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    Sadaharu Oh by Robert Whiting

    Posted by japanstats 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. 

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, culture, information, NPB, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Oh and Nomura on Hoshino Japan

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 August 25日 Monday

    The day after Team Japan failed miserably out of Beijing Olympic baseball competition by losing to the US in the bronze medal game, NPB resumed action after a short 2 day Olympic finals break. But its been rainy lately in Japan, and many games were cancelled, including the first meetup with the Japanesebaseball.com guys we had planned for the Tigers-Swallows game at Jingu Stadium, and the Hawks-Eagles matchup up in Sendai.

    Once the game was officially cancelled at Sendai, Sadaharu Oh went to pay a visit to Katsuya Nomura, both legendary players and managers in NPB history. With the press present, naturally, the talk quickly turned to why manager Senichi Hoshino‘s team failed to even medal, let alone gold.

    Here’s a snippet of their conversation as reported by Sports Hochi.

    Nomura: Olympics was a failure, wasn’t it?

    Oh: Yes, it was disappointing. It’s difficult. One loss means it’s all over.

    Nomura: It’s difficult to select players. The heart of the order, 3-4-5 hitters need to be solid.

    Oh: It’s always difficult for batters when they face new pitchers for the first time. But ours (Tsuyoshi Wada and Toshiya Sugiuchi) got hit pretty hard. (Comment: Wada and Sugiuchi both pitched 2 games each, Wada 4.82 ERA in 9 1/3 IP and Sugiuchi 0.84 ERA in 10 2/3 IP, so it was only Wada who got hit moderately hard. Olympic stats here.)

    Earlier before Oh’s visit Nomura had already criticized Hoshino Japan, that the team was “unable to make use of all its data. Totally wasted a good thing there. I thought things got off to a bad start when they chose a group of friends to manage the team (Hoshino is friends with coaches Tabuchi and Yamamoto). Managers who used to be pitchers don’t know what position players go through either.” (Comment: Hoshino pitched for the Dragons, peaking in the 70’s.) Oh also commented on the overall team strengths of Korea, Cuba, and USA.

    Oh: They didn’t swing at any balls. Great plate discipline. Once again, we saw how important great batting eyes are. (Comment: says the man who has NPB leading 2390 career walks and an astounding .446 career OBP. At Beijing Japan only walked 24 times, other teams were Canada 15, Cuba 37, Korea 30, Taiwan 30, and USA 34.)

    Nomura: The batters swing without taking big steps.

    Oh: They wait for the ball, and still get distance on the balls they hit.

    Nomura: Different muscles.

    Oh: It’s difficult for starters to pitch relief. Though, I understand that it’s also difficult to select middle relievers on Team Japan… and on top of that the roster size is only 24 players. (Comment: MLB is 25, while NPB uses a 28 man roster with lots of leeway.)

    Nomura: Kids these days are weak. They have the gall take 10 days off by fouling pitches off themselves. I didn’t want to lose my job, so I even played with broken bones.

    Oh: Well, we are 1st and 2nd in all time games played so we were tough, but there are players who give in easily to pain.

    Nomura: You are a man of integrity. I lack integrity. That there shows up in our difference of 200 homeruns. (Comment: 868 v 657 career homruns for the two living legends.)

    The two talked for 40 minutes, but these were the quotes that made it onto Sports Hochi. World’s homerun king Oh, of course, has also led the champion Team Japan in WBC 2006. And Nomura, the greatest hitting catcher in NPB history, managed Cuban manager at Beijing, Antonio Pacheco, when he played at Shidax in the Japanese industrial leagues. Oh has been to the Japan Series 4 times as manager and won twice, Nomura 5 times and won three times. (Comment: Hoshino has been to the Japan Series 3 times as manager but has never won it.)

    Note: This is not a word for word translation, but I’ll reprint the original article here before it disappears from the archives.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, 03_Translations (英訳ポートフォリオ), baseball, information, olympics, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

    Oh Day

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 May 6日 Tuesday

    The living legend and current Fukuoka Softbank Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh gets featured in two prominent American publications.

    SI is doing the best baseball players per number, and they chose Oh over the Wizard of Oz for No.1.

    Oh, baby, was he good. In 22 seasons as the Yomiuri Giants’ first baseman, Oh hit 868 home runs, 106 more than Barry Bonds. He led the Japan League in home runs 15 times.

    Runner-up: Ozzie Smith

    And the New York Times also has an interview piece with Oh where he instinctively calculates/makes sabermetrically correct translation of his power numbers had he played in the majors, interesting.

    “It’s not that we haven’t shown our power yet, we simply don’t have it yet,” Oh said. “When I watch the home run derby at the M.L.B. All-Star Game, I can’t believe the way they launch the ball out of the park like a tee shot in golf. Japanese don’t have the power to do that. Diet has a lot to do with it, but that’s changing.”

    Although Oh hit more home runs than Barry Bonds, the major league career leader with 762, Oh said he did not do so with power.

    “I had strong legs that would have made me a good sumo wrestler and I used that to my advantage, but my home runs were achieved by technique,” Oh said. “I competed well with the Americans in those good-will-type exhibition games they used to bring here with M.L.B. all-stars, and I always thought if I had a chance to go to America, I could probably hit close to 30 home runs in a season. But again, it would have been with technique.”

    As a player, Oh could compute his batting average as he sprinted toward first base. He still uses his skill with an imaginary abacus on the bench.

    “It keeps the mind sharp,” he said.

     

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, NPB, opinion, Sabermetrics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »