Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley
One of the hottest books of the summer and fall of 1989, both in the United States and, lately, in Japan, has been Robert Whiting's highly acclaimed "You Gotta Have Wa," a fast-paced, eminently readable and frequently very witty analysis of the wide cultural gap – you might even call it an abyss – between American and Japanese values and work ethics. All described through the metaphor of professional baseball as played in the two leagues in Japan, the Central and the Pacific. Using anecdotes and incidents that have involved the gaijin players in the pro yakyu "game" here, many of which have never been revealed before, Whiting describe graphically the lines which have been drawn between the way Americans play baseball and the "the-team-always-comes-first" methods which are used in Japan. The same rules, constraints, selfless, company-first sacrifices that define the highly successful Japanese international economic miracle also apply between the baselines of the ball park.
Whiting's latest book, "You Gotta Have Wa," has received nothing but favorable reviews, many which could be classified in the "rave" category – from just about every major publication: Time, The New York Times (two reviews), The Chicago Tribune, The International Herald Tribune, The Los Angeles Times; on an extensive promotional tour across the U.S., he appeared on dozens of radio and TV talk shows, including network exposure. Excerpts have appeared in Sports Illustrated and Winds magazines. The book has sold nearly 20,000 copies in the States and is just catching on here. His first book, "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat," published in the mid-'70s, topped the bestseller list in Japan and was successful in the States, too.
Whiting's next project is a biography of Yomiuri Giants' hitting star Warren Cromartie who may or may not return for the 1990 season. Publication date depends on Cro's retirement
"You Gotta Have Wa" has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the selection committee. It is published by Macmillan Company in New York. The well-known Japanese publisher and movie-maker Kurokawa has bought rights for the book in Japan and negotiations are underway for a motion picture version. In other words, it's an international smash.
Tom Chapman, editor of Winds, the inflight magazine for Japan Airlines, and several other airline publications, has been a close friend of Whiting for around 20 years. Chapman wrote the Weekender coverage of Whiting's first book and is following through today with "Wa." The two old friends sat down over an Italian dinner and a bottle of wine (beer for Whiting) not long ago and the lengthy, incisive interview follows.
Chapman: With the success of your new book, the baseball metaphor to describe U.S.-Japan relations seems alive and well. But isn't it getting a little stretched and strained?
Whiting: I don't think you can find a better metaphor, because if you look at the way the two countries play baseball you can see in it the basic conflicts in their relationship in general. You can see American individualism and free-spiritedness. And you can see how the Japanese have Japanized their game, you can see the work ethic, the group ethic, all the things that are important to the culture.
Randy Bass left Japan to care for his seriously ill son. It was something a Japanese player would not have done because of the work ethic here. That resulted in the suicide of the Hanshin Tigers' general manager and Bass being blackballed in Japanese baseball. It was a tragedy brought about by the cultural gap and the fact that their whole basic approach is different. They are a lot more serious about baseball, as well as business, than we are. And it goes back a long way.
When Japan opened up in the 19th century, there were no sports here – only martial arts and sumo, which was originally a religious ritual. They had swimming and horseback riding, but those had originally been taught for use in battle – you had to swim the moat to attach the castle, etc. Since Japan was a feudal country and all forms of physical activity were for military purposes, the idea of sports to release tension and relax, to have fun, did not exist. Westerners tried to introduce that. The early Meiji American professors did when they introduced baseball. But the Japanese adopted the game for other reasons.
Chapman: Like what?
Whiting: Well, first of all, the Japanese liked baseball because they saw the battle between pitcher and batter as a psychological conflict similar to that between two samurai swordsmen. You know, the building up of one's physical and mental energy, culminating in a short explosive burst of action. Also, they like the idea that it was a group sport and you had to learn to sacrifice for your teammates. Baseball was essentially Japan's first group sport and it appealed to the country's renowned group proclivities. As early as a century ago the Ministry of Education said baseball was good for the development of the national character. So to say that baseball is a metaphor for the Japanese national character is very apt, because the roots of the culture are there, you can see them very closely if you study the way they play the game.
Chapman: What roots are you talking about?
