It is often said that the second part of trilogies is the hardest to write as an author and the least enjoyable for the viewer. Although not formally part of a trilogy, You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting is the second of three major books he wrote on the subject of Japanese baseball. The gap between books is significant enough that there is not a lot of recycled material, and certainly each can be enjoyed on its own without the context of the others.
YGHW is easily the most famous of the three books (the others being The Chrysanthemum and the Bat and The Meaning of Ichiro), and the one I picked up first. It truly is the masterpiece and definitive book on Nippon yakyu that it has drawn accolades for being. I simply could not put it down from the moment I picked it up! Rich in historical detail and amusing (and incredibly insightul) personal anecdotes, Whiting’s second book shows a maturity that its precursor lacks at times.
The major theme of the book is that the Americans who have come over to Japan to play “their game” have often been surprised at how different the sport is played (and practiced) in the Land of the Rising Sun. While many have enjoyed their experience and had success, the vast majority have left frustrated, confused and disillusioned. Still, all of them leave with a new perspective on the game and a respect (albeit a cynical one at times) for the Japanese work ethic and philosophy towards the game.
The book touches on the stories of a lot of foreigners who played the game in Japan in the 1980s but also some of the Japanese players who added color or notoriety to the game. Not only that, but it also retells the game’s roots in Japan (including a fabulous biographical sketch of the “godfather of Japanese baseball” himself, Suishu Tobita), the Japanese philosophy of the game, the cheering squads and their mentality, and what it was like to play on teams like the Yomiuri Giants and Seibu Lions.
This book is a must-read for any fan of Nippon Professional Baseball, and even anyone who wants to better understand the Japanese-American relationship and the struggles it has undergone over the years, particularly in the 1980s. I highly recommend all of Whiting’s books (the two mentioned above, plus Slugging it Out in Japan – co-written with former Giants great Warren Cromartie – and Tokyo Underworld – completely unrelated to baseball but brilliant in its own right). You Gotta Have Wa, though, should be read first and most carefully, if you want to appreciate this fine author and the beautiful game of Japanese baseball.