Lenn Haruki Sakata (Japanese: 坂田春樹 born June 8, 1954 in Honolulu, Hawaii) is a former professional baseball player who played in the Major Leagues primarily as a utility player from 1977 to 1987 and was a member of the Baltimore Orioles 1983 World Series Championship team. He was the second Asian American to play Major League Baseball. He is Yonsei (fourth-generation American of Japanese ancestry). Sakata graduated from Kalani High School in 1971. Sakata played college baseball for the Gonzaga Bulldogs of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
Sakata began 1981 as a reserve and missed time in May due to a sprained ankle. In September, he took over the shortstop position, replacing longtime Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger. Sakata was humble about this, saying, "I never looked at myself as the next Mark Belanger. It would have been pointless and arrogant for anybody to feel that way." He was the starting shortstop for the Orioles when Cal Ripken, Jr., began his consecutive games played streak. When manager Earl Weaver decided to shift Ripken to short at the beginning of July, 1982, he moved Sakata to third, keeping Sakata in the lineup.
Sakata was the catcher (a position he did not usually play) when Tippy Martinez picked three Toronto Blue Jays off first base in the tenth inning of the August 24, 1983 game at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. The Orioles had replaced their starting catcher and his backup while rallying to tie the game in the ninth inning. Three consecutive Blue Jays hitters reached first base and each one, thinking it would be easy to steal a base on Sakata, took a big lead. Martinez picked off all three base runners. Sakata hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth to win the game.
After his playing career ended, Sakata began coaching in the minor league system. He has served as manager of the Modesto A's (1989), San Jose Giants (1999, 2001, 2004–2007), Bakersfield Blaze (2000), and Fresno Grizzlies (2002). On May 31, 2007 Sakata notched his 527th victory as a California League manager, setting the record for lifetime wins. Sakata became the farm team manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan in 2008. He returned to American baseball in 2011, becoming the hitting coach for Asheville Tourists (Low-A). After managing the Modesto Nuts from 2012-2013, Sakata rejoined the San Jose Giants in 2014 and was succeeded on January 10, 2015 by Russ Morman taking over as manager beginning the 2015 season.
Sakata was selected by CNN Sports Illustrated as one of the 50 greatest sports figures in Hawai'i history and is a member of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame located in the Bishop Museum. Sakata owns a small chain of high-end independent grocery stores in the Fresno, California area.
- ^ Seattle Mariners' Manager Sees Chance to Highlight his Past NY Times, December 27, 2008
- ^ Costello, Rory (2009). "The Baseball Biography Project: Lenn Sakata". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved 2010-07-25.
- ^ "Gonzaga University Baseball Players Who Made It to the Major Leagues". Baseball-Almanac.com. Archived from the original on 2012-08-10. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
- ^ Rosenfeld, p. 44
- ^ "Lenn Sakata 1981 Batting Gamelogs". Sports Reference, LLC. Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
- ^ Rosenfeld, p. 70
- ^ a b Lefton, Brad (June 16, 2009). "Lenn Sakata doesn't expect to see more Japanese-American managers any time soon". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
- ^ Sakata Winningest Manager in California League History at the Wayback Machine (archived October 31, 2007)
- ^ Sakata returns to San Jose dugout
- ^ "The 50 Greatest Hawaii Sports Figures". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
By Dean Hanley
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