May 4, 2008


Sadaharu Oh Still Feels and Thinks the Game (BRAD LEFTON, 5/04/08, NY Times)

[Sadaharu] Oh took over the Hawks in 1995, the year Hideo Nomo joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nomo was the first Japanese native to go to the major leagues from the Pacific League.

Since then, Oh has watched 36 Japanese players appear in regular-season games in the majors, including five who made the jump this year. Two linchpins of Oh’s 1999 and 2003 Japan Series champions are playing in the United States. Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, who left for the Chicago White Sox after the 2004 season, is with San Diego, and catcher Kenji Johjima signed with Seattle after the 2005 season.

“It’s been a great plus for baseball in Japan,” Oh said in an interview conducted in Japanese. “Thanks to Nomo, kids in high school and junior high now have dreams of playing in M.L.B. Going to America and directly competing over there is a much better way to improve the level of play here than the good-will-type all-star exhibition series they used to hold when I was a player. Japan’s still inferior to America in baseball, but as more players aim to play over there, the gap will continue to close.”

Oh sees a much more competitive Japanese league now than when he played, but power numbers here do not transfer to the American game, to the dismay of fans and reporters here.

Nine players with at least one season of 25 or more home runs in Japan — including seven that hit 30 at least once — have gone to the majors. But only one, the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui, has hit more than 18 homers in a major league season.

Matsui, who has done so in three of his five seasons with the Yankees, had seven straight seasons of 34 or more home runs in Japan, including 50 in 2002. The most he has hit with the Yankees is 31 in 2004.

“It’s not that we haven’t shown our power yet, we simply don’t have it yet,” Oh said. “When I watch the home run derby at the M.L.B. All-Star Game, I can’t believe the way they launch the ball out of the park like a tee shot in golf. Japanese don’t have the power to do that. Diet has a lot to do with it, but that’s changing.”

Although Oh hit more home runs than Barry Bonds, the major league career leader with 762, Oh said he did not do so with power.

“I had strong legs that would have made me a good sumo wrestler and I used that to my advantage, but my home runs were achieved by technique,” Oh said. “I competed well with the Americans in those good-will-type exhibition games they used to bring here with M.L.B. all-stars, and I always thought if I had a chance to go to America, I could probably hit close to 30 home runs in a season. But again, it would have been with technique.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 4, 2008 7:17 AM
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