Book Review – The Chrysanthemum and the Bat

chrysanthemumcover“I was a big baseball fan in Japan and found that looking at the different way the Japanese approached the game provided a window into the Japanese culture as a whole. Friends encouraged me to write a book about it and so I did. Took a year to write 100,000 words. The result was The Chrysanthemum and the Bat. It was the first thing I’d ever written and it showed.” — Whiting on how he started writing

Written a full generation ago (1977) and covering players I had no clue about, this book was both entertaining and educational. Robert Whiting is now a renowned author most famously known for his late-80s masterpiece and follow-up to this book, You Gotta Have Wa. It really is not fair to compare the two books, but this one has a lot more direct quotes and long excerpts from other sources, and sounds a lot more like someone reporting what he has read or heard. ‘Wa’ sounds much more like a baseball guru telling the world what he already knows and has processed in his mind clearly.

That does not make this book less worthy or uninteresting, though. It takes me back to a time before I was even born and fills me in on the beautiful and quirky history of the game here in Japan, filled with colorful characters such as Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, Isao Harimoto, Katsuya Nomura, and more. It also looks closely at the life of a fan, the external expectations placed on the players, and the struggles that some foreign players (almost exclusively Americans in those days) had adjusting to life in Japan.

chrysanthemuminsideInterestingly, the book ends with a chapter speculating on how the Japanese would fare should there be a “real World Series”. Obviously this has, in a way, come to fruition with the World Baseball Classic having been played three times in the past decade, but it is interesting to read thoughts about it written nearly 40 years ago. All in all this book is a splendid read and a must-add to the library of any Japanese baseball fan who wants to know more about the game before they started following it.

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The Boys Are Back in Town! Well, Almost!

Guess who just got back today?
Those wild-eyed boys that had been away…

MaurogomezstolenpassporthanshintigersThin Lizzy had a smash hit in 1976 with their celebration of reunification. The Hanshin Tigers were hoping for something similar these past two days but first baseman Mauro Gomez experienced a smash of his own.

Scheduled to leave his home country of the Dominican Republic on January 27, his car got broken into and his bag containing his passport got swiped. As a result he cannot enter Japan and he’s waiting for a new passport back home. This obviously puts his timely arrival at spring training in Okinawa at risk. He was hoping to be on time this year after arriving late last year due to the birth of his first daughter and her subsequent illness. Gomez and the team are doing everything they can to get him to Japan as soon as possible.

RandymessengerkansaiairporthanshintigersAnd now for some better news. Ace pitcher Randy Messenger arrived safely at Kansai International Airport yesterday. He’s with his family which includes newborn son (his 4th child) Roland. He said he spent much of his off-season taking care the kids and being a good stay-at-home dad. Looking forward to another great season from the big guy.

MattmurtonhanshintigersOutfielder Matt Murton  also arrived in recent days looking a little slimmer than last year. The batting champion says he worked his core really hard these past few weeks and hopes to lead the team to a championship this year. As always, he says, when he puts in the work and does his best, the numbers should follow. We sure hope they do!

SeunghwanohhanshintigersFinally, closer Seung-hwan Oh flew in from Korea couple days ago as well. He actually looks a little bit bigger than last season, but that is the result of working out hard in Guam the past month or so. Oh hopes to do three things the season. First of all he had his worst performances against the Giants this past year. He doesn’t feel like they were particularly more difficult than other teams, and hopes to be able to stop them dead in their tracks this year. He got some great advice in the off-season from former Giant killer Yutaka Enatsu and really hopes to become the next great stopper. Second, he wants to have better results during interleague play. Last season he got a little bit sick during that time, and racked up a very mediocre 4.15 ERA. This also included half of his 4 losses on the year. Finally, he hopes to reduce the number of blown saves the season. That will help contribute to a pendant and hopefully a championship too!

So now we await the return of Mauro Gomez, and then we can truly say the boys are back in town, ready to produce another smash hit in Kansai and bring the club a championship — one that’s 30 years in the waiting.