officials have understandably grown weary of the perennial conflicts wrought by
their foreign imports and in recent years have tried to be more selective in
signing Americans. Character investigations have become a standard part of the
recruiting process, and more and more managers are going for those quiet,
even-tempered types who keep their feelings to themselves and fit into the
Japanese system. The 1979 crop of 24 gaijin (there is a limit of two per team)
is the most agreeable, mildest-mannered group of foreign players ever to play
in Japan. It includes Wayne Garrett, Felix Millan, Lee Stanton and Carlos May,
as well as a number of unknowns who never quite made it in the majors. There is
even an American manager. Don Blasingame. Collectively they are so subdued that
one American player's wife says, "This is the best-behaved bunch of
ballplayers I've ever been around, either here or in the States. I just can't
Garrett, a former
Met, is so obliging that he agreed to get up at 7:30 and join his teammates in
their daily "morning walk." Stanton, late of the Angels and Mariners,
amicably allowed the Hanshin Tiger batting coach to change his batting style.
May, an ex-White Sox and Yankee, is so low key that some fans can't believe
Millan, a former
Brave and Met, has been the quintessence of propriety. When he arrived last
spring for his second year as a Taiyo Whale, he politely refused an offer to
let him train as he wished and instead endured all the rigors of a Japanese
preseason camp with his teammates. When he was benched on opening day, he sat
quietly in the dugout, a shy smile on his face, intently watching the action.
When he got his chance to play a week later, he went 4 for 4, won his spot
back, and of late has been leading the league with a .354 average.
Davey Hilton, a
former Padre, is setting new highs in cross-cultural "understanding."
Last year's Central League All-Star second baseman and a hero of the Japan
Series, he undertook an off-season weight-training program and arrived in camp
this season a proud 20 pounds heavier. He was immediately accused by his
suspicious manager of loafing during the winter, reprimanded for being
"overweight" and told to reduce. A few days later he developed a sore
arm and asked permission to ease up in fielding practice. He was coldly
informed that no one got special treatment and was cautioned not to let his
American head get too big for his Japanese cap. To top things off, after
getting only two hits in his first three games of the season, he was benched
and was ordered to take extra batting practice and to alter his batting stance.
Through it all Hilton remained calm. "This is Japan," he told himself.
"They do things differently here." Predictably, his average began to
climb. By mid-season he was over .300, out of the doghouse and on his way to
becoming an All-Star again.
are somewhat baffled by this outbreak of civility. One reporter speculated,
"It must be the sagging dollar, the recession in the U.S. Americans have it
good here, and they're afraid of losing what they have." American players,
who pay both Japanese and U.S. income taxes and who wince at such Japanese
prices as $50 for a steak dinner, attribute their good manners to other
factors: adaptability and a new awareness of cultural differences.
reason, the new tranquillity is certainly producing results. Americans are
having their best year. Twelve of them are batting better than .300, and the
affable Chuck Manuel, an ex-Minnesota sub, is leading the Pacific League in
home runs, despite having been sidelined for 58 days with a broken jaw.
Of course, a
Reggie Jackson might look down his nose at the accomplishments of Manuel and
his confreres—given the smaller parks and the slightly inferior level of play
in Japan. But with his stormy background, it is doubtful that Jackson-san, in
spite of his considerable abilities, will ever be invited to come over and
prove he can do better.