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
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."
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."
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.