Don't you see? Even the greatest in the game have bad times. Give me a break,
But Kaneda kept up
the pressure. And the unhappy Lefebvre endured it until his fifth season. After
being summarily removed from the lineup in the middle of an important game,
Lefebvre finally lost control. Walking back to the bench, he threw his glove at
the dugout wall, producing a rather loud whack.
nearby, assumed that Lefebvre had thrown the glove at him. He sprang to his
feet and raised his fists. "You want to fight me?" he yelled. Lefebvre,
who saw his playing career rapidly coming to an end anyway, stepped forward to
meet the challenge. Coaches intervened, but after the game Kaneda levied a
$10,000 fine against his American "troublemaker" and suspended him.
"It was a big
game, and I wanted to stay in it," says Lefebvre, "but what made me
even madder was the way Kaneda took me out. He waited until I'd finished my
infield warmups, then he came and waved me out. That's embarrassing. But I
certainly wasn't trying to throw the glove at him. It missed him by five
interested in Lefebvre's version of the incident. If he had misunderstood his
gaijin's intentions, perhaps others on the team had as well. What would they
think if it appeared that the "God of Pitching" tolerated that sort of
Refused a private
audience with Kaneda, Lefebvre took his case to the public. He called a press
conference. Yes, he had lost his temper. That he regretted. But, no, he was not
guilty as charged. A standard fine of 50,000 yen (about $250) he could
understand. But there was no way he would pay the outrageous sum of $10,000.
There was no way he could pay it. Kaneda was just getting back at him for his
failure to win the Triple Crown. Or Kaneda was making him the scapegoat for
everything else that was wrong on the team. Or, perhaps, Kaneda was simply
taking this opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a "gaijin tamer."
Whatever the reason, Lefebvre wasn't going to take it all lying down.
When Kaneda heard
that he was being openly opposed, he called his own press conference and vowed
that Lefebvre would "never, ever again wear the uniform of the Lotte
Lefebvre was in
limbo for weeks, while the coaching staff and management covertly worked to
find a solution. At one stage they suggested secretly dropping the fine but
making an announcement that Lefebvre had paid it. As long as Kaneda, and his
public, didn't know the truth, they concluded, Kaneda's ego and image would
suffer no damage. Lefebvre refused. He had his own ego and his own image to
worry about. He appealed to a highly placed baseball official in the U.S., whom
he refuses to identify. The official made a call to Kaneda and the next day the
fine was quietly dropped. Lefebvre was allowed to put his uniform back on.
In the 18 years
since Don Newcombe and Larry Doby became the first ex-major-leaguers to play in
Japan, not a season has passed without a controversial incident involving a
gaijin player. Last year's "villain," for example, was a former San
Diego reserve infielder named John Sipin, who twice during the season took
exception to deliveries apparently aimed at his person and engaged the
Offending pitcher in hand-to-hand combat. After the second melee Sipin was hit
with a three-day suspension, fined 100,000 yen ($500) and castigated by the
press for his "barbaric" behavior. One sports-page editorial likened
his conduct to that of a yakuza (Japanese gangster), while another called Sipin
a throwback to the days of the U.S. military occupation when, to hear some
Japanese tell it, American GIs regularly roamed the streets beating up on the
doesn't want to get hit by the ball," said one commentator, "he should
jump out of the way. There is no place for fighting on the field." In the
face of such reasoning, Sipin had no recourse but to acknowledge his sins and
promise to mend his ways.