JAPAN BEATS US IN BASEBALL;
THATS THE GOOD NEWS
By John B Holway
If the Yankees and Mets win the AL and NL pennants and meet in October, what should we call it?
The American Series?
Even that would be wrong. Perhaps half the players on the field will be foreigners.
What went wrong at the World Baseball Championships?
Nothing, really. I believe the Americans were badly beaten because they just were not the best. If Dontrelle Willis had not pitched poorly in two games, it might have been different. But that's an excuse.
The Americans haven't gotten worse; the rest of the world has gotten better. And that means baseball is better. And that's great news for every baseball fan in every country.
We should have foreseen the outcome. For decades foreigners have been moving in and taking jobs away from American players. We just didn't notice it until the rest of the world beat us.
John B Holways book, TED, the Kid, will be published next month by Scorpio Books
Back in 1941, when Ted Williams hit .406, there were only two foreign players in the American League Washington Senators pitcher Alex Carresquel of Venezuela and Philadelphia A's outfielder Roberto Estalella of Cuba. The wholesale influx of Latin (and now Asian) pitchers is probably one reason we don't see .400 hitters any more.
I saw Estalella, who broke in with Washington in 1935. He was either well-tanned, or he beat Jackie Robinson by 12 years.
I'm glad to see the other countries get better. That's great. It means baseball is better. Fans today are seeing much better baseball than their great grandfathers or grandmothers ever did.
Its time to think seriously about a third major league in Asia and Australia, with a real World Series against the American champions (including Latins).
Also, I think its time to put Sadaharu Oh in the Hall of Fame. When I was in Japan in the early 1950s, Japanese baseball was far behind the United States. Now Japan is just as good. I predicted in my book, Japan is Big League in Thrills in 1954, that Japanese would be playing in the big leagues in a generation. It took less time than that. Ohs era was half-way between 1954 and 2006, but he played well against visiting Americans, so we can't say the caliber of play in Japan was not strong. Even if you cut his homers in half, its still more than most guys in the Hall of Fame.
(I may be the only person in the history of the world who saw both Sadaharu Oh and Josh Gibson play. Plus Hank Aaron and Roger Maris.)
If we put Oh in, should we put pitcher Shoichi Kaneda in too? I would. He won 400 games and struck out 4,000 hitters. Who else should go in?
My friend, Yoichi Nagata, says Japan exploded in joy after their victory over Cuba in the finals. He says the nation hasn't celebrated so much since Babe Ruth paid a visit in 1934.
I wish the streets of Havana could also have erupted with the same wonderful sense of pride.
How long will it be before China and Russia begin beating us? Imagine how good baseball will be when your grandchildren are going to games.
But Yoichi is wrong. I remember a 19 year-old named Hironoshin Furuhashi, the Flying Fish of Fujiyama. I was living in Japan in 1949, and one morning the newspapers were shouting the news that he had wiped out the world 1500-meter record. I didn't understand Japanese yet, so I thought the Communists must be attacking. Barred from the Olympics, this kid had gone to America and demolished swimming marks that had lasted for 20 years. I mean, he didn't break them by a tenth of a second, he destroyed them by 20 seconds! A mere teen-ager lifted a whole countrys spirits. It was amazing. I interviewed him at Tokyos Nihon university, though I didn't speak much Japanese, and he didn't speak much English. I sold the story to the old and now defunct Sports Illustrated.
I went to Meiji Pool in Tokyo to see him swim against the Americans. He tied the old pre-war record for the 1500, although he had done much better in America. At the end of the race, everyone stood up, faced me, and bowed. I said, What the heck is this? Then I turned around and saw Emperor Hirohito standing up and waving.
After the race, I went by the main Occupation headquarters just as General MacArthur was leaving. They stopped all traffic until he got in his car and made a big U-turn in front of the imperial palace. So I saw two emperors in one day. Three, if you count Furuhashi.
I brought back some pictures of him to America and showed them to the swimmers at the University of Iowa. We had a couple of guys who went to the 1948 and 52 Olympics. One, Wally Ris, won gold medals in the 100 and the relay. They were very curious and asked a lot of questions about how Furuhashi swam. He had a six-beat kick six kicks for every two strokes. (Everyone else then used four beats.) He also lifted his hands high out of the water like a windmill. Finally they just shrugged, Maybe he doesn't know he isnt supposed to go that fast.
I met Furushi again in Los Angeles in 1984, when he was coaching the Japanese team. My Japanese was better, and we could talk a little.
To my mind, he was one of the great sports heroes of the 20th century, the way he raised a whole nation up out of its post-war depression.
The closest thing to him in American history was Joe Louis, when he put Germanys Max Schmeling down in one minute on the eve of World War II.
The other example I can think of was in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The Mexicans had been very good hosts, watching the rest of the world take away all the gold medals. At last in swimming, they had a favorite, the world record holder in the 1500. I don't know what happened, but he faded and came in last. The poor kid. The Mexicans booed him lustily, and I'll never forget watching him trudge out of the pool with his shoulders sagging, crushed. What a horrible weight to pile on a teen-ager.
The next day an unknown Mexican breaststroker nicknamed El Tebio (Luke Warm) came from behind to overtake the Russian world record holder at the finish. You should have seen the crowd. Sombreros were flying all over the place!
The next day I went to his press conference, and they asked him why he was called Luke Warm. He said it was because his mother came from Rio Frio (Cold River), and his father came from Aquas Calientes (Hot Waters).
Now Japan has its own new set of heroes.
Good for them. I can hardly wait to see them play us in October.