Book Review – Slugging it Out in Japan

sluggingTo purchase and read this book, I had to put away my dislike of the Yomiuri Giants. After all, the subject and co-author starred for them during the most interesting years of my Hanshin Tigers’ history. He was a perfect foil to then-star Tiger Randy Bass, who enamored the fanatics at Koshien from the time he arrived in Japan.

Contrary to Ba-su sama, Warren Cromartie spent many turbulent, inconsistent years with the club before he finally accepted his fate and position within the team, thriving at last only when he started to genuinely like Japan. While other Robert Whiting (co-author) books are chalk full of anecdotes about the lives of several players, this one focuses exclusively on the man they called ‘Cro. This allows for a much deeper, personal and gripping read than the others Whiting penned, which technically could be enjoyed a chapter at a time, and put away for weeks or months without fear of breaking the flow of the story.

Cromartie was born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida. His rough childhood seems to have shaped his stoic, rebellious demeanor right through to this day. He played several years in the Montreal Expos organization before taking up the Yomiuri Giants on their generous offer, but only after the Expos shafted him and the American (SF) Giants reneged on an offer they had informally made him.

This book takes us through Cromartie’s dislike of camp, struggles with living arrangements, disgust with Korakuen Stadium locker rooms, beefs with coaches and teammates (he particularly mocks then-pretty boy Tatsunori Hara), and his love and respect for Sadaharu Oh, who actually gave him private hitting lessons when he was struggling early on. It also opens many readers’ eyes to the racism he faced as a black man in Tokyo as well as on a team whose ownership and upper management refused to acknowledge his contributions to championship teams.

It also pointed out to me that Cro was (is?) a skilled musician who had a band in Japan, appeared on TV, and even practiced drums and recorded an album while sitting out an injury late in his Japanese baseball career.

Most of all, reading this book endeared me to this fireball of a man, who holds back no punches (literally), criticizing even himself at times. It gave me a clearer look into what American baseball players in Japan experienced and thought back in the 80s. I recommend this book to everyone, even my fellow Tigers fans. Trust me, there’s lots of good in this book, and Randy Bass makes a few appearances as well.

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Monthly Tigers Magazine – June 2015

2015juneposter

The June edition hit the stands on Monday, but I decided it was time to become a subscriber instead of buying it at the newsstand every week. So mine arrived last night. It came with five player cards: Atsushi Nohmi, Yuya Andoh, Kentaro Sekimoto, Matt Murton and legendary catcher Koichi Tabuchi. Each of the next 5 issues will come with 5 more cards. Looking forward to reading this issue, as it has a lot of really interesting features!

Here is the table of contents for this issue:

  • Opening feature: Ultra Golden Week @ Koshien
  • Close-up Interview: Minoru Iwata
  • Another Side View: Iwata
  • Pinstripe Report: Searching for Ways to Move Up
  • Tigers’ Diary: Randy Bass
  • Players’ Note: Ryutaro Umeno
  • Best Nine in Tigers’ History (as chosen by Tigers OB)
  • Pop’N Talk – Travis Mikihisa Samura
  • Tigers Farm Report
  • Take Care of my Son – Koki Moriya
  • Tigers Data Analysis
  • Short Q & A – Yuya Yokoyama
  • Teammates Talk About – Akihito Fujii
  • Advice Column – Katsuo Hirata

Once again, if any of these really interest you and you’d like an English translation (or summary), let me know! I can’t promise anything but I’ll do what I can!

Book Review – The Bass Diaries

Of all the foreigners who have played on the Hanshin Tigers baseball club, undoubtedly the most popular and accomplished is first baseman Randy Bass. He played for the team from 1983 to 1988, and won the league Triple Crown two consecutive seasons (1985 and 1986) while establishing the NPB record for highest batting average in a single season (.389 in 1986). Why, then, at age 34, did he suddenly stop playing baseball? What precipitated his sudden departure from NPB? The Bass Diaries (バースの日記) seeks to explain this, as well as give the reader a look into the life of one of NPB’s greatest import players.

The book starts with a foreword from Bass, explaining why he has decided to have his personal diary translated into Japanese and published for people to read. He also explains that he loves the Hanshin Tigers and all of their fans, and has nothing but great memories of being a player for the organization. The book literally is Randy Bass’s diary from 1985 to 1988, although the order in which it is shown is slightly different (1988, 1985, 1986, 1987). The reason for the changed order is because the most important part of the diary is what happened to Bass in the year he was released.

Let’s cut to the chase. Near the start of the 1988 season, Bass’ son, Zach, was diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumor and needed to be treated in the United States. Being the dedicated father that he is, instead of playing out the season while his son underwent treatment, Bass received permission from the team to return to America to be with his son for a month, after which he would return to the team. Unfortunately, treatment became more and more complicated, and although Bass communicated to the team that he needed more time, and despite what he thought was permission to extend his leave, the Tigers suddenly cut their star player loose. Then they insisted they were not responsible for his son’s medical bills, despite the clause in Bass’ contract stating otherwise. These negotiations are quite clearly recorded in his diary, which makes it clear that the organization was in the wrong.

On June 28, 1988, Randy Bass was unconditionally released from the Hanshin Tigers. The reason: he did not return to the team as promised on June 17.

On June 27, 1988, Randy Bass was unconditionally released from the Hanshin Tigers. The reason: he did not return to the team as promised on June 17.

The next chapters detail his (and the team’s) triumphant title run in 1985, his Triple Crown wins, his post-game fun — don’t worry, nothing scandalous about the Oklahoman senator — his investments, his thoughts about various teammates, rivals and coaches. Standing out in particular are his affiliations with foreigners on other teams (Warren Cromartie of the Giants among others) and his disdain for 1988 club manager Minoru Murayama.

Overall, this was a good read. There were definitely parts that could have been left out, though. Even his expressway tolls are recorded, translated and published here — is that really necessary, other than for us to know that the man kept track of his expenses? I really think it would have been better if Bass had taken a little more time and sat down with his translator and turned this into an autobiography or memoirs, rather than a pure translation of his day-to-day thoughts. The diary itself could have been the best source material for the book, which could have used a change of format, really.

Still, I’m glad I was able to learn a little more about the team’s history from the perspective of a man who is still revered as the equivalent of God and Buddha among Tigers fans (神様、仏様、バース様 – Kamisama, Hotokesama, Ba-su sama).

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Book Review – Yoshida’s “Hanshin Tigers”

yoshidabook

As I perused the baseball section at the local library, this book seemed like one I should read. Nothing about the cover or the title would compel anyone to read it, but the author’s name might make you feel like you should. Yoshio Yoshida was not only the manager of the 1985 championship team (the only one in the team’s 79 year history) but also quite possibly its best shortstop as well. Written in 2003 as the team was capturing its first Central League title in 18 years, Yoshida recounts the team’s then-70-year history from his perspective – one that included being involved with the club in some form for 50 years. This book is more than a chronicle of the team’s past – it serves as the memoirs of one of the most celebrated Hanshin Tigers ever.

Yoshida begins his book by talking about why the 2003 Tigers is the start of a new “Golden Age” for the team. He attributes this to the hiring of then-manager Sen’ichi Hoshino, who adopted more of a western approach to managing – giving his coaches plenty of opportunity to do what they are paid to do, and having the power to dictate which players he wanted ownership to pursue. This was rather uncommon at the time, and Yoshida believed it would usher in a prosperous run for the team, one that would possibly help the supplant the Yomiuri Giants as “the team to beat.”

From here, he begins his own story, one of a boy who grew up idolizing the Hanshin (Osaka) Tigers, helped lead his team to the All Japan High School tournament as a junior in high school, got drafted by the Tigers as a sophomore in college, and who won the starting position at shortstop in his rookie season. He spent the year carrying around legend Fumio Fujimura’s equipment bag, and learned a lot just by being in close proximity with the original “Mr. Tigers.”

yoshidaplayer

Yoshio Yoshida’s #23 is one of three numbers retired by the club. The other two are Fumio Fujimura (10) and Minoru Murayama (11).

Each chapter introduces a new chapter in his own life, and he touches on his relationships with various players including the team’s best foreign and domestic pitchers, Gene Bacque and Minoru Murayama. Often the subject of rumors in the press, he addresses his real feelings about Murayama as well as his sentiments on the trade that sent the team’s “true ace” (in his opinion) Koyama to the Orions. He talks about various managers (namely Fujimura and Murayama) who failed to excel as they had on the field, and then moves on to his own three terms as manager.

The second of these was the one that brought the team its lone Nippon Series championship, and featured the fearsome lineup that included Masayuki Kakefu, Randy Bass, Akinobu Okada, and others. He gives special attention to Bass, who has arguably become the most famous player in team history. Bass was quite outspoken but Yoshida tolerated it as he knew his star player meant well and had some valuable input.

Overall, this book was an outstanding read. Yoshida was at the stage in his life where he could reflect on a variety of things quite calmly and frankly, and his writing style is easy to follow and really helps the reader feel what he feels. In fact, after borrowing the book once without even cracking open the cover, I took it out a second time, this time waiting until 3 days before it was due to open it up. I could not put it down though, got through the first ⅔ of it, and decided instead of renewing it, I would just buy it. It will serve as a great reference book for me.

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Great Tiger Moments 3: April 17, 1985

Other than winning the championship in 1985, this is probably the most talked about moment in Hanshin Tigers history. At this point, the team had a 50 year history and still no championship to speak of. However, it boasted one of its finest hitting lineups ever.

Having started the season on the road, the Tigers were in game two of their first homestand. The opponents: their arch nemesis Yomiuri Giants. Game one featured an interesting come-from-behind victory by the Tigers, but its drama paled in comparison to this one. Down by two runs in the seventh, the team managed to get a two runners aboard for first baseman Randy Bass.

Bass, who had a decent first two years with the team, but who started the season quite cold, was 0-for-2 in this one to this point. Journalists report that before the game, he didn’t even take batting practice. Instead, he watched video footage of his batting stance. And apparently, something clicked, because…

This would be Bass’ first homerun of the season, one in which he hit 54 and went on to win the Triple Crown. Kakefu was already hitting well and obviously took advantage of a shaken pitcher who had just surrendered a late lead. Okada’s blast sent the crowd into hysterics. As the announcers said, “Koshien wa matsuri desu!” Koshien is in festival mode!

As we all know, the team won its first and only championship that October. This day can be said to be the one that sparked the Tigers’ magical ride to glory.

Great Tiger Moments 2: June 26, 1986

I’m reading a book right now called 巨人ー阪神論 (Kyojin-Hanshin Ron — Giants/Tigers Discourse). Basically it’s a guided conversation between 1980s Giants ace Suguru Egawa and 1980s Tigers cleanup hitter Masayuki Kakefu. They discuss everything from their playing days and beyond. Still halfway through but I came across a bit about this moment:

June 26, 1986. Tigers legend Randy Bass has hit home runs in six straight games. One more and he ties the record set by home run king Sadaharu Oh. Korakuen is full and the Giants have their best pitcher in the mound. On this day, he’s not exactly at his best, giving up 5 runs through 7 innings including a bomb to Kakefu. Enter the 8th, score tied up. Egawa looks at the on deck circle. Bass. He’s managed to focus all his energy on the Colonel so far, leaving him hitless in 4 at bats.

This time, Bass sits back in the batter’s box a little more than usual. Egawa sees this and, against his catcher’s call, delivers a heater high and inside. Check the result below:

Hit clear out of the park. Tigers lead 6-5 and hold on to win. Egawa was not told by his manager (guess who? Oh himself) to pitch around Bass, but he had heard whispers throughout the day from press and teammates that he should not let his manager’s record be tied. Still, Egawa says, he couldn’t resist trying to beat the man with his go-to pitch.

The Tigers would finish the year in third but on this night, it looked like 1985 all over again.

Christmas + Tigers + History = Randy Bass Goodness

randybasssantahanshintigersTigers’ legend Randy Bass (60) has come to the Osaka area to help the Hanshin Department Store chain drum up some business. Today he was at Dotonbori on a tour boat in a Santa costume, shouting “Merry Christmas” to all who could hear and see him. He seemed to really enjoy his time, even posing in front of the (re)new(ed) Glico runner billboard. Check out pictures here.