When Simac needs a center, Baldi may have to drop out of school. "I can't even say how long they'll let him play," says McKillop. "That's the way the system works." A couple of years ago McKillop had a 7'0" Italian center named Augusto Binelli. But Binelli's team, Granarolo, feared he would wind up in the NBA and wouldn't let him go to college here. Now, that U.S. high school All-America is playing in Bologna.
THE ESSENCE OF COOL
They used to say Cool Papa Bell, the great Negro leagues ballplayer, was so fast he could turn off a light switch and be in bed before the room got dark. The 83-year-old Bell recently discussed the tale with Jack Etkin, a sportswriter for The Kansas City Star and Times.
As Bell tells it, his old roommie, Satchel Paige, once boasted that he could do that. But, says Bell, the fact was that Paige couldn't and he could. "He didn't realize," Bell explains, "that his bed was farther from the light switch than mine. Anyone could do it if his bed was as close to the switch as mine."
YANKEES GO HOME
At a time when Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone of Japan wants his countrymen to buy American, protectionism is rearing its head in Japanese baseball. Some fans and officials want to get rid of the gaijin, as foreigners are called. And most gaijin ballplayers are American. "Gaijin on certain teams have behaved in a way that could easily be called sabotage," says Ryoichi Shibusawa, a Central League official.
Shibusawa says high salaries lavished on the foreign stars demoralize Japanese players. The Hankyu Braves reportedly gave former Minnesota Twins first baseman Greg (Boomer) Wells a three-year, $1.3 million contract after he won the Triple Crown of Japan last year. The highest-paid native slugger, Koji Yamamoto of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, received only a one-year deal reportedly worth $340,000. But the disaffection with Americans is not confined to money. Critics also say that gaijin players lack honor and fighting spirit as defined by the Japanese.
Japan's 12 major league teams are allowed two foreign players each, but the feeling is spreading that the imports may no longer be necessary. The Carp won the '84 Central League title with one of their gaijin out the final week with an injury and the other mainly on the bench. This season they're playing without a gaijin on the roster.
The "Ban the Foreigners" rallying cry is hardly new in Japan. Players from the U.S. were banished before World War II, when even American baseball lingo like "strike" and "ball" was purged. In the postwar Americanization of Japan, baseball boomed, and by the early '60s the Japanese were hiring big leaguers from the States. But retreads like Don Newcombe and Larry Doby disappointed Asian fans with second-rate play. In 1963 the gaijin allowance was reduced from three to two.
Japanese fans' disenchantment with foreigners hit bottom in 1973 with the arrival of the inimitable Joe Pepitone. The Yakult Atoms bought Pepitone's contract from the Atlanta Braves for around $70,000 and paid him as much in salary. However, Pepitone showed up for only 14 games, batted .163 and developed mysterious ailments that kept him off the field but allowed him to go nightclubbing. He bolted for home late that season.