American Influence on Japanese Baseball, 1953

From: Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, by Robert K. Fitts (U. Nebraska Press, 2008), pp. 126, 140-141:

[Before 1953], a typical Japanese catcher would receive the ball from the pitcher, take two steps forward, crank his arm back, and throw it back to the mound. In the midst of that routine, [American Nisei Wally] Yonamine would sometimes steal second base, sliding in safely just as the pitcher caught the ball. [Nisei catcher Jyun] Hirota brought American receiving to Japan. He had a strong arm and used to return the ball to the pitcher while still in his crouch. The fans loved it as much as opposing base runners feared it. Soon, Japanese catchers began mimicking Hirota and their mechanics changed. The average number of stolen base attempts in the Central League dropped from nearly 3.0 per game in 1952 and 1953 to 2.6 per game after Hirota’s second season in Japan….

One of the most enduring questions of international baseball is how the quality of the Japanese leagues compares to the U.S. Major and Minor Leagues. Many baseball experts consider the Japanese leagues at the present time to be “4A”—that is, better than Triple A but not equal to the Majors. In 1953 the gap was even broader. The Giants were undoubtedly Japan’s best team, but they were unable to match Pacific Coast League teams, even during spring training. The game results suggest that the club was probably equivalent to class A competition. Some of the Giants, however, could have played at a higher level. Takehiko Bessho particularly impressed PCL managers; San Diego reportedly tried to buy his contract from Yomiuri. Lefty O’Doul also noted that Yonamine could move into the PCL if he was interested in returning to the United States.

Despite their poor record, the trip to Santa Maria was a resounding success. “We certainly learned a lot during our spring training,” proclaimed Harada, “and I can truthfully say that this is an entirely different ball club now. The Major League managers especially, briefed us thoroughly on how to play the national pastime properly. The many so-called inside hints that they offered us went a long way toward improving all of our players.” The managers helped the Giants with all aspects of their game. Kawakami learned to hit with more power by cocking his wrists. Chiba worked on fielding fundamentals and getting his body in front of the ball. “He doesn’t make those one-handed catches he used to make,” Harada commented approvingly. Mizuhara adopted Leo Durocher’s style of leaving the dugout and managing from the third base box. He also learned how to direct base runners and use signs like the American managers.

Perhaps most importantly, the Giants experienced the aggressiveness of American baseball firsthand. Early in the trip, Shigeru Chiba, attempting to turn a double play Japanese-style by standing on second base, was taken out with a hard slide and was spiked. He quickly learned how to move off the bag and avoid a slide while making a double play. The Japanese realized that Yonamine was not particularly rough or dirty, but just played hard-nosed American baseball. Some of the Giants began to adopt a more aggressive style and learned to slide hard with their spikes up.

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2 Comments

Filed under baseball, Japan, U.S.

2 responses to “American Influence on Japanese Baseball, 1953

  1. Pingback: Wally Yonamine and Rob Fitts in Person in Tokyo |

  2. Pingback: Remembering Wally Yonamine, 1925–2011 | Far Outliers

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