Whiting: Baseball's roots are in bushido, and so are the roots of business. What happened when the samurai were gradually phased out was that they went into business. They then applied to their businesses the bushido philosophy of total dedication, blind obedience and so forth, and you still see that today. Other samurai taught the martial arts, and so the martial arts became a sort of business, with the art of bushido becoming sort of sort of a marketing tool. When Japanese began coaching baseball in the 19th century, they naturally grafted on the philosophy of the martial arts – with the same emphasis on dedication, blind obedience, development of spirit and endless training. The motto of Japan's first prep school baseball power was "Shi no Renshuu" – "practice until you die."
And you see that today. Today, the Japanese play baseball all year, they train 365 days a year; it's a full-time job for them. In the U.S. it's not such a life-or-death thing. Also, last year in Japanese baseball there was one holdout. A guy held out until Jan. 20 this year. His teammates had already started voluntary training and by January he was so overcome with guilt and remorse that after awhile he said, screw it, and you know, he signed for what the team wanted to pay him.
In the U.S the game is not nearly as regimented. Training varies according to the individual. In general Americans spend about half as much time on the practice field as Japanese do. And, of course, greed is their primary motivation.
Chapman: In the review of your book that appeared recently in Time, it was noted that you were wise enough not to draw any conclusions about the twain not meeting between the two countries in things other than baseball – trade, for example – but, in fact, it's quite clear from your writing that this is the way you feel. If the two countries can't agree on a thing like baseball, how are they going to agree on a thing like trade? Did you agree with Time?
Whiting: Yes, I think Barry Hillenbrand hit the nail right on the head. I think the review was one of the clearest summaries of my book that anybody's written to date.
Chapman: What is it that you hoped to accomplish with this book?
Whiting: All authors write books for selfish reasons. We all want to go on CNN. Also, a lot of us don't know how to do anything else. But also in a larger, more socially responsible sense, I wrote this book because I wanted to show Americans – in an entertaining, readable way – how hard it is to understand a culture as different as Japan's is. Americans tend to think that everybody should do things their way, they want the world to run on their terms. I wanted to show them that it's a mistaken way to view things.
Americans approach relations with Japan with very high expectations because, in their own way, they are self-centered. Because they expect things to go their way, they're not prepared for conflict. But the culture here and the U.S. culture are so different that conflict is inevitable. They are essentially incompatible. I think that Americans should start expecting that there will be and should be difficulty in their dealings with the Japanese. And thereby lower their expectations of Japan. With lower expectations there will be less disappointment and less trouble. Americans have to understand that it takes work and effort to understand a culture like Japan's. So the book was written for Americans, not Japanese, although I must admit that Kadokawa has paid a small fortune for the Japanese rights.
Chapman: I can't recall a year in Japanese baseball when individual foreigners have so dominated the power stats. Is this an indication that certain kinds of Americans are learning to be better Japanese, or is it simply a matter of brute strength prevailing over the group ethic? Is all that katakana cluttering up the sports page just a fluke, Bob?
Whiting: I'm tempted to say it's a fluke, because the Japanese have actually won most of the batting titles through the '80's. If you take away Randy Bass's two triple-crown years, then what do you have? Lancellotti hit 39 home runs but had a .190 batting average. Then Ponce won last year's title with only 33 homers. You could say the Japanese had a bad stretch.
But in the Pacific League, where gaijin had some success winning home run crowns in the '70s, most of the key titles of this decade have been won by the Japanese. But this year the gaijin are so overwhelming it makes you wonder. I think what we're seeing here this year might be the start of a new trend. There's been an enormous revolution in training and conditioning techniques worldwide, but the U.S. has been in the forefront. People like those at Dr. Robert Kerlan and Frank Jobe's clinics in Los Angeles have been doing studies on athletic conditioning and training since the early '60s and their goal is to ensure that an athlete is at his peak at age 40.
With Nolan Ryan, I think we're seeing the beginning edge of the movement. It seems like everybody in the U.S. now in baseball is on some sort of systematic weight-training program. You rarely see that in Japan. Not on any real scientific level. You see it a bit with Seibu and the Carp, but it's rare overall. Most of the Japanese still have their old superstitious aversions to weight training. Their theory is you lose flexibility if you have muscles. But with the new Nautilus equipment, that's no longer true.
