The Japanese have transformed America’s pastime into a game that mirrors their obsession with hard work and harmony. The consequences are often alarming.
I’ll tell you the big difference between Japan and the U.S. In the U.S. we believe that a player has a certain amount of natural ability and with practice he reaches a certain peak point, but after that no amount of practice will make him better, because after a certain point your ability reaches its limits. But the Japanese believe there is no peak point. They don’t recognize limits.
former infielder for the San Francisco Giants and Kintetsu Buffaloes
Choji Murata believed in spirit and hard work. If a man tried hard enough, Murata thought, he could do anything. He had employed that philosophy to make himself one of Japan‘s best pitchers.
Murata had been drafted in 1967 from a high school in Hiroshima by the Pacific League Lotte Orions, who played in the heavily polluted industrial city of Kawasaki. Their home park, Kawasaki Stadium, was a chipped and weathered postwar structure with assorted bumps and holes in the outfield.
But Murata did not mind. All he cared about was pitching. In his career, he has pitched five one-hitters and twice won his first 11 games in a row. In 1976, his best season, he won 21 games and led the league with 202 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.82.
Murata thought a pitcher should never stop working. He threw 100 or more pitches every day in practice, and in games, he would throw every pitch as hard as he could-which in Murata’s case was more than 90 mph. This was contrary to standard practice in the U.S., where pitchers take three to four full days of rest between starts.
One day early in the 1982 season he experienced a strange twinge in his right elbow and found himself unable to pitch normally. His arm hurt every time he tried to throw, forcing him to go on the disabled list. The team doctor could find nothing wrong, so Murata decided that he would “pitch through the pain,” in the argot of the Japanese baseball player.
Every day he would go out and throw a ball against a concrete wall in his neighborhood. Pain shot through his arm with every pitch, but he continued to throw, hoping to make the pain disappear by this exercise of sheer will.
His wife told him that his arm needed rest. So did Leron Lee, his teammate from the U.S. But Murata would not listen. He was a purebred Hiroshiman, and Hiroshimans were known for their special brand of perseverance. So he continued to throw until his arm ached so badly that he could not raise it above his shoulder.
Murata tried everything to heal his injured elbow: acupuncture, electric shock, massage. One fan, a Japanese-American living in Los Angeles, wrote him a letter about the miraculous comeback made by Tommy John, who is still pitching for the Yankees at age 45. After Johnruptured a ligament in his left elbow in 1974, orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe of Los Angelesreplaced the damaged ligament with a tendon from his right forearm. After a year of therapy,John was able to come back and is now competing in his 14th season since the injury.
Murata’s wife, Yoshiko, read the letter and said, “Maybe this is your chance,” Murata blanched. He didn’t even want to think about that possibility. In Japan it was said that once you underwent surgery on your pitching arm, you were finished.
Still, Murata had to do something. His children, then in primary school, were even being teased that their father was all washed up. But after extensive examinations at the best medical facilities in the country, doctors could find no damage; the bone and muscle were normal, they said. Everywhere he went the answer was the same: “We don’t know what’s wrong with your arm.”
The masseur Murata went to bent and twisted his arm so violently he thought it would pop out of its socket. When the massage was over, Murata’s arm was black-and-blue. Attempts to pitch only produced intense pain.
But Murata kept throwing. Finally, a year later, Lotte officials asked him to stop pitching: “What if you hurt yourself so much that you can never pitch again? Please rest until your arm heals.”
Murata replied, “A man should pitch until his arm falls off.”
The team formally ordered him to cease and desist until doctors could find out what the problem was.
Murata fell into a deep depression. His wife would wake up in the middle of the night and find her husband sitting by himself in the living room. When she urged him to come back to bed, he would jump up without a word and run outside into the night.
By the middle of the 1983 season the newspapers had declared it official: Murata was finished.
Murata had always practiced Zen, the Japanese discipline that emphasizes concentrated meditation. In the off-season, during the coldest part of the winter, he often traveled to a forest temple on the Izu peninsula, south of Tokyo, where he fasted and would meditate while standing under an icy waterfall.
Murata was very serious about Zen. So now, in his time of greatest crisis, he went to the Izu temple to seek a solution to his problem. There, a Zen master named Takamatsu gave him painful massages and told him that only through inner strength could his arm be healed. “No one can heal it for you,” Takamatsu said. “You have to do it all by yourself.”
