There are four
teams playing in the Tokyo area, but it is the Giants who have appropriated the
capital name and wear Tokyo—in English—across their chests on the road. They
were so powerful that for years, unlike the other clubs, they disdained
importing American gaijin. A huge Russian pitcher, Victor Starfin, 6'4",
230, born in the northern island of Hokkaido, was an early Giant star, and
Wally Yonamine, a Hawaiian Nisei, was a batting champion in the '50s for the
Giants, but otherwise the team was content to take the pick of the domestic
litter until 1975, when the Giants brought in Davey Johnson to replace
Nagashima. Johnson had a miserable first year at third base, but when shifted
to second in 1976 he became the first gaijin ever elected an All-Star.
Today the Giants
employ two gaijin—Pitcher Wright and Infielder Jack Lind, from the Dodger farm
system—just like all the other clubs, because they are not as strong as they
used to be. The amateur draft system, as in the U.S., gives the weaker clubs a
chance in the market. When young Mister Oh came out of high school in 1959, the
bonus system was still in effect and naturally he picked the class team, which
paid him a $55,000 bonus. In a country where high school baseball is a passion,
the son of a Chinese restaurant owner was already a national figure. In one big
game, he clouted a home run so far the ball struck a distant power line and
caused a blackout. Still, in the hot hibachi league, a lot of the
Punch-and-Judy advocates argued that the kid should stick to pitching.
The Giants paid
the $55,000 for a hitter, however. But he was no Al Kaline of Japan. The
18-year-old Oh went 0 for 35 before he hit his first home run on April 26,
1959, and he did not fully mature until 1962, when he hit 38 home runs. By then
he was completely committed to the flamingo style, which had been taught to him
by a former player named Hirosi Arakawa.
Mr. Arakawa is a
chunky little fellow, as animated as he is powerful. He is full of little party
tricks. Try to lift him even an inch off the ground—can't do it; and so forth.
Also, he has things in perspective. Laughing, he says, "Hey, as long as
Oh-san is No. 1, I can make a lot of money." At present, this felicitous
association helps keep his prosperous baseball school going and assures his job
as a Giants' radio commentator. Arakawa was the Giants' batting coach for nine
seasons, as well as a manager and journeyman outfielder with a number of
" Mister Oh
and I were destined to meet each other," Arakawa intones. And so when fate
took him for a stroll in the park one day 23 years ago, he spied the
14-year-old Chinese boy playing in a pickup game. Arakawa took an interest in
the prospect, his motive at the time being to steer him to his alma mater, the
Waseda Business School. Agreeable and pliant, flattered by the attentions of a
big leaguer, Oh immediately took Mr. Arakawa's advice and switched from batting
right-handed to swinging left.
business came a few years later. Mel Ott, an earlier Occidental Giant, was, of
course, famous for raising his leg as he swung, but Ott was not the inspiration
for Arakawa's instruction. Nor did Arakawa have in mind a particular batting
technique, in the sense that Americans change their stance to "get around
on the ball better" or to "see lefties better" or whatever. No, it
was much more than that.
It will help,
perhaps, to read this excerpt from The Japanese, a new book by Edwin O.
Reischauer, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan and the accepted U.S. authority
on the Japanese. On the subject of skill, he writes: "The individual is
supposed to learn to merge with the skill until his mastery of it has become
effortless. He does not establish intellectual control over it so much as a
spiritual oneness with it. We are reminded of the original Buddhist concept of
losing one's identity by merging with the cosmos through enlightenment. But the
significant point is that acquiring a skill is essentially an act of will—of
self-control and self-discipline.... Mastery of a skill is seen more a matter
of developing one's inner self rather than one's outer muscle."
To the Westerner
this may sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo. "Don't give me all that one-leg
stuff," says Clyde Wright. "If Oh-san kept both feet on the ground like
everybody else, he would hit 70 a year." But Arakawa taught batting from a
mystical, Zen point of view, and Oh bought it that way.
Says Mr. Arakawa:
"Frankly, I'm not so sure that you are not more unbalanced starting to
stride with both feet on the ground. I'm not so sure. But whatever, a pitcher
who sees a batter lift up one foot thinks, 'Aha, you dummy, you have made
yourself even more vulnerable to my tricks.' So only a man with a great
positive attitude like Oh's could have the confidence to hit this way. You see,
it makes him believe in himself, in his ability, all the more."
Mr. Arakawa is an
expert in aiki-do, a martial art that combines judo, karate and Zen, and he
borrowed various principles of aiki-do in teaching Mister Oh how to swing
one-legged. "Aiki-do teaches how, in the most natural way, you can produce
the most strength," he explains. "You see, it is not the style itself
which gives Oh his maximum power—although it may help. It is the fact that the
style permits him to concentrate better." Arakawa has specifically refused
to teach Oh the whole discipline of aiki-do, because, he says craftily,
" Mister Oh can hit better than me, but he would be inferior to me at
aiki-do, and then he would lose confidence in himself."