As a result, what's happening now is that the American baseball players are getting bigger and stronger. You've got guys like Canseco who's so strong he has to deny he's taking steroids. Fielder of Hanshin is enormously strong. And so is Diaz. There is a new breed of ballplayer. Did you read that wonderful article by Roger Angell in a recent New Yorker about how ballplayers now are different from the way they were 20-30 years ago? They're poor at fundamentals, they can't do the relay properly, they don't know the right cutoff man, they make errors all over the place – but they're so powerful and so fast that they compensate for their inadequacies in the other departments.
You have guys like Canseco and Darryl Strawberry and Mike Greenwell and Bo Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr....these guys are just unbelievable physical specimens, Matt Williams is another. Sparky Anderson recently said if Lou Gehrig came back to the Yankees, he couldn't win his job from Don Mattingly. So I think you're going to see more and more seasons like this for gaijin in Japan, unless the Japanese get their act together and really get into some serious conditioning and body-building and power building programs themselves.
Chapman: How much does a foreign player have to "understand" Japan and the Japanese to do well here?
Whiting: It depends on your manager. If you have a strict, discipline-conscious manager like Tatsuro Hirooka was, or even Masaaki Mori of Seibu, I think you really have to make an effort to do things the Japanese way. On the other hand, if you have a manager like Motoshi Fujita of the Giants, it's different. He's a real easy-going guy and he lets Cromartie alone. Some managers think that Americans should do things the Japanese way; other managers don't. It's the ones who don't force their players to behave like Japanese who get the best results.
Chapman: If gaijin continue to have the kind of success they're having this year in the power categories, do you think there'll be another move to limit the number of gaijin playing here, or even ban them outright? This is a thing that seems to ebb and flow with the years.
Whiting: Well, it is about time for another onslaught, isn't it? I noticed one announcer said on television the other night that it was really kanashii that there was so much katakana in the power listings of the statistics. But, I think part of what's happening is that the Japanese are losing their interest in baseball. The attendance statistics might tell you otherwise, but these days you see more kids playing different sports than you used to. It used to be all baseball, now soccer and rugby are really big, there's a lot of volleyball, even American football seems to be catching on.
Remember, salaries in professional baseball here are not really that tempting. The average salary for a Japanese pro is about $100,000 a year. Last year the star pitcher Keio University refused to turn pro and instead he entered a trading company. He said he wanted to get married and have a reasonable life with a reasonable income. And he didn't want to put up with all the bull you have to go through to be a baseball player here. Partly because of that, I think that Japanese baseball is getting weaker and weaker and American baseball is getting stronger and stronger.
Chapman: We made the same observation a number of years ago, remember? When I go home and watch a few games, then come back here and see baseball at Jingu or somewhere, it strikes me hat the gap is much bigger than it was when I first started watching Japanese baseball. Maybe it's no longer a gap, but an abyss. I'm talking in terms of the quality of the game, the finesse, the strategy...you just simply never see the plays here that you see regularly in major league baseball, or if you do see one it's so rare as to be almost startling.
Whiting: There was a time in the early '70s when I thought the gap had really closed.
Chapman: You mean with the Nagashima and Oh Giants teams?
Whiting: Yeah, and with Harimoto and Enatsu at their peak. There were some terrific ballplayers. But since then I feel the game has gone downhill. It seems to me that the Japanese will have to revise their whole fundamental approach to the game to improve it, because as it stands now baseball is simply used to advertise a product that the team's owner sells. The Giants draw 3,000,000 and the Fighters about two-and-a-half million at the Dome, but the profits are turned back to the parent company and they're happy as long as the team is on the evening news and they get all that free advertising.
In Japan each team has just 60 players under contract. There's only one farm team per organization. In the U.S. there are maybe 150-200 players on each team, including the minor leagues. And the college teams in the U.S. are really coming on strong these days. They're almost a second minor league system. The Japanese have college teams, but guys who have been in professional ball are not allowed to coach there. That doesn't help the development of the game either.
Chapman: You've written a lot about the dilemmas of Japanese baseball and the reasons as you see them for declining strengths. But do you feel that anything you or other noted foreign observers of the game are saying are having any effect on the thinking of key people in charge of Japanese baseball?