Murata followed his advice. Each day he would stand under the icy waterfall to meditate. And each day Takamatsu continued with his massages. He produced a snakeskin that had been soaked in shochu (a kind of potato liquor) for eight years and wrapped it around Murata’s elbow to help draw out the poison inside. For weeks Murata followed the same daily routine, and then it was time to go home.
When he picked up a ball and tried to throw, the pain was still there, as intense as ever. Worse yet, he now had a swelling on his elbow the size of an apple.
Murata began to think he might never pitch again. He said as much to his wife and reminded her of a promise he had made when they were married. He had vowed to be the best pitcher inJapan and had told her that if the day ever came when he wasn’t the best, well, if she wanted to leave, it was O.K. He would understand.
Yoshiko became indignant. She had been a patient, loyal and supportive wife, she said. She wasn’t sharing all this pain and agony with him just so she could be the wife of a great pitcher. Didn’t he understand that? She said she would never leave him. She also told him to stop thinking about retiring.
So, finally, Murata faced the unthinkable. In August 1983, a year and a half after he had felt that first twinge in his arm, he went to Los Angeles with his wife to see Dr. Jobe. It was his only remaining option.
Jobe examined Murata’s arm and told him that a ligament in his right elbow had been torn. The bone and nerves were indeed O.K., but the Japanese doctors, far behind the West in terms of sports medicine, had not thought to examine the ligament. Jobe could not believe that Murata was trying to throw with his arm in such a condition.
Jobe said that he would have to operate. He would take a tendon from Murata’s left wrist and put it in his right elbow. The operation would be easy, he said, but the rehabilitation would take a year of very hard work if he wanted to pitch again. It took a special kind of person to make such a commitment. John had been that kind of man. Was Choji Murata?
Murata said yes, by all means.
The operation was a success. Although Murata suffered considerable pain afterward, he initially refused a painkiller. He thought it would be unmanly and, as he later confessed, he hated injections.
Murata then began the long process of coming back. At first he could barely make a fist. But he did his exercises every day and soon he was able to lob the ball across his living room. On Sept. 25, 1984, after more than two years of pain, Murata started a game for the Orions, allowing two runs in five innings in a no-decision.
The most difficult thing for Murata about his comeback was following Jobe‘s orders not to pitch so much. Jobe had explained certain scientific facts of life about pitching: “Pitching is an unnatural motion. The human arm, be it Caucasian, black or Oriental, is not constructed to throw a baseball. Every time a starting pitcher pitches, he experiences tiny muscle tears in his arm. A starting pitcher who throws a nine-inning game should rest until his arm can regain its normal structure.”
Jobe warned Murata that in his case, at least six days of rest would be imperative between each appearance. And that meant genuine rest, not throwing 100 pitches a day as Murata had done previously between starts.
Murata complied, reluctantly, pitching only nine innings in ’84. The next year, fully recovered, he was 17-5, with 93 strikeouts, winning Comeback of the Year honors. At the end of the season, he and his wife flew to Los Angeles to thank Jobe in person for all he had done.
Murata was not happy about that. He thought some of the younger players went under the knife too quickly, that their comebacks were too easy. Suffering built character, and character was what made the difference between winners like Murata and weak-kneed losers. Modern medicine may have rebuilt his arm, but something else had made his career.
One afternoon in 1987 at Kawasaki Stadium, he talked to a young writer about the proliferation of machines and electronic instruments in everyday life. “Do you use a word processor?” asked Murata.
“No, I don’t,” replied the young man, “I use a pencil.”
“Good,” he said, nodding his approval. “You can’t get any heart into your work using one of those things.”
A man who had lost touch with the natural way of things, things like pain, would lose touch with himself.
By the time Japanese professional baseball celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1985, it had become a mirror of Japan‘s fabled virtues of hard work and harmony, and a game with only a superficial resemblance to its American counterpart.
“This isn’t baseball,” grumbled former Dodger Reggie Smith after his first season as a Yomiuri Giant in 1983. “It only looks like it.”
