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."
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
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.
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
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 2½ 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.
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."
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."