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Robert Whiting

Robert Whiting's Homepage at JapaneseBaseball.com

THE WORLD OF BASEBALL: from Toledo to Tokyo

by John Wilheim (Nov 1, 1977)

Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley.

An American baseball fan who suddenly finds himself in Tokyo had decides to attend a Japanese Major league game might think, after watching a few innings, that he had stepped through Alice's looking glass.

With a count of 2-0 or 3-1, the Japanese pitcher is likely to throw a breaking ball, not the expected fastball.

After striking out, a batter ordinarily will smile and trot back to the dugout.

And it's not unheard of for a manager to remove his cleanup hitter from the lineup for defensive purposes, although his team is trailing late in the game.

Japanese baseball truly is a world unto itself. Robert Whiting's "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" provides a riveting close-up view of the Oriental version of the sport that leaves the reader despairing that American newspapers pay such scant attention to the Japanese game.

A Japanese fan would be appalled by American baseball coverage in many other ways. The game's popularity is such overseas that Japan has five daily newspapers which devote their entire content to sports, with 95 per cent of the space going to baseball during the season.

To American eyes, the Japanese game is a throwback to the days of the dead ball. Teams scratch for a single run. With the notable exception of Sadaharu Oh, home runs hitters are relatively rare. Hurlers who enjoy success on the mound find themselves pitching repeatedly; as recently as 1961, one of Japan's two leagues boasted a 42-game winner.

But the Japanese love their style of baseball. The Yomiuri Giants, perennially the favorite to win the Japan Series, average 40,000 fans per game. As many as 400,00 have been known to turn out during the 10 days of the national high school tournament.

Whiting not only chronicles the Japanese passion for "besuboru" but explores the ways in which the Japanese character is reflected in the game.

Flashiness is sacrificed for team unity. Aggressive base running and individualistic batting styles are frowned upon.

Training is more akin to American pro football practice than to the workouts major leaguers undergo in Florida and Arizona.

The team is more a family than an organization. Players seldom will consider managing a team other than the one they played for.

Most intriguing, from an American standpoint, is how managers are fired: essentially they aren't. They will take a leave of absence, from which some return to take over the team and some do not.

"The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" is a truly irresistible contribution to baseball lore that will open fresh vistas for the American reader.

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