Like the U.S. game, the Nippon version is played with a bat and ball. The same rule book is also used, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Training, for example, is nearly a religion inJapan. Baseball players in the U.S. start spring training in late February and take no more than five or six weeks to prepare for their six-month season. They spend four to five hours each day on the field then head for the nearest golf course, swimming pool or couch.
Japanese teams begin with “voluntary” training in the freezing cold of mid-January. Every day they’re on the field for a numbing seven hours or more, and then it’s off to the dormitory for an evening of strategy sessions and more workouts indoors. Players run 10 miles daily, including periodic runs up and down the stadium steps. “It makes boot camp look like a church social,” said Warren Cromartie, a former outfielder for the Montreal Expos who has been playing inJapan since 1984.
During the season, rigorous training continues. Whereas many American players curtail their pregame summer workouts to conserve energy for the game, the Japanese often step up their training, believing that extra work is the only way to beat heat fatigue. As Sadaharu Oh, theBabe Ruth of Japanese baseball, once put it, “The hot weather does in all those players who haven’t trained hard all along.”
The Japanese game is strictly organized around a plethora of rules to insure that each player not only is well trained physically, but also has the right mental attitude. Among the rules the Giantsinstituted one year for their practice sessions were: Report to the field 15 minutes early; do not engage in private conversation on the field; encourage your teammates in a loud voice; run when moving from place to place.
Oh incorporated a drill into his routine in which he would slice away with a sword at a tiny piece of paper suspended by a string from the ceiling. Said Oh, of his 868 home run career, “I achieved what I did because of my coaches and my willingness to work hard.” When Oh signs autographs, he signs with the word doryoku (“effort”). So does former star Koji Yamamoto, who hit 536 home runs in his 18 years with the Hiroshima Carp.
No one embodied doryoku more than Yamamoto’s teammate Sachio Kinugasa, who started at third base for the Carp on Oct. 19, 1970, and did not miss a game until he retired on Oct. 22, 1987. He played in 2,215 consecutive games, the longest streak in the history of professional baseball. When Kinugasa surpassed Lou Gehrig‘s streak of 2,130 games, it was cause for jubilation unseen in Japan since the period when Oh was slugging his way past Ruth and Hank Aaron in career home runs.
It was a triumph of will, they said. Kinugasa had overcome slumps, injuries and broken bones on the way to the record. In Oh‘s case, there had been grousing by American fans that he had achieved his record by playing in small parks against inferior pitching, and also that throughout his career he had used compressed bats that propelled the ball considerably farther than normal bats (compressed bats are banned in the U.S. and were phased out in Japan after Oh’s retirement). But no one could possibly disparage Kinugasa‘s accomplishment.
Kinugasa was more than just an average player. He hit 504 home runs and was one of the few Japanese to reach 2,000 hits, the benchmark for the Japanese game, given its short, 130-game season. In 1984, he led the Central League in RBIs with 102, and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. His lifetime average was .270.
The exploits of Kinugasa and Yamamoto moved people in Hiroshima to tears. Together they elevated the Carp from a second-division team to a perennial contender, winners of five pennants and three Japanese championships. It was a team that symbolized the remarkable resurgence of Hiroshima from the horrible ravages, both physical and psychological, of the atom bomb.
Kinugasa was only 5’9″ tall and weighed 165 pounds. But he was strong and had a big American-style swing-much to the chagrin of Carp coaches, who favored batting technicians-which he employed to set the Japanese career strikeout record of 1,587. He was a dark-featured man of easy smiles, a flashy dresser who liked flashy cars. He also earned a reputation for being a hard-drinking hell-raiser.
But each and every night of his 23-year career, before going to bed, he swung a bat. He would be drinking in a bar with teammates, then suddenly disappear only to return an hour or so later. Nobody knew until many years into Kinugasa‘s career that he was off alone, taking shadow swings.
The story is told of the time in the summer of 1970. Kinugasa‘s sixth year in professional ball, when he staggered back to the Carp dormitory at dawn, dead drunk. Coach Junzo Sekine, who had been working one-on-one with Kinugasa every night, was waiting for him. “You forgot to practice your swing,” he said. Kinugasa swung his bat 100 times, then crumpled to the ground, crying from exhaustion.
