Many Americans state that the Japanese practice too much. “I believe that the Japanese put more emphasis on practice than actually playing the game,” said Gene Martin, who later played for Yonamine. Leron Lee, who played for the Orions during the 1980s, adds, “To show their fighting spirit, the Japanese would focus on how hard they could practice and how long they could practice…. So when they would get into the ball game, they couldn’t really perform up to their abilities.”
Yonamine agrees that many Japanese managers at that time conducted drills that accomplished little. He especially disliked the thousand ground ball drill, pointing out that as players tired they abandoned their fundamentals. At best, it led the players off track. At worst, it led to bad habits that affected their play.
Wally, however, argues that Japanese players then, and now, need to practice more than Major Leaguers. In the United States, most players learn baseball basics in high school, college, or at the latest in the instructional league—the first rung of the Minor League ladder. They then fine-tune their skills as they ascend through the extensive Minor League system. During this time, the young players practice hard so that when they become Major Leaguers, proper technique is automatic. Most Japanese, on the other hand, have not been taught proper fundamentals in high school and college. They enter the professional league as raw players with much to learn. There is no equivalent of the American instructional league in Japan, and each club has only one minor league squad. Young Japanese players therefore rarely get enough drill before they are promoted to the main team. As a result, Japanese managers need to constantly instruct their players and improve their skills even after they become starters on the parent club.
I bought an extra copy of this book for my father, who’s the same age as Wally Yonamine, arrived in Japan about the same time, and became a big fan of Wally. During a decade in Hiroshima, he also became a fan of the hapless Hiroshima Carp, whose former pitcher Hiroki Kuroda just pitched a crucial win for the Dodgers in the current NLCS. Kuroda seems to have brought Japanese-style baseball with him to the U.S., according to a nice LA Times profile of him this past summer.