Whiting: Oh said to me in 1979 that Japanese training methods will have to change if the teams are going to be competitive with U.S. teams. And I thought. God, when he becomes manager things really are going to change. I was wrong. Nothing changed, because he was afraid to buck the system. An American trainer, a guy named Gary Iacini who was with the San Francisco Giants, is now the trainer for the Taiyo Whales. This guy is really checked out, state of the art. But he's the first one. And unfortunately, the Whales are miles away in last place.
Chapman: I guess it takes a while.
Whiting: The whole idea of jogging every day for half an hour before a baseball game is contrary to all modern scientific research about training for baseball. Baseball's an explosive sport so you have to train the fast twitch muscle fiber groups – dashes and sprints. If you're running the marathon or rowing, then you work on the slow twitch muscle groups. You go out and run all day and jog all the time.
But to play baseball requires sharp, quick, snappy moves. So you shouldn't be doing all that jogging because you're building slow movements into your body. Unfortunately, the Japanese still do that, before every game the team goes out and they run like they're training for a marathon. And again, it all comes back to the martial arts. The Japanese think of baseball as an endurance sport, which of course it is not.
Chapman: Warren Cromartie in his Newsweek interview, which was widely reported here, was quoted as saying that the Japanese do not have the will to win. Does this have something to do with their physical conditioning, or is it simply a matter of cultural conditioning?
Whiting: It's a cultural difference, because they're told what to do constantly from the time they go to school. Every moment is dictated. A kid joins a baseball team in middle school and from then on the coaches dictate every move. They're taught how to bat, how to field, how to run, how to throw...all by the numbers. When Don Blasingame managed here, he tried to initiate American methods. He'd say, well you figure things out for yourself, and his players wouldn't know what to do. And I think it's a function of the system that the Japanese don't develop any aggressive, take-charge type players. They'd just as soon lay back and wait for the coaches to give them instructions. Not having a killer instinct is a natural by-product of the system.
Chapman: But, if there are obvious weaknesses in the game the way the Japanese play, and if the game, as we've previously examined, exemplifies the culture itself in certain significant ways, then why are the Americans, with their aggressive attitude, able to beat the Japanese at the game, but not in other areas that seem important these days. Say, like economics. Are we dealing with a far-fetched analogy here? Should Americans be baffled by this? Or is there really any relationship at all between baseball and life?
Whiting: I think the Japanese approach might be good for business, but not for baseball. They wear their players out, with their endless training philosophy. Pitchers are forced to throw a hundred pitches every day. Their arms wear out by the time they're 30. Not so in America. There are more than four times as many pitchers in their prime over 30 in the U.S. than there are in Japan. Americans are having a hard time economically partly because they have a lousy lower-level education system. The colleges are OK, but not the rest. There's also an attitude problem. Americans have been devoting all their energies the past 20 years to having a good time.
Chapman: Then we agree, baseball's just another way of having a good time, and we're especially good at things like this. And since baseball is a way of having a good time, and you can make a lot of money doing it, then it seems in all ways an especially good thing for Americans to be good at.
Whiting: You know if some of these great sports physicians like Frank Jobe had devoted their intellectual energies to developing high-definition television or something, Americans would be leading the world in categories they're suffering in right now. Then Japan would have the big trade deficit. Instead we lead the world in sports medicine and in baseball.
Chapman: What do the Japanese think about your writings about their national game? You've been widely translated.
Whiting:Wa will be translated and published in Japanese by Kadokawa, sometime next spring. The first book was a best-seller in Japanese. And it came at a time when I was broke. So after publication the phone started ringing. And I started writing columns. For the next several years I wrote columns and I made quite a lot of money writing about baseball for Japanese publications. So I think there's an audience for what I have to say.
Ten years ago the things I said were considered shocking and eye-opening. It was much the same situation where you'd tell a person who'd been hibernating in a cave for 10 years that a man had landed on the moon. I was the first person to interview foreign players in depth, and the first who ever suggested to the Japanese that the way they played the game was different, and that you could understand their culture through it. They were completely floored by that.
Of course, they would laugh at some of my suggestions – that bunting in the first inning was not necessarily a very successful or practical strategy, let alone satisfactory to the fan, or that going out and that running for an hour in the middle of the summer is not the way to beat the summer heat – and they'd say, well, you don't understand Japan, or that's not the Japanese way. But now there's a younger generation of Japanese who are starting to say, hey, I agree with him. They're traveling overseas, they see the way Americans do things and they're questioning authority more. They're asking, why does a baseball game have to last 3 ½ hours in Japan? Why do baseball players have to be treated like privates in the army?
