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Baseball Takes Funny Bounces in Japan

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Baseball Takes Funny Bounces in Japan

by Nick Canepa (1989)

"Baseball is more than just a game. It has eternal value. Through it, one learns the beautiful and noble spirit of Japan." – Suishu Tobita (1886-1965)

So Suishu Tobita may sound like raw fish to you. But in Japan, where baseball really matters, Suishu was – and is – known as the "God of Baseball." They actually have baseball gods in Japan, making one wonder into what classification Wade Boggs might fall.

You think they take baseball seriously here in the States, do you? Next to Japan, the game as played and perceived here is a carnival ride. It's a money game here, with the dollar seemingly eroding the sport's fundamentals and erasing the heroes.

In Japan, they do not sing: "Where have you gone Choji Murata, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo, woo, woo." They merely produce another Choji.

There, in the Land of the Rising Sun, baseball is a religion, a total passion. Lives are carved by the game. Heroes are worshipped. And so much of this is captured in "You Gotta Have Wa," a fascinating new book by Robert Whiting, who is to the Japanese game what Roger Angell is to ours.

"Wa," in case you're wondering, is described by Whiting as being from the Japanese, meaning team spirit, unity, the ballclub always comes first.

A tremendous intensity surrounds their baseball. The Japanese, being perfectionists, are fascinated by this most frustrating of games, a sport in which failure is more prominent than success.

"It's sort of like momentum has been building up for 100 years," Whiting was saying in an interview. "It was the first sport introduced in Japan. The concept of sport was not there. Only the martial arts and sumo.

"American and British professors brought it over (in the 1870s) and the Japanese were fascinated by it. They found the battle between the pitcher and the batter similar to a sword

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