Clyde Haberman, veteran Tokyo bureau chief of The New York Times, expressed Kinugasa’s appeal well when he wrote in 1987: “[Kinugasa] is a rock of consistency, and, as such, the salariman’s hero. The salariman-the Japanese word is taken direct from English, ‘salaryman’-isJapan‘s average Joe. He is the guy who puts on a blue suit every morning, rides the train to work for an hour and a half, puts in 10-12 hours, drinks late into the night with his colleagues, then heads home for a few hours sleep so that he can start all over again the next day.
“Like the salariman, Kinugasa is there as promised every day.”
Kinugasa suffered five broken bones over the years, yet never missed a game. His streak was in the greatest danger in August 1979, when Giants pitcher Takashi Nishimoto hit him in the back with an errant pitch. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed his injury as a fracture of the left shoulder blade and ordered him not to play.
Kinugasa endured a fitful night. The next day he taped up his shoulder, went to the park and stepped into the batting cage. For the next 10 minutes, he swung his bat hard, as always, showing his manager that he was capable of playing.
His remarks about that day have been repeated many times in the Japanese media: “It would have been even more painful for me to stay home. If I played and swung the bat, the pain in my shoulder would last only an instant. If I had to stay home and watch the game on TV, I’d hurt all over for three hours.”
Kinugasa may have had a special motivation to succeed. His father, who was a black American soldier stationed in Okinawa after the war, deserted his family. As a boy growing up in Kyoto,Kinugasa put up with taunts from schoolmates about his background. It was the only subject about which he was really sensitive. Kinugasa‘s father was not mentioned in either of his authorized biographies, and there were standing orders on the Hiroshima team never to talk about him. Kinugasa‘s former room-mate Tatsuo Okitsu, a Carp outfielder, in spite of the team policy later told a reporter about the time he found Kinugasa awake late at night studying English.
“I asked him why,” said Okitsu, “and he said he wanted to go to America to look for his father because he’d never met him. I told him he’d do better working more on his swing instead of English. ‘If you become the Number One player in Japan, he’ll come to see you,’ I told him.”
His father never came, but for one shining summer, in 1987, Kinugasa was indeed No. 1.
The capacity for doryoku, Japanese coaches have long maintained, must be cultivated through practice. Consequently, an integral part of spring training routines are gattsu (“guts”) drills designed to push a player to his limits. The record for endurance in the 1980s is held by a player named Koichi Tabuchi of the Seibu Lions. In 1984, the year of his retirement at age 38, Tabuchi capped off a day of workouts in spring camp by fielding 900 consecutive ground balls. It took two hours and 50 minutes before he slumped to the ground, unable to remain standing.
The Japanese system of player development through endless practice doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to. Consider the case of one rookie pitcher who began his professional career in the mid-’70s. He was, his manager believed, a potential star, but being rather frail of build he had difficulty keeping up with his team’s torturous spring training. By the time his turn for pitching practice would come around, he would be so tired he could barely get the ball over the plate.
To correct the problem, the coaches devised a special routine for him to follow daily after practice. First, he was told to run from one stadium foul pole to the other 50 times. As an additional test of his resolve, coaches would station themselves at either end of his run to yell bakayaro (“stupid s.o.b.”) every time he finished a lap. This was followed by pitching practice in which an errant throw of any kind would produce another flurry of insults.
In the manner of most Japanese players, he kept a stiff upper lip and tried his best. His special training went on with no visible improvement. Finally, during his third season, he found himself in a mental institution in Osaka, the victim of a nervous breakdown.
In Japan, however, the expression for individualism, kojinshugi, is almost a dirty word. The managers and coaches, possessed of age and experience, always know best. Their word is law. The traditional ideal is a humble, uncomplaining, obedient soul like Giants star Tatsunori Hara, who was once chosen in a poll as the “male symbol of Japan.”
Hara has frequently been compared in the Japanese press with Cal Ripken Jr., who visitedJapan in 1984 with the Baltimore Orioles, and again in ’86 with a group of major league all-stars. Both were raised by baseball fathers: Cal Ripken Sr. managed the Orioles from ’86 to ’88, while Hara’s father, Mitsugu, became famous when he guided Miike High to the national championship in the mid-’60s. Both are infielders. both were big stars in their early 20’s, both were league MVPs in 1983, and both are quiet, likable young men. In many other respects, however, the two players are poles apart.