Chapman: Tell me about the book and the success you've had with it. I understand you've sold the movie rights and it's been submitted to the Pulitzer Prize committee. Can you update us?
Whiting: First of all, I did this book as a labor of love. Because I wanted to get out of this field, but I had to do this book first.
Chapman: But you told me that ten years ago. You told me you were tired of writing about Japanese baseball.
Whiting: Well, for one reason or another, because of money and commitments that I had made, I would end up writing regular columns for a Japanese daily, in addition to numerous magazine articles. In the course of doing that over the years, I'd really learned a lot. I wound up doing a lot of research in Japanese and I didn't want it to go to waste. So I decided to write one more book before hanging up my pen, so to speak.
Then when I started on the book I got really involved. I spent a lot of time reading about the 19th century, reading about the Meiji era, and I got carried away. So I wound up with a book that was 250,000 words long. I had to edit it down to half that size for pacing and readability. Along the way I turned down $100,000 worth of work just to get the book finished. I didn't do that because I expected to make a lot of money on the book. I just wanted to get it out in print. I wanted to get it out of my system.
Then out it came, and all these really good things started happening. Sports Illustrated ran the excerpt in May...Winds ran the excerpt in June, and that was heavily complimented in New York, too. I went back in June for a promotion tour for three weeks. I went on CNN, CBS and all the talk shows in New York, and I sat in a hotel room and did radio interviews. I was interviewed 35 times in two-and-half weeks. The New York Times reviewed it twice. Time did it. The Chicago Tribune reviewed it twice, the LA Times did a front page cover story in their book review. All overwhelmingly favorable.
Then a company called Viacom bought the film rights. The producer, a woman who did "Dirty Dancing," is going to do a movie about an American player in Japan. Paperback rights have been sold to Vintage, a division of Random House. Kadokawa paid a lot of money for the rights here. Should I tell you all the figures?
Chapman: Well, as Pete Rose said, let's not talk about those things. But how many copies are in print?
Whiting: The hardcover edition is in a second-printing of 10,000. Vintage is planning a first run of about 30,000 copies.
Chapman: So would you say this is the last of the Whiting baseball books?
Whiting:I certainly hope so. I'm doing Cromartie's autobiography, but that's a guy's life. Which is something different. It's not all about baseball. It will be published simultaneously in North America and Japan. Kodansha is doing it in conjunction with Farrar Straus and Giroux. I've already interviewed Cromartie about 100 hours. And the book is supposed to come out whenever he retires, which, at the rate he's hitting, will be around 1995.
But I won't ever do another book like Wa, I am doing a book about Tokyo now...my working title is Out of Japan which is an idea this guy I know gave me. I have such great titles for all of my books, and I haven't thought up any of them myself. My friends thought of them all. The new book is about my experiences as a foreign writer in Tokyo, it's about the lives of people that I have known in Japan, and it's a kind of history of Tokyo over the past 20 years. It has nothing to do with sports or baseball. Macmillan wants to publish this.
Chapman: I know you've expressed the desire many times to move away from baseball and from being stereotyped as a sports writer, or a baseball writer, and to be accepted as a "serious" writer. But we know, of course, that some of the finest writing about any subject these days is about baseball, by some of America's finest writers. Like David Halberstam.
Whiting: I saw him when I was in New York. And he pointed out how much the role of the sports writer has changed since television. In the old days you'd go out and report on the game, and you were a sports writer. Now, because sports so dominates society, when you write about sports you're almost always committed to writing about society. The sports publishing boom in the U.S. is something else.
When I published The Chrysanthemum and the Bat, I submitted the working title "Baseball Samurai Style." But my editor told me I couldn't use that title because if the word "baseball" was in the title nobody would buy it, unless they're 13 years old or in love with Johnny Bench. That's now changed completely. When I was in the U.S. in June three of the top ten best-sellers were baseball books. But, as far as me and baseball, I think I've said my piece. It's time to move on.
