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
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
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
The U.S. is a
land where the individualist is honored. The typical player is a Darryl
Strawberry or a Jose Canseco who lives by the rule: "I know what's best for
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."
frequently been compared in the Japanese press with Cal Ripken Jr., who visited
Japan 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.
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
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