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The Sports Scene: Difference Between MLB, Japan Pro Ball

Robert Whiting's Homepage at

The Sports Scene: Difference Between MLB, Japan Pro Ball

by Leslie Nakashima (Oct 26, 1977)

Digitized by Jessica Suchman and Catherine Nissley.

Managers Billy Martin of the New York Yankees and Tom Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers announced their starting pitchers before hand for the opener and the following games in the recent World Series which the Yankees won four games to two.

But skippers Shigeo Nagashima of the Central League champion Yomiuri Giants and Toshiharu Ueda of the Pacific pennant winning Hankyu Braves have not done so in the Japan Baseball Series which started last Saturday.

In a television interview Saturday morning, underhand throwing right-hander Hisashi Yamada admitted he has been told by Ueda that he would be the starting pitcher. Yet sidearm throwing right hander Shigeru Kobayashi said he was in good condition but had not yet been given the assignment from Nagashima.

Sunday morning before the start if the second game, also at the Braves' franchise grounds at Nishinomia Stadium, near Osaka, a television program had commentators Minoru Murayama, former ace pitcher of the Hanshin Tigers, and Masahiko Mori, former star catcher of the Yomiuri Giants, speculating on Sunday's game. They gave their respective reasons for the Braves' surprising 7-2 victory on Saturday and their predictions of the starting pitchers in the afternoon's game.

This practice of not announcing the starting pitchers in advance is one of the peculiar differences seen in the U.S. Major League and professional baseball in Japan.

It is one of the original strategies that the Japanese managerial mind has devised, according to Robert Whiting, an American resident who has closely followed professional baseball in Japan, in his book, "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat."

Whiting says the strategy of keeping starting pitchers (as well as the rest of the starting lineups) a secret until the game starting time is followed by all managers in organized Japanese baseball. He says:

"American pitchers are announced at least a day before so the fan will know whom he is coming to see. In Japan, the manager reasons that this is giving the other team too much help. In another strategic ploy, a manager will start his worst pitcher, allow him to throw one pitch and then replace him with a regular. This is know a 'fooling the opposition.'"

I have seen this practiced time and time again in the year I have followed Japanese professional baseball. Since the first professional ball team was organized by the late Matsutaro Shoriki, owner of the Yomiuri newspapers in 1934 at the suggestion of the late Frank "Lefty" O'Doul who loved Japan.

Whiting's book was first published by Dodd, Mead & Co., New York this year. It has been followed by a Japanese language edition by the Simul Press, Tokyo. I have just read a paper back English edition printed in Japan of 247 pages, illustrated with most interesting photographs.

It is a fascinating book, well written after hard work in acquiring the necessary data and should be read by all people who are interested in the leading spectator sport in Japan.

I have long felt that Japanese professional baseball players lack the power of the Major Leaguers, especially in hitting and throwing, and that it will be many years before a real world series can be played between the champions of the United States and Japan. But more especially, I have felt that the Japanese clubs will have to abolish existing regimental and shall I say strange feudalistic (Bushido) practices before they can reach the level of the major league teams.

I didn't know about the rigors of a Japanese ball team's training camp until I read Whiting's detailed description. He says; "In the United States, a player is left largely on his own to devise a program that will work for him... Coaches and trainers will help, but the feeling is that every player knows what he must do to stay in shape and keep his position on the team. It's up to him. In Japanese camp, the coaches make the decisions – how many miles a player must run, what exercises he needs to do, how many practice swings a batter should take, and how many pitches a pitcher will throw. Everyone trains together following identical procedures with martial precision. Seldom is anything left to the player's imagination.

I am sorry lack of space prevents me from going into more details about the author's references to the difference between U.S. and Japanese professional baseball. But it can be visualized from a paragraph in his foreword: "At first glance, baseball in Japan appears to be the same as the U.S. version – but it isn't. The Japanese view of life, stressing group identity, cooperation, hard work, respect for age and seniority, and 'face' has permeated nearly every respect of the sport, giving it a distinct character of its own. American players who come to Japan quickly realize they have entered a new world. For some, it is fascinating and exciting; for others, exasperating and occasionally devastating."

Some of the so-called exasperating experiences of American players in Japan are told in the book and are interesting reading. Let me cite one example – a conversation by Matty Alou, former San Francisco Giant player, has with his manager of the Taiheiyo Lions: Alou: Why do you keep putting me on the bench? Mgr: Alou-san, you've just got to start hitting. Alou: How can I do that when I'm on the bench all the time? Mgr: Well, I'm sorry. But you're on the bench because you're not hitting.

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