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Robert Whiting

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U.S. Philosophies on Baseball

by Sports Collectors Digest (Sep 1, 1989)

Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley.

In 1977 Time magazine rated Robert Whiting's The Chrysanthemum and the Bat, the first serious study in English on Japanese baseball, as the best baseball book of the year.

Now another Whiting book, You Gotta Have Wa, examines the basic incompatibility between the way Americans and Japanese look upon the same game.

The most important thing to a Japanese team is its "wa," meaning unity, harmony and team spirit.

And, as Whiting shows through scores of anecdotes about Americans who have followed the big bucks to play in Japan, the fastest way to destroy a team's wa is to hire an American.

While individualism and personal achievement drive the Americans, Japanese players are taught to emulate the very opposite values.

A national slogan, "The nail that sticks up shall be hammered down," is consistently applied to baseball, says Whiting.

For the Japanese, claims Whiting, it is more important to have a successful pre-game practice than to win the game. Practice, with its "gattsu" (guts) drills, last eight hours on days before night games.

To Americans the drills are idiotic – draining the player of his energy before the first pitch is ever thrown. For Japanese, the drills are essential for consistent, disciplined team play.

About Bob Horner's reactions to his year in Japan, Whiting writes, "Horner and the other Americans had respect for the Japanese system.

"The Japanese had come a long way with their philosophy of hard work and quality control, but, in the final analysis, they were just too much.

"They didn't know when to stop, be it at the office or on the ball field. Burdened by all its strictures and excesses, there was no joy in the Japanese game.

"Its participants approached their task as if it were an assembly-line job at Toyota. They were at the park ten hours a day.

"It was 'work ball,' as one player had said, and Horner thought that was as good a description as one could make of the Japanese game. Americans played ball. Japanese worked at it."

The inevitable outcome is that few Americans enjoy playing in Japan. As a result, they usually play poorly and soon begin to behave poorly.

The other inevitable result is that most Americans are resented, disliked and badgered by Japanese managers, umpires, the press and fans.

Although a few Americans – Clete Boyer and Leon and Leron Lee, to name three – adapted well to Japan, conflict seemed to be in the nature of things for most others.

By the early 1980s, the Japanese print media had devised a special way to refer to foreign players.

They removed the character "gai," which means "foreign," from "gaijin" (foreign person) and replaced it with a homonym "gai" character – same sound, different character – meaning "harm."

The American players were not only "foreign persons," they were now "harmful persons."

The situation is exacerbated by the salary structure. American players make two to three times as much as Japanese players of comparable ability.

They also receive a free Western-style house and other perks denied the native born.

And most Americans refuse to follow the team rules required of the Japanese Conflict abounds.

You Gotta Have Wa also brings the entire Japanese game into focus – the fan cheering sections that show up shouting two hours before game time.

The lengthy conferences between manager and coaches, each fearful of making the wrong decision:

The role of the interpreter, the "sandwich man" caught between the "gaijin" and the team's "wa;" the history of baseball in Japan from its college team beginnings in 1870 to its professional beginnings in 1935;  and the early visits of American barn-storming teams – with erudition and humor.

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