Jim Albright / the japanese insider
by Jim Albright
When I advocate inducting Sadaharu Oh and other worthy Japanese players into Cooperstown, I am met with several kinds of arguments. Many of those arguments can be met with the approach I will develop below. However, I want to focus here on those arguments which at their core go to the difference of opinion between my vision of what Cooperstown should be and the competing vision of the other side.
Cooperstown doesn't acknowledge that it has inclinations which put it in both camps. But it does. The existence of this dichotomy is readily apparent in the very name of the institution on one hand and its mission statement on the other. The name, "The National Baseball Hall of Fame" embodies the side which generally supports the status quo, especially with respect to international players like the Japanese. When the Hall's mission statement discusses a "global audience", it leans in the opposite direction of recognizing the increasing internationalization of the game.
Only cases like Oh or Ichiro can bring this latent tension between these two views to the fore. Ichiro's active as this is written, so his case need not be addressed at this time, and Oh and his retired compatriots haven't yet amassed a sufficient constituency to force the issue to be addressed. Given Cooperstown's inherent conservatism, we should expect the advocates of the status quo to prevail for some period of time after the Hall begins to address the issue. I think those favoring including foreign players will gain in influence as time passes, aided by the trend to globalization of the game.
I've already addressed many aspects of the argument based upon the fact the institution is named the "National Baseball Hall of Fame" at significant length and will not repeat that discussion here. The aspect that I wish to address is what such a point of view does to meet the Hall's goal of reaching a global audience.
It only stands to reason that the wider the audience the Hall can reach, the better it is for the Hall. Thus, reaching a global audience is a good thing. On the other hand, we don't want to cheapen the Hall by adding a series of selections like the most dubious selections by various incarnations of the Veteran's Committee.
Excluding players who did not play a significant amount of time in the USA does not do nearly as much to draw a global audience to the Hall as inducting suffieiently qualified Japanese or other foreign players would. Such an exclusion has the slight benefit of preventing mistaken inductions, but at the price of excluding superbly qualified candidates. A carefully done selection process for worthy international candidates would also avoid poor selections, but without barring worthy candidates. I concede that designing and conducting such a proper selection process presents difficult issues, but I submit those issues can be surmounted satisfactorily.
I've also encountered at least two lines of argument based on what the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame hasn't done:
1) Since Ruth and Aaron aren't in the Japanese Hall, Japanese stars like Oh shouldn't be allowed into Cooperstown; and
2) Since the Japanese Hall hasn't inducted many foreigners (read Americans), Cooperstown shouldn't induct Japanese players.
There's a slight variation on the second line of argument which claims the Japanese Hall is biased against foreigners, so we shouldn't put much work into removing whatever bias has been shown to the Japanese.
To start with, I fail to see how the Japanese Hall's decisions are relevant to the discussion of who belongs in Cooperstown. Even if such decisions are seen as relevant, one must consider the fact the Japanese Hall is a uniquely Japanese entity. They've inducted far more executives, coaches and managers than we would have done in the West. That's a cultural issue which has no bearing on who belongs in Cooperstown. The Japanese have also made room for players who have excelled in Japanese high school or collegiate plsy. Again, this has nothing to do with Cooperstown.
The Japanese Hall has inducted a Russian (Victor Starffin), two Japanese-Americans (Wally Yonamine and Tadashi Wakabayashi), a non-Japanese American (Lefty O'Doul, who organized numerous tours of American teams to Japan), two Taiwanese (Hiroshi Oshita and Shosei Go), and two guys born in Japan to Korean parents, which meant they were regarded under Japanese law as Koreans (Isao Harimoto and Masaichi Kaneda). Randy Bass, who had five excellent years there including two Triple Crowns only played there in six seasons, but has come within two votes of induction into the Japanese Hall. That's hardly a terrible record given that players are not eligible for induction until they've been retired fifteen years. That rule means recent gaijin standouts like Bobby Rose, Roberto Petagine and Tuffy Rhodes aren't eligible yet. The three eligible gaijin I think you can make decent cases for are LeRon Lee, Boomer Wells, and Warren Cromartie. However, if you take the stance that the Japanese Hall has inducted 70-80 eligible professional players, and those selections should represent the 70-80 best eligible players to play professionally in Japan, Lee, Wells and Cromartie are in all honesty marginal candidates by that standard. Really, Yonamine and Oshita are borderline by that standard as well, though the folks in charge of making the selections of professional players for induction to the Japanese Hall have come rather close to meeting the ideal of selecting the best elegible players, aside from several choices of guys who lost their lives in the service of the Japanese military during WW II. I'd say the Japanese selections other than those WW II types are approximately of the same quality as the players selected to Cooperstown by the BBWAA.
Beyond that, the Ruth and Aaron versus Oh and other Japanese worthies comparison voiced by Rob Neyer is based on a notion I can only describe as childish. Generally, I think Neyer is intelligent, but in my opinion he had a brain cramp when he came up with this one. It has all the hallmarks of an elementary school playground argument: you didn't induct our greats, so we won't induct yours nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nah. I cannot fathom how such an argument is positive for Cooperstown or baseball in general, especially since it can only be disastrous in terms of appealing to a global audience.
The other line of argument using the actions of the Japanese Hall isn't as narrow-minded as Neyer's, but it's more than a stretch to call it a broad-minded approach. Furthermore, it has a weak factual basis supporting it, which clearly undermines it. Even if the premise behind the argument were supported, the approach it embodies doesn't help Cooperstown appeal to anyone, much less a global audience.
I submit the arguments against including Japanese and other international
players in Cooperstown all fail to help the Hall. I think it is indisputable
that reaching out to a global audience is a positive for Cooperstown, provided
they do not dilute the quality of inductees in the process. Selecting qualified
Japanese and international players for induction clearly has the advantage
of making a good faith effort to attract a more global audience. As such,
it should be seen as the preferrable course of action.