Few storylines in baseball are more enticing than a home-run chase. Major League Baseball is fortunate enough to have a pair in progress: New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is hoping to notch the league's first 60-homer season since 2001; meanwhile, St. Louis Cardinals icon Albert Pujols is attempting to become the fourth player to ever clear the 700-homer threshold before he retires this winter.
While Judge and Pujols have received most of the attention in America for obvious and understandable reasons, they aren't the only sluggers who will spend the next month swinging for the history books. Over in Japan, a 22-year-old third baseman named Munetaka Murakami is in pursuit of Nippon Professional Baseball's single-season home-run record, as well as the Central League's first triple crown since Randy Bass accomplished the feat in 1986.
Murakami, a member of the Yakult Swallows, has swatted 44 home runs and batted .327/.457/.723 over the course of his first 109 games this season. This comes on the heels of last year, when he homered 39 times and batted .278/.408/.566 while appearing in all 143 of the Swallows' games. They have 34 games remaining on their schedule this season, giving Murakami ample time to add to his numbers (his current pace would see him get to 58 homers).
NPB's single-season home-run record currently belongs to former Seattle Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien, who launched 60 in 2013 (also as a member of the Swallows). Even if Murakami falls short of Balentien, he could challenge the legendary Sadaharu Oh for the most home runs hit by a Japanese-born player. Oh homered 55 times in 1964. For whatever it's worth, Murakami has already tied the Swallows' franchise record for a Japanese-born player: Akinori Iwamura, once a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, homered 44 times during the 2004 season.
If nothing else, Murakami stands a good chance at becoming the first NPB player to clear the 50-homer mark since 2003, when both Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera did it.
For those wondering, it's unclear if Murakami harbors any aspirations of playing in America someday. It is worth noting that MLB's rules governing international free agents would restrict him from earning his market value (he's younger than 25 years old and he has fewer than six years of professional experience), suggesting he wouldn't be a candidate to come over anytime soon regardless of his intent.