THIS IS DRAMA?
"Ladies and gentlemen [time-out], you no doubt are wondering [time-out] why I have brought all of you [time-out] together this evening, [time-out]. I am now [time-out] going to reveal [time-out] what killed basketball [time-out]. Too many [time-out] time-outs in the last two minutes."
TWANG WHEN THE TWAIN MEET
Although the quality of Japanese baseball continues to improve—it is now considered superior to the play in the top U.S. minors—what impressed their hosts most about the visiting Chunichi Dragons and Tokyo Giants in Florida spring-training camps this winter was their conditioning. Although it was winter in Japan, too, the Japanese arrived ready to play and none of them complained of aches or pains or appeared to get hurt. Were they hiding their frailties, or were they as healthy as they seemed?
They were and are plain healthy, said Chunichi Manager Wally Yonamine in Tokyo last week, and one reason is Japan's almost obsessive interest in calisthenics. "With the Japanese, exercise is something as essential or ubiquitous as their morning bowl of bean-paste soup," said the Hawaii-born Yonamine, who has spent 24 of his 50 years in Japan. They begin as kindergartners and cannot kick the habit even in old age. Instead of coffee breaks in government or corporate headquarters, daily at 10 and 3 a shockingly rhythmic air will be piped out on the public-address system and everybody from directors to computer key punchers will break away from their desks and plunge into five energetic minutes of calisthenics.
The habits of a lifetime are even more ingrained in ballplayers, said Shigeo Nagashima, the Tokyo Giants' new manager. The American major-leaguers could emulate the Japanese, he said, "but in the final analysis...the cultural shock would be too great to make it realistic for our American colleagues." He was referring to jishu renshu—literally, independent training. In mid-January, after the close of the New Year holidays, Japanese players go to the mountains in small groups and run up and down the slopes, bathe in icy water and sometimes indulge in Zen meditation for hours on end. By the time they show up for spring training they are in tip-top shape.
But the Japanese may be getting soft. Both Yonamine and Nagashima fell in love with the "heavenly" sunshine of Florida. So did Sadaharu Oh, the Giants' renowned slugger, who left Vero Beach in marvelous shape. Back home in Tokyo, though, the weather suddenly was too cold for him and twang!—he pulled a thigh muscle. He was sidelined until last Sunday's season opener.
FIVE MORE YEARS
In Maryland, new license plates are issued every five years. Bill Burton, outdoors editor of the Baltimore Evening Sun and an outspoken critic of persistent, broad-spectrum insecticides, recently received his: DDT 432.
At last month's NCAA indoor track and field championships, many administrators, among them Don Canham, athletic director at the University of Michigan, were hardly overjoyed to see foreign athletes take nine of 15 titles. Canham said, "We're getting a bunch of semipros who have competed three or four years abroad before enrolling in American colleges.... My big beef is the age difference, with seasoned foreigners of 25 or 26 competing against our teen-agers."
How soon we forget. Back in the 1950s and '60s, when Michigan was more of a track power and Canham was the coach, at least one of his best three athletes in 16 different indoor and outdoor events was a foreign student. Among his Big Ten champions and/or school-record holders were sprinter Tom Robinson of the Bahamas, middle distance runner Tony Seth of British Guiana, miler Ergas Leps of Canada (via Estonia), distance runner Don McEwen of Canada, high jumper Brendan O'Reilly of Ireland, long jumper Lester Bird of Antigua, discus thrower Ronal Nilsson of Sweden and pole vaulter Eeles Landstrom of Finland. There were lesser lights from Denmark, Norway and West Germany, and a host of Canadians. Nor were all of them short in the tooth. Landstrom was 28 when he finished competing.