Michio Arito was
the captain of the Lotte Orions, a 10-year veteran and the team's longtime
batting mainstay. Because of a badly bruised hand he had been able to play only
by taking a lot of painkillers, and before a crucial game that would, as it
turned out, mean the pennant for the Orions, the manager decided to replace him
with a healthier player. When Arito heard he'd been benched, he yelled, threw
his glove and slammed his bat against the bench. Next day, at the Orions'
victory party, Arito was summoned forth to atone for his sins. After bowing
deeply to all, he said, "I am sorry for my childish actions yesterday. I
have upset our team spirit and I deeply apologize."
Jim Lefebvre, a
former Los Angeles Dodger infielder who spent five years in Japan, can still
not quite believe what he saw there. "It's incredible," he says.
"These guys are together almost all the time from January to October. They
live together, eat together, play baseball together. I've never seen one fight,
one argument. In the States, there's always somebody who mouths off and starts
If you ask a
Japanese manager what he considers the most important ingredient of a winning
team, he would most likely answer, wa. If you ask him how to knock a team's wa
awry, he'd probably say, "Hire an American."
major-leaguers have been an active part of Japanese baseball for 18 years. The
somewhat lower level of play in Japan has given these gaijin (outsiders) a
temporary reprieve from the athletic scrap heap. And although the Japanese have
paid the gaijin high salaries, they have not been elated with the overall
experience of having them on their teams.
Money is a
particular sore point. Foreigners make two to three times as much as Japanese
players of similar ability. This, combined with the free Western-style house
and the other perks that the gaijin seem to view as inalienable rights, sets
them too far above their teammates. And more than one American player has
brought in an agent to negotiate his contract. That is considered to be in very
bad taste. A contract discussion is regarded as a "family affair," with
the official team interpreter, despite his obvious bias, acting as a
Avarice is only
part of it, however. Deportment is the rest. Although few Americans hold a
Japanese batting or pitching record, many have established standards in the
area of bad conduct. For example, the amiable former Dodger Norm Larker set the
Japan single-season high for smashed batting helmets, with eight. Joe Stanka, a
6'5", 220-pound behemoth, was ejected from games a record four times in his
seven-year stay in Japan. Ken Aspromonte, who later managed the Cleveland
Indians, was the first man in the history of Japanese baseball to be fined by
his manager for "conduct unbecoming a ballplayer."
off this feat during a sojourn with the Chunichi Dragons of Nagoya back in
1965. Furious after being called out on strikes, Aspromonte stormed back to the
bench, kicked over chairs and launched the inevitable attack on the water
cooler. He was just doing what comes naturally to many American players, but
Dragon Manager Michio Nishizawa did not enjoy the show. He yanked Aspromonte
out of the game and suspended him. An incredulous Aspromonte was fined $200 and
required to visit Nishizawa's home and issue a formal apology to get back in
his manager's good graces.
have followed in Aspromonte's footsteps. Ex-Giant Daryl Spencer was one of the
more memorable. Like most former major-leaguers, Spencer insisted on following
his own training routine, and it was considerably easier than everyone else's.
One night, as he was lackadaisically going through his pregame workout, his
manager on the Hankyu Braves, Yukio Nishimoto, decided something had to be
look sharp, Spencer-san," he said. "You need a rest."
"What do you
mean, I need a rest?" Spencer growled. "Who's leading this team in home