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Robert Whiting

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The Japanese have a word to sum it up

by Mike Tully (Jul 1, 1989)

Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley

Pete Rose can probably forget about going to Japan if his situation fails to improve in the United States. In fact, a Japanese manager in his position would probably take a kyuyo.

"I would think the reaction of the Japanese is that Rose should quit for a while," Robert Whiting, author and Japanese expert, told United Press International by telephone from Japan. "They have in Japan what they call kyuyo (pronounced cue-yo). It means 'rest.'"

Whiting has written "You Gotta Have Wa," a book on Japanese baseball. He describes it as a look at the clash of cultures as seen through baseball.

"Americans are individualistic," he said. "The Japanese are group-oriented and strong on the work ethic. They'll start training right after New Year's. Indoor work, lectures, Zen meditation. There's a lot of sacrifice bunting and hit and run. It's a much more team-oriented game. They bunt three times as much."

How do the Japanese, whose baseball roots go back to the 19th century, view the difficulties of the Reds manager?

"When the story first came out about two or three months ago that he was suspected, the Japanese were really, really shocked," Whiting said. "And they couldn't believe it because that's too close to game-fixing."

He explained the word kyuyo.

"It happens sometimes in baseball, if the team is losing, the manager will take a rest for a while," Whiting said. "The batting coach may take over, and if the team does well, maybe he'll come back. The team feels guilty. It's reverse psychology.

"It's also a way of firing somebody without causing him to lose face. Then you just forget about him. It's a less embarrassing way of getting rid of the manager. If a Japanese manager was in Pete Rose's situation, he would take a kyuyo until the matter was resolved.

"The Japanese thinking would be that it's not fair to the fans, too much of a distraction."

Whiting outlined the affection Japanese hold for baseball and for Rose.

"They have several sports dailies here and, if you count regional editions, there are 14 different sports dailies and a circulation of over 10 million and a readership of 20 million, maybe 30," he said. "The Japanese don't drive to work, they take the train. (The papers) are sold at the kiosks.

"The one I'm looking at now is called 'Nikkan Sports.' It's 24 pages, the first seven are about baseball. The one I picked up yesterday had Pete Rose on the front page. A huge front-page story."

Many Japanese fans have known Rose for years, and have even seen him play in their home parks.

"The Japanese have always liked Pete Rose," Whiting said. "He was here in 1978 and he was here with a group of major league All-Stars in 1979. And he's made other visits over the years. He's had several commercial endorsements. They liked his hustling style.

"To them, he suited their style of play. He wasn't this big free-swinging home-run hitter, a guy who swings for the fences on every pitch. That's one thing they didn't like about Americans."

"Rose always said he was going to end his career in Japan, play the last couple of years if he could in Japan. It didn't work out that way."

It probably wouldn't now, either. Whiting said at least two factors would prevent Rose from doing it. One is the precedent established with former Dodgers pitcher Steve Howe, whose major-league career was shattered by substance abuse. The other is a pair of gambling scandals in Japanese baseball.

One concerned pitcher Osamu Higashio, a pitcher for the Seibu Lions. He was found to have gambled at a mahjong parlor. He was suspended for half a year and his salary cut by 40 percent. Whiting also points to Masahiro Doi, batting coach on Seibu's farm team. He was caught playing in a high-stakes mahjong game.

"He was fired and so was the front office official who was overseeing the farm team activities," Whiting said. "He was held responsible. He hadn't created the proper moral atmosphere. That's typical of the Japanese. The top people share in the responsibility."

In addition, a game-fixing scandal took place in 1969, Whiting said, resulting in the ban of six players.

"Ever since then," he said, "they've been really leery of anybody who has anything to do with gambling and baseball."

As for Howe, he won the National League's 1980 Rookie of the Year Award. He suffered a series of suspensions over drug abuse and was finally expelled from the minors.

"Steve Howe came over to Japan a few years ago and he tried out with the Seibu Lions," Whiting said. "He was here in February and March and he did fairly well, but the commissioner said he wasn't welcome. So Howe left. That's sort of a precedent. There was too much opposition."

It seems, even an ocean away, Pete Rose is behind in the count.

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