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You've Gotta Have 'Wa'
Robert Whiting
September 24, 1979
"Wa" is the Japanese ideal of unity, team play and no individual heroes—a concept that ex-U.S. major-leaguers playing in Japan have had a lot of trouble grasping
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September 24, 1979

You've Gotta Have 'wa'

"Wa" is the Japanese ideal of unity, team play and no individual heroes—a concept that ex-U.S. major-leaguers playing in Japan have had a lot of trouble grasping

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10) Do not disturb the harmony of the team.

Willie Davis, then a practicing Buddhist, thought it would be different for him. Davis was perhaps the best all-round American player ever to come to Japan. He was a 17-year veteran of the major leagues and a former captain of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had been an All-Star, he could run like a deer and hit and field with a grace and skill that few American big-leaguers, let alone Japanese, possessed. Even at 37, Davis could have continued to play in the U.S.—in fact, he has been a pinch hitter for the Angels this season—but when the chance to go to Japan came in 1977, he took it. Not for the money ($100,000), he insisted, but "for the good of baseball."

Davis was a product of his times, of America's "quest for meaning." While others were exploring the wonders of Transactional Analysis, est and the like, Davis was a devout member of the Soka Gakkai, the Nichiren Buddhist sect that had America chanting. Because Japan was the birthplace of the Soka Gakkai, Davis assumed he would be right at home. It was a misguided assumption.

The religion's sacred chant, namu Myoho renge-kyo, was an important part of Davis' daily life. He did it faithfully, because it brought him inner peace. When he joined the Dragons, he naturally continued this practice—in the morning, at night, in his room, in the team bath and on the team bus. When not intoning the chant himself, he would play tapes of it on a portable cassette recorder.

Davis reasoned that the chanting would be music to his teammates' ears. Instead, it drove them nuts. They complained: there was no peace and quiet on the team; they couldn't sleep. The incantatory chant that supposedly would bring inner harmony to anyone who regularly intoned it was rapidly eroding the Dragons' collective wa.

What particularly annoyed the Japanese players was Davis' locker-room chanting. Before each game, he would pull out his beads, and off he'd go, "namu Myoho renge-kyo, namu Myoho renge-kyo, namu Myoho renge-kyo."

"He'd pray that he'd do well, that the team would win and that nobody would get hurt," his manager, a Japanese-Hawaiian named Wally Yonamine, says, "but it gave the others the feeling they were at a Buddhist funeral."

When the game began, Davis was a ball of fire—at least during the first half of the season. He was by far the most feared Dragon hitter, and on the base paths he displayed a flair the Japanese had never seen before. Nonetheless the team was in last place. Key players were injured, and the pitching was sub-par. Team wa was out of whack, and many Dragons blamed their American Buddhist for it.

It was more than the chanting, which Davis soon modified to please his teammates. There was, for example, the matter of his personal attire. Davis liked his Dragon training suit so much he had half a dozen made in different colors. He wore them in public, agitating club executives, who felt Davis was tarnishing the team's dignified image.

Davis would sometimes practice in stocking feet and he once appeared for a workout with his comely wife, who was wearing hot pants and who jogged with him on the field. "It's so...so unprofessional," one sportswriter observed. " Davis is destroying our team's spirit in training," grumbled a player. "We can't concentrate on what we're doing."

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