Ripken is typical of the successful athlete in America. Once he had mastered the fundamentals of baseball as a youth, he improved by emulating the players above him and improvising along the way. By the time he reached the big leagues, he had developed a batting form that was unusual-fists horizontal, bat pointed back-and a fielding style that was unorthodox: He would sometimes backhand ground balls that came directly at him. His style was different, but it worked well for him.
“I’ve never really taken much advice from anyone, be it my father or any other coaches,” he said on one of his trips to Japan. “I’ve always been able to figure things out for myself.” Japanese reporters and coaches were aghast.
By contrast, people have been telling Hara what to do all his life. First there had been his father and then a long succession of Giants instructors, all of whom believed that form was critically important. Because Hara had learned how to bat and field by the numbers, he looked like a carbon copy of every other player in Japan.
It is doubtful that any American player has been as closely supervised as Hara. He had been prepared for stardom almost from the time he was born, in 1958, in the coal mining town of Miike. He was only three months old, as the story goes, when his father picked him up and dropped him on the family futon to test his reflexes. The baby immediately flexed his legs and absorbed the impact. Hara Sr. gauged the results and said, “Hmmm. I’ve got myself a star here.”
After Hara reached the age of three, his father began to train him for baseball, starting with a daily routine of 20 push-ups and a four-kilometer run up and down the hills of his neighborhood. As Hara got older, the routine became progressively harder.
Hara was a star in high school and college before being drafted by the Giants. They needed a cleanup hitter to replace Oh, who retired in 1980. As a rookie in ’81, Hara hit .268 with 22 home runs, a season which made him more popular than the emperor. He was a strapping six-footer, with such good looks that marriage proposals from adoring female fans flowed into the Giants‘ front office every day. Film studios tried to sign him up, but Hara had to turn them down. He was expected to concentrate only on baseball.
Hara went on to have many fine seasons, averaging .287 and 31 home runs a year over his first eight years. He won the ’83 MVP award by hitting 32 homers, driving in 103 runs and batting .302 for the pennant-winning Giants.
But fans, commentators and coaches were never satisfied. They complained that he struck out too often in key situations, that he couldn’t hit a decent forkball, that he couldn’t reach the 40-homer mark. He did not have the mark of greatness possessed by the likes of Oh.
The critics also said that Hara was lacking in toughness. Once, he had a wisdom tooth extracted before a game, and his face became so swollen and painful he had to lie down in the stadium first-aid room. When he did not play that evening, retired Carp star Yamamoto, the doryoku man, took him to task in a newspaper column, implying that a real cleanup hitter would have been in the lineup.
The next day a photographer asked to take a picture of the inside of Hara’s mouth as evidence that he really was in bad shape. Hara angrily refused. That night, with his face still swollen, Hara returned to the lineup and even hit a home run in the game.
Programs were continually devised to make Hara more productive. He was sent on a yamagomori (“spiritual retreat to the mountains”). He was put through extra batting practice and conditioning drills, taking 15,000 swings in 2� weeks during one arduous spring camp. Former Giants coaches paraded out to the park to make minute analyses of Hara’s batting form. He obediently listened to his coaches and followed their advice, ever the dutiful marionette responding to the direction of his elders. Yet he kept churning out roughly the same statistics every year.
Said Reggie Smith, who played with Hara for two years, “He had so many different people telling him what to do, it’s a wonder he could still swing the bat. They turned him into a robot, instead of just letting him play naturally.”
Added Cromartie, who played with Hara for five years, “I’d try to tell him to ignore the coaches, to play his own game. But he just couldn’t do that.”
The gap between Japanese and American thinking on this point is not easily bridged. To the American criticism that Hara was over-coached, the Japanese would invariably retort, “Just think what a truly great player Ripken could be if a coach could iron out those flaws in his form.”
The concept and practice of group harmony, or wa, is what most dramatically differentiates Japanese baseball from the American game. It is the connecting thread running through all Japanese life. While “Do your own thing” is a motto of contemporary American society, the Japanese credo is most accurately expressed in the well-worn proverb, “The nail that sticks up shall be hammered down.” It is practically a national slogan.
