The Home Run King You Don't Kn-Oh
Believe it or not, there is a professional player who has compiled career stats that look like this: .301 BA/ 868 HR/ 2,786 H. The problem is that those stats were compiled in a professional league outside of the United States. Actually, they were earned in the Japanese Professional Baseball League. The player who set these high standards is someone you actually might have seen recently. He was the inaugural manager for Japan in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. His name is Sadaharu Oh, and his story is legendary.
Oh is the son of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father. Born on May 20, 1940, Oh was destined for greatness from a young age known for a tremendous passion and love for the game. Growing up, he would study the game of baseball through high school and was known to have a Ted Williams type mentality where he spent more time practicing his swing than anything else.
In high school legend has it that Oh, an outstanding pitcher at the time, battled through an unusually large amount of pain for his team as they entered the Spring Koshien Tournament . It was said that early before the tournament, Oh suffered two blisters on his pitching hand that would sideline even the toughest of pitchers. Oh, knowing the team was relying on him, the ace of the staff, decided to pitch through the pain.
After the first game, Oh’s catcher noticed the blood stains on the ball. When he confronted his pitcher, Oh confessed to the injury, but made his catcher swear to secrecy, knowing that the only way to heal the problem was rest, which Oh had no time for. Oh continued to pitch and the next game, pitched a complete game victory.
By now the pain from the blisters was unbearable and an infection formed. But again Oh fought through another complete game victory. With one game left, he could not endure the pain any longer, but that night he was confronted by his father who noticed the injury on T.V.
Oh’s father supposedly gave him an herbal remedy that healed the blisters and allowed him to pitch his team all the way to the Championship.
Oh wasted no time beginning his professional career signing with the Yomiuri Giants at age 19. But Oh struggled early in his career; that is until he was taken under the wing of Hiroshi Arakawa. Arakawa was the hitting coach of the Giants at the time, and helped Oh develop one of the oddest swings in baseball history. His flamingo-like swing, as it was described, looked odd to most opposing pitchers, as he raised his leg towards the plate then lunging forward.
Although, his swing was odd the results were grand. Oh belted more than 30 home runs for 19 straight years. But power wasn’t the only thing Oh was known for. Along with a five-year run as batting champ, Oh also was a defensive wizard in the field.
“There’s no question in my mind he wouldn’t have hit 800 home runs if he’d played here, but if he played in a park tailored to his swing, he’d have hit his 35 [homers] a year. . . He’d hit .300, I’ll tell you that” - All-Time Hits Leader: Pete Rose
The nine-time MVP retired in 1980, but continued to work in baseball, his one true passion. After amassing 2,786 hits, .301 lifetime batting average, and 868 career home runs, Oh took on the responsibility of coaching.
His first three years in coaching he was an assistant for the only team he knew, the Yomiuri Giants, but got his chance to call the shots in 1984, his managerial debut, again with the Giants.
In his four-year tenure, he led the Giants to only one pennant. Oh retired until 1995 when he returned to coaching, as manager of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. This time with a little more success, he won three pennants and two Japan Series titles. One of his self proclaimed biggest thrills in his career was leading the Japanese national team to the WBC championship game and beating out Cuba.
The controversy lays in this following question: Would Sadaharu Oh compiled the same stats in the Majors as he did in Japan?
According to many experts, analysts, and Major League players themselves, Oh may not have hit his monumental 868 homers, but he defiantly would have topped the 600 mark, maybe even 700.
Just ask Hall of Famer, Tom Seaver who proclaimed: “He sure hit me. He was a superb hitter. He hit consistently, and he hit with power. If he played in the United States, he would have hit 20-25 home runs a year, and what’s more, he’d hit .300. He’d be a lifetime .300 hitter. He had tremendous discipline at the plate. He knew the strike zone extremely well . . . .He could pull your hard stuff, and you couldn’t fool him off-speed.”
After losing a Home Run Derby to Hank Aaron with an extremely close score of 10-9, Aaron and Oh teamed up to form the World Children’s Baseball Fair to increase awareness of the game to youngsters all over the world. On Feb. 5, 2009, Oh was bestowed with the “Order of Brilliant Star” by Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou. Sadaharu Oh is so well respected that pitchers would not even throw strikes to anyone that challenged his single-season home run record of (55*).
Unfortunately, the National Hall of Fame only allows in players who have contributed to the game in North America. But I ask you America, with the stats Oh’s compiled, with the respect he has earned, and the managerial accomplishments he’s achieved: wouldn’t you put his name on the HOF ballot?
I know that I’d take a good, long, hard look at the facts before I threw the idea in the back burner. With players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez; couldn’t we use a true hero right now? Sadaharu Oh is a man with honor and respect for the game. He belongs being mentioned with the real men who played this game the right way, like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Jackie Robinson. And if it were up to me, he’d have my vote.
* The record was never broken, but matched by Alex Cabrera. Cabrera was awarded the record due to the fact that with 55 HR and five games left in 2002. During Oh's managerial career, Oh’s pitchers disregarded Oh’s demands to pitch to Cabrera, and subsequently denied him the chance to break the record. Oh currently is listed as number 2 on the league's all time list.
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