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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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Several players complained that Davis had special privileges. They referred to him as " Davis, the King," and as " Davis, our precious black gaijin."

Yonamine was caught in the middle. "I'd try to tell them not to worry about it," he says. "Forget about how much money a man makes or how little he practices. What he does in the game is all that counts." Few Dragons were willing to accept that piece of American advice.

Davis' biggest liability was his gregariousness. "People didn't understand him," says a team official. "He was loud. He'd get excited. He'd yell a lot and wave his arms. It was all in English and people didn't have the faintest idea what he was saying, but it looked as though he was arguing."

Once he reproached a teammate for not attempting to score on a play that Davis had initiated. "Why didn't you try for home?" Davis shouted. That was the wrong thing to do, because the player was not only the team captain, but also a playing coach. In Japan, a player does not yell at a coach, much less question his judgment.

In August of 1977, when Davis had 25 home runs and a .306 batting average, he broke a wrist in a collision with the outfield fence. It put him out for the year. The Dragons immediately went on a winning streak. During the last two months of the season they had the best record in the league and missed finishing second by a hair.

"It's our pitching," Yonamine insisted. But if you listened to Dragon supporters and students of Japanese baseball, it was all because the team wa had been restored.

"I knew Willie as well as anyone," says Lefebvre, a teammate of Davis' on the Dodgers. "He had his quirks, but then we all do. He was named captain, and you're not chosen captain of a team like the Dodgers if you're a troublemaker. If you can't get along with Willie, you don't belong on a baseball team."

The Dragon front office apparently felt that it was Davis who didn't belong on a baseball team—at least not theirs. They traded him, and at the start of the following season the most exciting player ever to wear a Chunichi Dragon uniform was laboring in the backwaters of Fukuoka, contemplating the infinite and subtle mysteries of wa in between playing for the lowly Crown Lighter Lions.

Of course, not every American who comes to Japan wreaks havoc on his new team. There have been some, notably Felix Millan, Clete Boyer and George Altman, who did their best to please their Japanese hosts. In turn, the Japanese liked them, describing their demeanor as being majime. It means serious, sober, earnest, steady, honest, faithful. They did everything that was asked of them. They kept their mouths shut, their feelings to themselves.

Some, like Boyer, paid a substantial price for the goodwill they engendered. The former Yankee fielding whiz had three reasonably good seasons for the Taiyo Whales, but in his fourth year, when he began to reach the end as a player, he ran smack up against the cultural wall.

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