In keeping with this attitude, holdouts are rare in Japan. A player usually takes what the club deigns to give him, and that’s that. Demanding more money is evidence that a player is putting his own interests before those of his team.
The players may not like this state of affairs, especially as the minimum salary is only about one third of what it is in the U.S. major leagues, but social pressure is strong in Japan, and the media are vigilant. When Giants pitcher Suguru Egawa asked for a 10% raise one year after slipping from 16 wins to 15, a leading sports daily published the gaudy headline: EGAWA! YOU GREEDY S.O.B.!
A players’ union was formally established in 1985, but the union’s leader, Kiyoshi Nakahata of the Giants, quickly declared on nationwide television, “We’d never act like the U.S. major leaguers. A strike would be going too far.” Indeed, in a subsequent survey taken by the Asahi Shimbun, only 28% of the players said they would agree to a walkout.
The lengths to which Japanese team officials will go to preserve their team’s wa can be alarming-as journeyman pitcher Takanori Emoto can attest. Emoto had a wicked slider, which he used to win 113 games in 11 years. But he was the nail that stuck up in more ways than one, from his 6’4″ bamboo shoot of a frame to his defiant attitude, which frequently got him into hot water. Playing for the Hanshin Tigers in 1981, Emoto bridled at the way manager Futoshi Nakanishi kept shifting him back and forth between starting and relief. One August night, after being yanked from a game in which he had been pitching well, Emoto stalked back to the dugout and into the runway, where reporters heard him complain angrily, “I can’t pitch with this kind of stupid managing.”
The next morning the Emoto Rebellion was front-page news, and Emoto found himself the target of much editorial wrath for his willful conduct. Emoto announced his “voluntary retirement” from the Tigers to “accept responsibility” for the incident. Later, Emoto’s retirement proved to be not so voluntary when the Tigers, who continued to own the rights to Emoto, rejected trade offers from other teams.
If Emoto expected his fellow players to come to his defense, he was sadly disappointed. Said Yamamoto, then head of the players’ association, “It’s too bad Emoto had to go and commit hara-kiri like that.”
“I didn’t want to quit then,” said Emoto, an un-chastened pariah. “I felt I had a couple of more years and even thought about going to America to try my luck. But the Tigers wouldn’t even allow that. I was completely blackballed.”
Adversity sometimes has its blessings, however. Emoto went on to write a series of books about behind-the-scenes life in pro baseball, which became major bestsellers in Japan. His candid revelations, including a description of Oh‘s penis, which he had supposedly espied in the dressing room before an All-Star Game, made Emoto a TV celebrity and a very wealthy man.
Obviously, it takes a certain strength of character for an American to survive in a country as radically different as Japan. Since 1962, when Don Newcombe and Larry Doby became the first prominent ex-major leaguers to play in Japan, hardly a season has passed without a controversial incident involving a gaijin (“foreign”) player. By the late ’70s, team officials, understandably weary of the perennial conflicts wrought by their foreign imports, made character checks a standard part of their recruiting process. Frequently they were rewarded with even-tempered types, like Felix Millan, Roy White and Leon and Leron Lee, who kept their feelings to themselves and fit into the Japanese system.
But despite the good-conduct medals earned by some, many American players created trouble just by virtue of being American. They were everything that their hosts were not. They were bright and positive, but they were also loud, frank, assertive and uncomfortably democratic. They seemed incapable of staying out of trouble.
The year 1984 was the most traumatic baseball season that Americans and Japanese ever inflicted on each other. Three gaijin unceremoniously walked out on their teams and their fat contracts in midseason. One was former Cubs outfielder Jim Tracy, who quit the Taiyo Whales to protest his precipitate removal from a game. Another was Don Money, the onetimeMilwaukee Brewer star who, after hitting eight home runs in 29 games, deserted the Kintetsu Buffaloes. One of Money‘s teammates, Rich Duran, joined the mass exodus shortly thereafter, despite hitting seven home runs in two months.
The Japanese sports press roundly decried the foreign devils. A reporter for Nikkan Sports found a genetic explanation. “All of these men are Anglo-Saxons,” he wrote, “a class of people that has too much pride…the history of mankind shows us that human beings with the sense of being chosen people will eventually act in a willful and egotistical manner.”
