Takao Sato (佐藤 孝夫)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 7", Weight 149 lb.
- High School Shiraishi High School
Takao Sato played 12 seasons in Nippon Pro Baseball and led his league in major offensive departments in three different years.
Sato played for Sendai Kokutetsu Kanri Kyoku in the industrial leagues. He signed with the Kokutetsu Swallows and had a productive rookie year in 1952 - .265/.355/.424, 45 SB in 55 tries, 14 HR, 61 R. He set a NPB record for steals by a rookie; it stood for 45 years before Makoto Kosaka broke it. He set a Central League record with runs in 14 straight games in September and October. That mark stood until Ryota Wakiya passed him 58 years later. He also set a rookie record with a 24-game hitting streak (also since broken). He finished the year tied for 8th in the CL in homers (even with Isamu Fujii) and second in swipes (18 behind Jiro Kanayama). The lone negative for the shortstop was 43 errors, second-most in the league, forcing his move to the outfield the next year. He won Rookie of the Year, something no Swallow had done before.
In 1953, he was better yet, producing at a .260/.347/.497 clip with 80 runs, 32 doubles, 22 home runs and 42 stolen bases in 56 tries. He tied Makoto Kozuru for 5th in the CL in runs, tied Kozuru for the most two-baggers, tied Michio Nishizawa for second in dingers (5 behind Fumio Fujimura), was second in steals (16 behind Kanayama), tied Wally Yonamine for 6th with 57 walks, was 3rd in slugging (after Nishizawa and Fujimura) and was 6th in OPS (between Shigeru Chiba and Yonamine).
Sato struggled in 1954 (.245/.335/.402 in 62 G, though he stole 20 bases). He tied for 10th in the league in stolen bases. He made his first CL All-Star team the next year. In 1955 NPB All-Star Game 1, he pinch-hit for Ritsuo Horimoto and was retired by Yasuo Yonekawa in a 2-0 loss to the Pacific League. In Game 2, he batted for Ryohei Hasegawa in the 4th and drew a walk from Sadaaki Nishimura. For the season, he hit .224/.318/.418 with 77 runs, 68 walks, 24 home runs and 25 swipes in 35 tries. The center fielder led the CL in runs (one over Tatsuro Hiroka), was second in home runs (7 behind Yukihiko Machida), was second in walks (one shy of Tetsuharu Kawakami), was second with 81 whiffs (trailing Machida), tied Satoshi Hirayama for 5th in steals and just made the top 10 in slugging despite his low average. He had a second off-season in 1956 (.220/.325/.351 in 87 G).
He rebounded in 1957 for his last 20-20 campaign: 22 HR, 23 SB (10 CS) and a .257/.327/.460 batting line. He was 10th in the CL in average, tied for 6th in doubles (20), tied Noboru Aota for the home run crown, was second in RBI (10 shy of Andy Miyamoto), tied Kanayama and Hideshi Miyake for 7th in swipes, was 4th in slugging (after Kenjiro Tamiya and Americans Yonamine and Miyamoto) and was 4th in OPS (between Miyamoto and Tokuji Iida). He failed to make the Best Nine as Yonamine, Aota and Tamiya were chosen as the CL's top three outfielders.
In 1958, the Miyagi native hit .231/.314/.369 with 13 homers and 15 steals. He tied for 9th in home runs and was 7th in walks but grounded into a CL-high 17 double plays. He slumped further, to .198/.265/.332, in 1959. He then rebounded for one last productive campaign and made his second All-Star team. In 1960 NPB All-Star Game 1, he pinch-hit for Takeo Yoshizawa and was hit by a Takao Kajimoto pitch; he stayed in the outfield in a 3-1 loss. He got his lone All-Star start in Game 2, a 5-4 win, going 0 for 2 with a run as the leadoff man and center fielder before Toshio Naka replaced him. In Game 3, he replaced Naka in center and went 1 for 2 with a 7th-inning dinger off Tetsuya Yoneda in a 7-5 defeat. For the year, he batted .280/.335/.445 with 72 runs, 27 doubles, 7 triples, 14 home runs and 20 steals while only being caught four times. He 6th in average (between Takeshi Kuwata and Toru Mori), second in runs (8 back of Naka), tied Noboru Inoue for 3rd in doubles, tied for 5th in triples, missed the top 10 in home runs by one, tied Kazuhiko Kondo and Yoshio Yoshida for 8th in steals, was 9th in slugging (between Sadaharu Oh and Naka) and was second with 224 total bases (21 behind Shigeo Nagashima). He thus finished behind Oh and Nagashima, two of NPB's biggest legends in retrospect, in key offensive areas.
A bright star on some bad Swallows teams, he had hit .238/.318/.401 in 1,275 NPB games, with 557 runs, 150 homers in a relatively low-homer era, 432 RBI, 482 walks and 219 steals in 301 attempts. Through 2011, he was 61st in NPB history in swipes and tied for 73rd in times caught stealing.
After his playing career ended, he was a long-time coach for the Swallows (1964-1965, 1967-1981 in Japanese Baseball), though they changed names several times in this period, winding up as the Yakult Swallows. He was with them when they won the 1978 Japan Series for the first Japan Series title in their history. He replaced Hiroka as skipper for the last couple months of 1979, going 17-24-4.
Sato then coached for the Seibu Lions in 1982 and 1983 as they won both the 1982 Japan Series and 1984 Japan Series then was hitting coach of the 1984 Hanshin Tigers; he went 2-0 as interim manager when Motoo Ando missed time for health reasons in mid-June.