Former Major League Baseball player Wladimir Balentien broke the long-standing Japanese single season home run record on Sunday, hitting his 56th and 57th of the season for the Yakult Swallows.
Legendary Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh had held the record for nearly 50 years, setting the mark in 1964.
“I want to thank the fans for all their support,” Balentien told the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, “It was a great feeling. I don’t think I will ever feel anything like that again in my life.”
Oh’s record had been tied twice in the past by former Major Leaguers Alex Cabrera in 2002, and Tuffy Rhodes in 2001. Somewhat controversially, teams managed by the beloved former Japanese player would walk Cabrera and Rhodes in perceived attempts to halt their pursuit of the record. Oh denies any intent of the sort.
“Oh is the home run king and I have a lot of respect for him,” Balentien said.”To be able to tie him and then pass him is something very special for me.”
Another interesting tidbit to this new record is the implement of a new “livelier” baseball introduced this season by Japanese officials. Players were not told, but it has led to quite an increase in home runs this season. Did that have an effect? Does it taint the record a little bit? Probably.
Balentien played in the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners organizations before moving to Japan in 2011.