The Americans pleaded extenuating circumstances. Tracy claimed his manager was singling him out to teach him humility. He had hit .303 with 19 home runs in 1983 but was moved from third to sixth in the batting order the following year because, it was said, he didn’t have enough power. “You hit .260 with 40 home runs and they’d say your average wasn’t high enough,” Tracycomplained. “Either way you lose.”
Money‘s case was different. He had not wanted to come to Japan in the first place. At 35, after a distinguished big league career, he had been headed for retirement on his farm in New Jersey. Moreover, he had a bad back. But when the Buffaloes enticed him with a two-year contract worth $900,000 and visions of a major league lifestyle in Japan, Money found himself unable to turn the opportunity down.
He had watched Japanese baseball on TV in the U.S., games played in modern stadiums inTokyo and Yokohama, bulging with enthusiastic fans. He had not seen the Kintetsu park, a decaying monument to utilitarianism, with a grassless infield, nor had he been told that sparse crowds were the norm for Buffalo games.
There was more. As Money later recalled, “Someone at Kintetsu sent me a pamphlet of the apartment building we were to live in. In the drawing it was a beautiful building, surrounded by trees. We thought, Hmmm, not bad. When we first got to the place and looked around, we felt like walking back downstairs, getting into a cab and coming back home. The walls were filthy, the carpet completely stained. The ceiling hadn’t been painted for 10 years. There was no heat. The kitchen had an old, stained, yellow-brown floor. The wallpaper was peeling, and there were cockroaches all over the place.
“I had to travel to the park an hour and a half each way. The trains were always really crowded. I had to carry my bats and bags. I’m standing there on the train. I’m not used to 5,000 people staring at me. The clubhouse wasn’t the best. We had only two shower stalls and a Japanese bath. Half the time, the showers wouldn’t work. The clubhouse was a complete mess. Things all over the floor. There wasn’t even a decent toilet. I’d be standing there taking a whiz, and some girl would walk by. I just wasn’t used to it after 15 years in the big leagues.
“It all just built up, and my family was very unhappy. Finally, I started talking about retiring. Kintetsu’s attitude changed immediately. They started saying things like: We’ll give you a brand new apartment; we’ll give you a chauffeur-driven car to the park; we’ll give you a salary increase. But it was too late. If I were a younger guy, I’d suck it up. But I never should have gone in the first place. And I would never go again.”
One of the more memorable confrontations between U.S. and Japanese values involved Dick Davis, a former Milwaukee Brewer outfielder who replaced Money on the Buffaloes. Davis did not mind the Kintetsu facilities, which were eventually renovated, nor his housing arrangements. But he did mind Osamu Higashio, a cocky pitcher for the Seibu Lions, who held the alltime Japanese record for hitting opposing batters: 152 in 17 years.
One balmy June evening in 1986 at Seibu Lions Stadium, Davis took umbrage at an inside Higashio fastball that hit his elbow. He rushed to the mound to deliver several punches to the offending pitcher’s head and face.
The sports press in Japan swooped down on Davis like avenging warrior monks. UNFORGIVABLE, cried one headline. Davis was hit with a 10-day suspension and a fine of 100,000 yen ($600) but remained steadfastly unrepentant. “If I have any regrets,” he said, “it is that Higashio went on to finish the game. That means I didn’t hit him hard enough.”
In spite of such antics by American players, it is interesting to note that of the 274 people ejected in Japanese ball since 1950, 227 have been Japanese. Most of them were ejected for manhandling the umpires.
Indeed, one of the worst incidents of violence ever seen on a baseball field took place in September 1982, during a Taiyo Whales- Hanshin Tigers game in Yokohama. Two Tiger coaches brutally beat up an umpire in full view of a nationwide television audience. One of them even delivered a about that particular evening. The dark side of the Japanese character is not a popular wicked kick to the genital area that doubled over the hapless man in blue. Afterward, the two coaches apologized profusely, pleaded temporary insanity and were suspended for only the rest of the season.
But nobody in Japan likes to talk topic for discussion in the media. Unruly gaijin make for much more interesting copy.
Emoto, the pitcher turned popular author, once put it this way, “All in all, it’s just easier to pick on the gaijin. Because of the language barrier, they don’t know what you’re saying. Besides, they go home at the end of the season, but we Japanese have to live with each other.”