I'll tell you the
big difference between Japan and the U.S. In the U.S. we believe that a player
has a certain amount of natural ability and with practice he reaches a certain
peak point, but after that no amount of practice will make him better, because
after a certain point your ability reaches its limits. But the Japanese believe
there is no peak point. They don't recognize limits
former infielder for the San Francisco Giants and Kintetsu Buffaloes
believed in spirit and hard work. If a man tried hard enough, Murata thought,
he could do anything. He had employed that philosophy to make himself one of
Japan's best pitchers.
Murata had been
drafted in 1967 from a high school in Hiroshima by the Pacific League Lotte
Orions, who played in the heavily polluted industrial city of Kawasaki. Their
home park, Kawasaki Stadium, was a chipped and weathered postwar structure with
assorted bumps and holes in the outfield.
But Murata did
not mind. All he cared about was pitching. In his career, he has pitched five
one-hitters and twice won his first 11 games in a row. In 1976, his best
season, he won 21 games and led the league with 202 strikeouts and an ERA of
Murata thought a
pitcher should never stop working. He threw 100 or more pitches every day in
practice, and in games, he would throw every pitch as hard as he could—which in
Murata's case was more than 90 mph. This was contrary to standard practice in
the U.S., where pitchers take three to four full days of rest between
One day early in
the 1982 season he experienced a strange twinge in his right elbow and found
himself unable to pitch normally. His arm hurt every time he tried to throw,
forcing him to go on the disabled list. The team doctor could find nothing
wrong, so Murata decided that he would "pitch through the pain," in the
argot of the Japanese baseball player.
Every day he
would go out and throw a ball against a concrete wall in his neighborhood. Pain
shot through his arm with every pitch, but he continued to throw, hoping to
make the pain disappear by this exercise of sheer will.
His wife told him
that his arm needed rest. So did Leron Lee, his teammate from the U.S. But
Murata would not listen. He was a purebred Hiroshiman, and Hiroshimans were
known for their special brand of perseverance. So he continued to throw until
his arm ached so badly that he could not raise it above his shoulder.
everything to heal his injured elbow: acupuncture, electric shock, massage. One
fan, a Japanese-American living in Los Angeles, wrote him a letter about the
miraculous comeback made by Tommy John, who is still pitching for the Yankees
at age 45. After John ruptured a ligament in his left elbow in 1974, orthopedic
surgeon Frank Jobe of Los Angeles replaced the damaged ligament with a tendon
from his right forearm. After a year of therapy, John was able to come back and
is now competing in his 14th season since the injury.
Yoshiko, read the letter and said, "Maybe this is your chance," Murata
blanched. He didn't even want to think about that possibility. In Japan it was
said that once you underwent surgery on your pitching arm, you were