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Robert Whiting

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Background Books: Japan

by The Wilson Quarterly Winter 1982 (Dec 10, 1982)

Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley.

An eccentric but apt metaphor of the Japanese character (and economy) is provided in Robert Whiting's The Chrysanthemum and the Bat. Baseball met an ambivalent reception in 19th century Japan. One critic called it a "pick-pocket's sport... The players are tensely on the lookout to swindle their opponents, to lay an ambush, to steal a base."

The Japanese have modified the game to suit local taste. Japanese managers play a conservative brand of ball, going with the tired and true. A successful pitcher will be used day after day until his arm gives out. A samurai code for baseball stresses the "team player" who trains hard and shuns materialism.

In 1971, the Yomiuri Giants, Japan's super team, did not win a single game against the Baltimore Orioles in an 11-game series. After a period of national breast-beating, the players returned to the practice fields. Batters lifted weights; pitchers practiced pick-off moves – all the strategies the foreigners had stressed. "The Japanese," notes Whiting, "were back to the task of making Japan a baseball power." Three years later, the Yomiuri Giants outplayed a rapidly declining New York Mets team, six games to three.

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