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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Random Thoughts On A Wednesday Night

It's 10:30PM, Wednesday night as I write this... and as stupidly as it might sound, I am writing this largely for my American audience. Or am I? I thought so when I started, but everyone will get a deeper look inside Japan.

Here in Toronto, where I reside, it has been stinky hot these past two days.

It was 35C (95F) yesterday - NOT including the humidity, which was 42C (107.6F).

In my car, as I drove home, it was 36C (96.8F) when I got in... and then with the air-conditioner on and stuck in traffic, it went up to 38C (100.4F).

Today, according to the weather stations, it cooled down to 32C (89.6F), so they say... but they must have  lied. It must have been hotter... and with the humidity it was.

Every time I went outside - lunch and to leave work - my shirt turned dark on the back from sweat.

It's raining now... thunder and lightning... and I have all the windows closed - no air-conditioning in the house and no fan here in the computer room... I am melting. Not slowly either.(This blog took 90 minutes to write!)

The temperature for Thursday is 16C (61F), and is the high with a low of 8C, which one would assume is 30.5F (because 8C is half as high as 16C)... but is really 46.4F. I hate the metric system.

I understand completely why the US also thinks it is a stupid system, though it is a measuring system used by pretty much all other countries in the world - including Japan, but not Liberia and Myanmar.

Who knew, USA, that you kept such company?

Speaking of company, did you know that in baseball, a gaijin--Wladimir Balentien--hit his 55th home run of the season for the Yakult Swallows on Wednesday , September 11, 2013?

That home run tied Japan’s single-season home run mark set by the legendary Oh Sadaharu (surname first), who did that back in 1964.

Here's the thing... Balentien still has 22 more games left to break the record.

Oh, of course, is as revered in Japan as the Bambino, George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr., is to North American sports fans. The Babe was a fantastic left-handed pitcher starting every four or five days and getting to hit, as well. But when his power hitting became obvious, he became an every day outfielder, so the Boston Red Sox and later New York Yankees could utilize his home run and RBI (runs batted in) potential.

Ruth finished his career with 714 home runs, and early on it was the so-called Dead Ball era - a time when: a single ball would be over used for over 100 pitches; huge field dimensions - some over 500 feet, including the Red Sox Huntington Avenue Grounds where it was 635 feet (193.5 meters) from home plate to centerfield; no foul strikes were called until 1901 (before the Babe); and pitchers could throw a spitball, that would weigh differently on one side of the ball causing it to move in strange and wonderful ways.

That record was broken by Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron, who ended up with 755 home runs.

That record was broken by Barry Bonds, who finished with 762 home runs, and holds the single season MLB (Major League Baseball) mark of 73 home runs. Allegations of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) or not, it's still pretty impressive.

Oh Sadaharu, a Japanese-Taiwanese player in Japan's baseball league, along with holding the single-season record of 55 home runs, also clubbed 868 career dingers.

Unlike Aaron, who was a Black man breaking the record of a white man and was thus loved and hated at the same time (he received multiple death threats from angry White folk, who were upset that a 'Nigger' would dare try to break 'our' record. ... or 30 years later with Barry Bonds and his PED black mark, Oh was a god to the Japanese.

Forget about the shorter fences that allowed Oh to crank out such a high number of home runs (for example, the Giants played at Korakuen Stadium, where the measurement down the foul lines was only 91.44 meters (298 feet) - I could hit them out! But I can't hit a curve ball), or the US opinion that Japanese pitchers of the day were inferior to the average American pitcher, regardless of the era (The Babe never had to hit against any Black pitchers when he played), Oh still did it better than any other Japanese player.

The fact that he is half Taiwanese is rarely brought up by any one in Japan, except for stupid gaijin like myself, who then got to see his Japanese compatriots cringe in disbelief that I would not only know such things, or would dare remind the Japanese about that.

For despite the fact that the Japanese love Oh, they only celebrate him because they believe the successful part of him to be Japanese.

