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Robert Whiting

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DiMuro Debacle was Predictable, Author Says

by Jack Gallagher (Jul 10, 1997)

For acclaimed baseball author Robert Whiting, a periodic resident of Japan over the past 34 years, last month's incident triggering the departure of U.S. umpire Mike DiMuro was no surprise.

Whiting, who penned such classics as "The Chrysanthemum and The Bat" and "You Gotta Have Wa," saw the inevitable clash of Japanese and American culture coming.

"It was predictable, I guess," says Whiting, who first came to Japan in 1963 as a U.S. serviceman.

"There were a lot of messages in what happened. The main one is, when the Japanese say they want change, they don't really mean that they want change. That would mean they really have to change something in order to do it."

DiMuro was umpiring home plate in a game between the Chunichi Dragons and the Yokohama Bay Stars on June 5 at Gifu, when Dragons' slugger Yasuaki Taiho disputed a called strike and then, along with several teammates and coaches, proceeded to physically assault DiMuro, after he ejected Taiho for arguing.

When the Japanese Baseball Commissioner's office and the Central League refused to suspend or fine Taiho for his actions, DiMuro consulted the Major League Baseball Umpires Association and was ordered to return home.

Whiting attributes the event to the structure of Japanese baseball, which, he says, mirrors that of the daimyo (feudal system) that existed in Japan until the end of the Edo period (1600-1868).

"They've taken baseball and turned it into a type of modern feudal warfare," says Whiting. "The managers and the owners are at the top of the daimyo and the players and umpires are at the bottom. Their job is to take orders and not make the daimyo angry.

"You can clearly see the difference between Japan and America in this case. In America, the emphasis is on individual rights. In Japan, it's the group that you're in.

"In baseball, it's one big family and the umpires are at the bottom of the totem pole."

Whiting, a graduate of Sophia University, says the pro baseball system in Japan, when compared to that of the United States is, as divergent as the cultures of the two nations.

"Pro baseball exists here for the purpose of public relations," he says. "The owners don't want to invest money for developing the sport. They don't want to invest in umpire schools and training, they just want the teams' names in the sports papers and on the sports news.

"In America, baseball is a business. So there are farm systems, which means there are a lot of openings for umpires and a lot of competition to get to the top. The umpires who finally make it to the majors have worked harder than the players."

Whiting, a native of California, says many people on both sides of the Pacific thought that baseball in the two countries was coming together with the export of big-name Japanese players to the major leagues.

"After Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu went to the States, I think people thought Japanese baseball was becoming more Americanized," he says. "People were starting to think the cultural gap between the U.S. and Japan had closed and wasn't so big after all. This just blew a hole in that theory."

While Whiting feels that it is baseball officials here who are primarily responsible for the DiMuro incident, he adds that the American himself bears some culpability for not preparing himself for his overseas mission.

"DiMuro had some responsibility to bone up on the culture and learn about what he would be facing," he says.

Because it was the first time an American umpire had called games here during the regular season, it further necessitated some action by baseball executives, says Whiting.

"Even the Wright Brothers didn't make their first test flight off a cliff," he notes.

Whiting says that despite all of the growth in Japan during the postwar era, not much has changed from a societal standpoint.

"Japan is still a very vertical society. The people at the top are the ones who have power and control jobs. It is a bullying culture where people in positions of authority can yell and scream and bully their underlings."

Whiting compared the DiMuro affair to last season's infamous case of Roberto Alomar of the Baltimore Orioles spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck during an argument.

"Americans were outraged over the Alomar incident," says Whiting.

But he says the fact that there was no clamoring for action by the Japanese public after the DiMuro incident is indicative of the type of society here.

"It's a fundamental difference between America and Japan. Here you just don't see many people challenge authority."

Despite the furor surrounding the DiMuro incident, Whiting believes the American should have stuck it out.

"I wish he would have stayed," says Whiting, who has just completed a book about a Japanese underworld figure.

"He could have laid down some ultimatums and said, 'I'm going to let this pass, but the next time anybody touches me they will be guaranteed a suspension.'"

Whiting: Author of several acclaimed books on Japanese baseball.

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