"I've always admired him for his pitching style," says Leron Lee, a former outfielder for the Cardinals. Padres, Indians and Dodgers, who has hit against Higashio for 10 years. "Most pitchers here just try to trick you. It's a cat-and-mouse game. But when I'm batting Higashio, I feel like. "This is going to be something.' I've warned him not to hit me in the head—just keep it fair."
For 15 seasons, Higashio brushed back with impunity. Then came the summer of 1986 and the Davis Incident. In the sixth inning of a June game against the Kintetsu Buffaloes, Higashio hit a batter on the right elbow. Unfortunately for Higashio, the batter was Dick Davis, a former outfielder for the Brewers and Phillies, who chose to exact a measure of vengeance. He ran out to the mound and punched Higashio with a right hand to the left cheekbone.
That was not the first time an angry foreigner had run out to the mound to attack a pitcher. Once a pitcher turned and hightailed it into centerfield to avoid a batter he had hit. Japanese coaches and managers have even been known to punch and kick umpires. But until Davis, no one had ever gotten violent with Higashio.
Although he thought his pitch had not hurt Davis—"It was just a touch," he says—Higashio stood his ground. Afterward, Davis was ejected, Higashio had a badly bruised cheekbone, and the Japanese sports public was shocked. Headlines in the sports dailies screamed SHAMELESS CONDUCT! THIS SCENE IN YOUR LIVING ROOM, TOO! and EXPEL DAVIS FROM BASEBALL WORLD! Pitchers stood by him, but Higashio received little sympathy from hitters. Many people, including rival managers and players, said that everyone knew that he had been throwing at batters for years. Although these people would have been loath to attack Higashio themselves, they appreciated a foreigner doing it for them.
By season's end Higashio's bruise was gone and the Seibu Lions found themselves in the deciding game of the Japan Series. On the mound for Seibu was Higashio. At bat was an old acquaintance. Koji Yamamoto of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Higashio threw two pitches across the plate. The third sailed at Yamamoto's head. At age 40, Yamamoto is a baseball deity in Japan. He jumped out of the batter's box. He glared at the mound. He balled his hands into fists. Then he threw a quick flurry of body punches at the air. He smiled. Higashio smiled, too. He rubbed the ball as they both stood there grinning for a while longer. They were two men who knew the game and each other well enough to state the truth—the truth they meant—in a suitable way.