How times have changed

It is quite surprising to those of us who weren’t in Japan in the 1970s how different the ballpark experience is now compared to 40 years ago. Combing through newspaper clippings from 1973 and 1974 while looking to document changes within the game, I was struck by what a dangerous place Japanese ballparks were.

I had witnessed some pretty obnoxious behavior in the ’80s and early ’90s when people cheering for the wrong team in the wrong part of the ballpark were punched in the bleachers, but that is pretty rare in my experience here and that also happened sometimes at games I’d attended at Candlestick Park in the 1970s.

The first to catch my eye was a report on May 3, 1974, in which Hall of Fame outfielder Isao Harimoto attacked an opposing player before the start of a game, kicking a member of the Lotte Orions with his spikes, apparently because the guy had been heckling him for a couple of games.

Five days later, Nippon Ham Fighters infielder Toshizo Sakamoto was in the field at his home park, Tokyo’s Korakuen Stadium, while Taiheiyo Club Lions manager Kazuhisa Inao had a heated exchange over a called third strike, when a sake bottle came hurling out of the stands. It didn’t hit Sakamoto, but the Fighters shortstop walked toward the stands and said, “Hey, don’t you think that’s dangerous?” Another fan answered Sakamoto’s rhetorical question with an empty beer bottle, that struck Sakamoto in the head.

On May 30, empty beer bottles were thrown at reporters in the press seats at Koshien Stadium,  the Hanshin Tigers’ home park, while several stories in the spring detailed incidents involving Orions manager Masaichi Kaneda’s threatening abusive fans with a bat — after he’d been warned in the offseason to mind his Ps and Qs after calling Pacific League owners cheapskates. The owners were cheapskates, of course, as documented by the union’s demand over the previous offseason that the teams pay for the players’ bats and gloves.

At some point, commissioner Nobumoto Ohama took notice and on May 31 instructed the teams to avoid arguing too much as it would “enflame the passions of the fans” and lead to bad behavior.

Until I came across these articles, I was under the impression the fan riots during the 1975 season at two different games between the Hiroshima Carp and Chunichi Dragons were rare and isolated instances.

After storming the field at Hiroshima Citizens Stadium in 1975, Carp fans attacked the Dragons bus and slashed its tires.

Pro baseball’s anniversary amnesia

There seems to be something about organized baseball and the habit of fudging on the truth about the past.

Major League Baseball long stuck to a ridiculous story that the sport was a purely American invention in 1839 of Abner Doubleday, a man who during his life never made that claim or professed any affection for the game. (Seymour PP 8-12)

In Japan, too, truth sometimes suffers at the hands of established institutions – even those who justify their existence by claiming to present the truth. One such organization is the Japan News, a daily English language publication run by the Yomiuri Shimbun.

In line with Yomiuri editorial policy, the ever-vigilant Japan News recently ran a story calling 2014 the 80th anniversary of professional baseball in Japan. story here

The anniversary being touted is that of the 1934 founding of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s team, the Giants – Japan’s oldest active professional club – and the charter member of the professional baseball organization now known as Nippon Professional Baseball. It’s a great story, but the idea that the Giants were Japan’s first pro team is nonsense.

The team recognized by Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as the nation’s first professional baseball team is not the Giants, but rather the Nihon Undokyokai (the Japan Athletic Association). The Japanese Wikipedia entry that relates to the club’s founding is here:

It’s an easy mistake to make since NPB follows the Giants’ lead in just about everything and is also touting this year as pro ball’s 80th anniversary. Even the Yomiuri’s arch-rival paper, the Asahi, has gladly gone along with the charade.

One can assume the JN is ever eager to get to the truth, because of its Dec. 16 public prostration over the realization it had been using the incorrect language for over two decades to describe indentured sexual servants who were used by Japan’s military during the second world war. The JN chose to refer to these women, euphemistically known in Japanese as “comfort women,”  as “sex slaves.” It seems the management was in a pickle about how to describe these “so-called comfort women.” story here

So one can only assume that once this so-called newspaper realizes it is currently propagating misinformation about the origins of pro baseball in Japan, we can all expect in the interest of truth to see a similar mea culpa. Of course, it might take two decades.

Notes: Harold Seymour, BASEBALL THE EARLY YEARS,  Oxford University Press 1960.

writing & research on Japanese baseball