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It was 10 minutes of 4 one day last week in the Japanese city of Nagoya, and out at Chunichi Stadium the baseball game was in the last of the eighth. Tommy Sturdivant was pitching for the New York Yankees; Nagoya's Chunichi Dragons had the bases loaded, two out, and the count three-and-two on the batter. Casey Stengel was already clomping up out of the dugout, and all Nagoya that wasn't at the ball park leaned closer to the radio.
At precisely this moment a young bank robber ran into a downtown Nagoya bank, scooped up 2 million yen and jumped into a waiting taxi. The engine stalled and that was that—but until then the bank robber had been working on eminently sound principle. That is, there's no better time to heist a Japanese bank than when everybody in town has his mind on Casey Stengel and the Yankees.
Japan has seen a lot of American major leaguers, starting with John McGraw and Charlie Comiskey back in 1913, going up through Stengel himself in 1922, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1934, and Mrs. DiMaggio just last year.
But the current six-week Hawaii, Japan, Okinawa, Philippine and Guam tour is the first time the Yankees have ever come out to the Orient as a team; for the Japanese, who take baseball with a combination of holy dedication and bizarre innovation completely their own, this has presented numerous opportunities.
The promoters have been able to figure a way of throwing in the first ball appropriate to the age; dropping it from an airplane swooping low over second base. The Japanese public has been able to paw their heroes happily in delirious mob scenes; a few have even been able to invade the Yankee dugout and get autographs from a team that seems to do nothing between times at bat except wear out fountain pens (literally) signing boxfuls of souvenir baseballs.
Japanese sportswriters have been able to question Casey Stengel on everything from the Yankees' signing of an Hawaii-born Japanese as a Yankee scout ( Stengel insists the club was dead serious in this) to why Japanese batters couldn't seem to get a clean swipe at Jim Konstanty's deceptively slow pitches. (Konstanty is a big right-handed relief pitcher whose effectiveness depends on precise control.)
Casey was holding court in the anteroom of the gigantic Koshien Stadium, just outside Osaka, when the last question came up. Around the big cloth-covered conference table were gathered a score of reporters. In the middle of the table were three wilting chrysanthemums in a flowerpot. Casey sat slumped with his head on his hands. After the question he waited a moment, then leaned forward and in a hoarse, confidential whisper divulged Konstanty's secret:
"He's got radar in his arm."
Casey ran one hand up the other arm, making butterfly motions with his fingers, to indicate just how it all worked. Turning to the interpreter, he added:
"Tell them it's the disappearing ball that he throws." With this Casey lifted the tablecloth and started hiding under it. In a moment Casey's white head popped out again and then Casey himself emerged to explain further: "Course this don't go when they hit him, you tell 'em."