Regardless of that racist cut at Japan, I am impressed that since the Japanese still revere the Japanese Oh so much, that they would allow a gaijin player to get close enough to tie his single season home run mark... I have to doff my cap at the opposing pitchers.

I had assumed a few home runs ago that Japanese pitchers would have stopped throwing good pitches anywhere near Balentien's bat... that they would have pitched around him and walked him repeatedly.

I like that they haven't done that - that they are playing the game with honor.

But wait... haven't we seen this sort of 'honor' before?

Back in 2001, another gaijin, one Tuffy Rhodes of the U.S., who in 225 MLB games only hit 13 home runs, but after going to Japan to play baseball, he ended up with the career home run record for a foreigner with 474 home runs (tied for 10th over all in Japan)--anyways... in 2001, he also hit 55 home runs, but no more, to tie Oh's record.

And... in 2002, Alex Cabrera of Venezuela also hit 55 home runs in Japan.

And the reason - perhaps - they did not break Oh's record? Oh himself.

Along with American Ricky Bass who hit 54 home runs in 1985, he, Cabrera and Rhodes all had chances to break the record held by Oh... but they were all walked repeatedly by Japanese pitchers.

Now here's the thing. Oh... during the last series of games those three played in to try and tie or break the record, were all against baseball teams managed by Oh Sadaharu (Yomiuri Giants in 1985, and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2001 and 2002).

There are a few reasons that could explain why no gaijin could break the record held by Oh.
  1. Not good enough;
  2. Oh wanted to keep the record and instructed his pitchers to walk the men in those years;
  3. Oh's players wanted to impress their manager and on their own decided to walk those men to deprive them of the chance to hit a home run;
  4. Everybody hates gaijin in Japan... well not really. People in Japan love that they are Japanese in spirit and would prefer it if a Japanese player was the record-holder.
Even in Japanese baseball - perhaps up until recently, there has been a bias against foreign players coming in and taking away jobs from Japanese ball players, which is why there is a limit to the number of foreigners any team can have.

Canada has that in the CFL (Canadian Football League) and in Junior level ice hockey. Actually, in the CFL, the rules are that there has to be a certain amount of Canadian content... come to think of it, Canadian radio and TV stations also have to do that.

Anyhow... back in 1985, Japanese pitchers were threatened with a huge fine by their coaches if they threw a pitch in the strike zone in the last game, to ensure that the single-season home run record would be owned by a Japanese player.

Want more? Okay... in 2001 and with Tuffy Rhodes trying to break the record he had tied, Hawks coach Wakana Yoshiharu (surname first) said: "It would be distasteful to see a foreign player break Oh’s record."

Oh well. Perhaps things have changed since 1985, 2001 and 2002 in Japanese baseball.

Wladimir Balentien still has 22 games left in the season.

But... perhaps Japan has an out... a way to protect the memory of Oh's feat: This year in 2013, Japanese baseball secretly introduced a livelier ball to create more home runs, and didn't inform the baseball player union they were doing so.

You can read the full story I wrote on that HERE.

Will Balentien break the record? Who knows... but he's as hot as I am right now - ohhhhhh, there goes a long drop of sweat slowly down my spine....

I hate the metric system as much as Japanese baseball hated gaijin breaking their revered records. I get it, and I understand it. I just don't like it.

And yes... I was talking about both the Metric System and screwing people around to protect a baseball home run record.

At least do your best to prevent the home runs from going out, and do so with honor.

And lastly - if I have said anything to the contrary earlier, please note that Wladimir Balentien is NOT an American. He was born in Curacao... which is in the Netherlands Antilles... which is why if you look closely at that AP photo I have at the very top of this article... you'll notice he is wearing a Netherlands baseball jersey, from his time spent on the Dutch team at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, where the 6'-2", 220lb bugger hit a total of 0 (zero) home runs in seven games. You'll notice I have given up on the Metric System there.

Andrew Joseph

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