Sadaharu Oh by Robert Whiting
Posted by simon c on 2008 October 30日 Thursday
A great look back on homerun king and baseball martial artist Sadaharu Oh’s 50 year pro baseball career by renowned English language writer of Japanese baseball, Robert Whiting. This is part 1.
Joining the Yomiuri Giants in 1959, he was adjudged to have lost the pop on his fastball and converted to first base to take advantage of his natural power at bat. However, Oh experienced a lengthy period of adjustment because of a serious hitch in his swing. He went hitless in his first 26 at-bats as a professional and put up mediocre statistics during his first three years.
In 1961, for example, he could hit but 13 home runs with a .253 batting average. Said Hiroshi Gondo of the Chunichi Dragons, a 30-game winner that year, “Frankly, it was easy to get him out. He could not hit a fastball. You could just blow it by him.”
To overcome Oh’s defect, the Giants hired a batting coach named Hiroshi Arakawa, who was also a martial arts sensei. From January 1962, the portly, moon-faced Arakawa began working with Oh every morning at his aikido dojo and devised a most unusual remedy.
“Oh’s problem,” said Arakawa, “was a tendency to stride too soon and open up his body. I devised a one-legged stance to focus his center of gravity on a smaller area. I got the idea from watching batters like Kaoru Betto of the Hanshin Tigers, who also lifted his foot somewhat before swinging. But I made Oh lift his leg higher, to waist level, and stand there like a flamingo as he waited for the ball.
“At first, Oh found it very difficult to do. We practiced and practiced and he slowly got better, but he was afraid to use it in a game for a long time.”
But then came the time he had to try — a rain-soaked game versus the Taiyo Whales at Kawasaki Stadium on July 1, 1962. The Giants had been in a slump. The team had lost six games in a row and fallen back in the standings. Many were blaming it on Oh, who was hitting .250 with nine home runs and had killed many rallies by striking out.
The name “Oh” meant “king” in Japanese and the sports dailies had begun to derogate Oh by labeling him the “Sanshin Oh” or “Strikeout King.”
Giants manager Tetsuji Kawakami despaired Oh would ever step up to the next level. In desperation, he decided the moment had come to try his new stance in a game. He stepped into the batter’s box against Whales wiry right-hander Makoto Inagawa for his first at-bat, raised his right knee as high as he could, and stood there, waiting.
Out on the mound Inagawa thought to himself, “What the hell? He’ll never hit me with that stance.”
Inagawa wound up and fired a fastball, which Oh promptly lined into right field. Arakawa watched from the sidelines like a proud father. In his second at-bat, Oh slammed an Inagawa fastball into the right-field stands.
Arakawa leaped to his feet cheering. Oh finished the night with three hits and a beaming Arakawa told him afterward, “That’s it. You’ve got it. You’ll never go back now.”
Indeed, from then on, Oh was off and running. Using his bizarre new stance, Oh hit 10 homers in July, and 20 more after that, finishing with 38 to win the Central League home run crown.