Chapman: It's often said though that the great American self-indulgence with sports, professional and amateur, is just another form of escapism from the more critical aspects of life. Do you share any of those feelings? Is there an over-emphasis on sports in the U.S.?
Whiting: I think so. It boggles my mind that someone would pay several hundred dollars for a baseball card. I don't understand that. There's something wrong there. I mean, it's getting so that anybody who's ever played the game or coached the game can write an autobiography, and get it published somewhere.
Chapman: They say that Jose Canseco has the fastest autograph in the history of baseball. I watched him sign my ball in the locker room when I was the guest of the Oakland A's last summer, and I can confirm, he's fast. Great pen action. He can sign a ball in a split second, I didn't even see him sign it, it was so quick. But there's a scribble on my ball, which I tell everyone is Jose Canseco's name. Of course, in these days when a famous player can make $10 to $15 dollars for an autograph at signing shows, it pays to write fast.
Whiting: Did he charge you?
Chapman: No, but he did offer up a suitable grimace when Jim Lefebvre, who was then an A's coach, asked him to sign. But back to Japanese baseball. How many games have you seen this year, not counting television?
Whiting: Not counting television?
Chapman: Well, I mean, we have to establish your credentials here, don't we, Bob? And I know what great joy you get from going out to the ballparks here.
Whiting: No, I can't stand it, I hate it.
Chapman: Is it because the games are tedious and predictable, and the strategy is boring, or tell me...
Whiting: They're too long. They're just getting longer and longer. Games now in Japan are about half an hour longer than they were ten years ago. They just dick around...a runner gets on first base, it's automatic he's going to be bunted to second. I did some statistics for the column I was writing for the Shukan Asahi. Did you know that more home runs are hit on the average in a Japanese game than in an American game? The parks are small, so a home run decides the game.
But, even with this, they still have to bunt every time a runner gets on. It's an automatic. They bunt two-and-a-half times as much as Americans do. It's so boring. I can't stand it. And the games...they just go on and on and on. They just don't stop. And the cheering, it drives you crazy. I go to the Dome sometimes, but there's something wrong with it. There's a paucity of negative ions in there, or something like that. You can't breathe in that stadium.
Did you know some players use oxygen on the bench? I mean, you order a beer at the Dome and you're drunk after you drink half the beer. So I can't stand the Dome. I think it's a wonderful piece of architecture, and it's great for cattle shows and things like that, but I don't think much of it for baseball.
Chapman: Obviously you feel the twain is not going to meet in baseball. What about in other areas of relations between Japan and the U.S.?
Whiting: I think we're light years away from the countries really getting together. But there is hope for the younger generation of Japanese, which, in my opinion, likes America a lot more than the previous one did. The young of today respond to America's free-spiritedness. You can see by the way they act when you turn on the TV – the black humor and rebelliousness. That's America's trademark and the young Japanese are picking it up.
Chapman: And their fathers and grandfathers are thinking, this is the end of Japan. There goes the trade surplus. But is all this going to affect the way the game of baseball is played here?
Whiting: Well, if you've watched any of the victory celebrations of the Seibu Lions in the past three years, you can see it's already affecting baseball. I mean, the young guys like Kiyohara and Akiyama, they look like the Sex Pistols in the locker room, spitting beer over each other. When the Giants were winning their nine consecutive titles you couldn't even imagine a sight like that. Or Cromartie doing his banzai in a Giants uniform before a home game. Are you kidding me? This is a sign that the players – and the fans – are loosening up.
And Sadao Kondo, the manager of the Nippon Hams, is one of the most liberal guys there is. He told his players not to practice too much because they'll get tired. He told his pitchers to cool it. He doesn't sacrifice bunt in the first inning. Can you believe it? But then you got a guy like Koji Yamamoto of the Carp, who is 20 years younger than Kondo. He was out there driving his guys 10 hours a day in spring training, he bunts at the first opportunity, he talks about fighting spirit and those things. Probably we're going to see a conflict between those two attitudes, but it seems there's a trend toward the more relaxed attitude.
Chapman: Cromartie's been flirting with the magical batting average of .400 most of the season – nobody's ever done it in Japan – but it seems to be the quietest major achievement in the history of Japanese baseball. What would be your observations on the lack of media attention to this wonderful year he's having?
