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THE PAIN OF PERFECTION
Robert Whiting
May 15, 1989
The Japanese have transformed America's pastime into a game that mirrors their obsession with hard work and harmony. The consequences are often alarming
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May 15, 1989

The Pain Of Perfection

The Japanese have transformed America's pastime into a game that mirrors their obsession with hard work and harmony. The consequences are often alarming

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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.

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