakult as a minor league coach then became hitting coach. In late 2014, he became the Swallows' manager. He led the team to a 76-65-2 record in 2015 and a trip to the 2015 Japan Series, but slipped to 64-78-1 in 2016 and 45-96-2 and last in 2017 then was replaced by Junji Ogawa, whom he had succeeded.