Whiting: That's a very acute observation, I think. A few years ago Shinozuka of the Giants made a run at .400 for awhile – I mean through May or something – and the media was full every day with charts and graphs on every hit and every out and every pitch. But with Cromartie, they're just tip-toeing around. Cromartie said to me the other day, "I know some people support me – Shigeo Nagashima said on TV, 'Yes, we want Cromartie to hit .400' – but most people don't want me to do it. I can just feel it."
He told me, "Nobody says anything, nothing is verbalized, but I can just feel that they don't want me to do this." It's kind of unspoken, as if he has a fatal disease or something. Either that, or the game as it's played here has a fatal disease, if a foreigner can bat .400. One coach on the Carp said that aside from the pennant, their goal is to stop Cromartie from hitting that mark.
Chapman: But is this strictly because he's a foreigner?
Whiting: Yeah. A lot of people would consider it a big loss of face for Japan if a foreigner were the first to hit .400.
Chapman: What does this say about the Japanese character?
Whiting: Well, its exclusiveness.
Chapman: Not something stronger than that? Doesn't it seem incredibly mean-spirited? Doesn't it go against the grain of the triumph of the human spirit, the very spirit of the game itself, whether it's a foreigner or not?
Whiting: Well, there are all different levels of discrimination, and it's best not to say that one side is more discriminatory than the other. I mean, let's leave racism out of this, since both sides are probably racist, to some degree.
But here's one valid comparison we can make. There's a great new book out, called Necessities, the story of racism in American sports. Did you know there's a Labor Department rule – a law, passed in the early 1970s – that limits the number of foreigners who can play baseball in the U.S.? Did you know that? Well, visas are only issued to a limited number of foreigners, to control the Latin influx into the game. This one official from the Labor Department was actually quoted as saying that he thought there would be a "big revolution of the American fan" if the game were dominated by Latins.
But even with those controls, the limit last year was 530 visas issued to Latin American ballplayers. 530! So if you figure those guys are the cream of the crop, the ones ready to make a run for it in American baseball, and then you figure at least half of them fail because they can't handle the culture or the food or the language, that still means that there are enough for the starting lineup of every team in major league baseball to be all Latin.
But that will never happen in Japan. Ever. Not with the limit of two gaijin per varsity team. And when there's an All-Star game in the U.S., it doesn't matter whether the guys are from Mars, they get to play if they're good enough. But not in Japan. The question has been addressed in the Japanese media every year by me...but nothing really changes. They keep making minor changes in the rules.
Now the rule says that anyone who's voted onto the team can play, but only two foreigners can be on the field at one time. The new rule also states that three gaijin reserves can be chosen. There were six gaijin in the Central League this year should have been on the all-star team, according to their stats and performance. But, the CL all-star manager chose two. Same old story. It's discriminatory, it's racist.
Chapman: Some astute observers of the way the game is played here feel the whole idea of a "real World Series" should be curtailed until such things are changed in Japanese baseball. The feeling seems to be that a baseball system that denies achievement like this one does on the basis of an exclusive system really defeats the ultimate purpose of the game itself.
Whiting: There is a clause in the contract of the Japanese baseball player about how he is a model for little kids and is expected to conduct himself as a model of exemplary behavior for youth of the nation. That same rule should apply for the powers that be in Japanese baseball, too. I mean, what does it tell you when you have six players who are worthy of being on the all-star team and can't play just because they're foreigners. What lesson does that teach a kid?
What about the Bass thing when he made his assault on the Oh home run record? What lesson did that teach the youth of Japan? That it's OK to cheat because a gaijin was involved? Or because the home team is involved? It's terrible. And it's unforgivable.
Chapman: And it's easy to shrug off after one has been here awhile; it's also easy to say, well this is the way things are done, this is Japan.
Whiting: Yes, and you get tired of all the silent, uncomfortable responses when you criticize aspects of behavior here. After awhile you get tired of bringing the subject up.
Chapman: Bob, is there life after Wa?
Whiting: I'm going to Cambodia in November. Then I'm doing a story for Penthouse. Then I'm going to Pakistan for two-three months where my wife is working for the U.N. I've already started on my new book. I'm getting in the groove now.
Chapman: Cambodia? Pakistan? You really are serious about giving up the game.