Being off from work yesterday, I missed Thursday’s news that Hall of Fame slugger Futoshi Nakanishi had died on May 11 at the age of 90.
Nakanishi’s career as player and manager was like the opening of a Tale of Two Cities. Before injury
In his first seven years, the Nishitetsu Lions third baseman led the Pacific League in home runs five times, doubles once, runs once, RBIs three times, slugging average five times, on-base percentage once and batting average twice.
His swing was ruined by tendonitis in his left wrist in 1960, and was a shadow of his former self for the remaining 11 seasons of his career.
His growth paralleled that of the Lions under Hall of Fame skipper Osamu Mihara, as they became the Pacific League’s second dynasty and the chief rivals to the Osaka-based Nankai Hawks.
Continue reading RIP Futoshi Nakanishi
The recent WBC victory was a powerful moment, proving, not that Japan’s baseball is the best in the world, but that Japanese stars can be competitive with the world’s other best players.
All during the tournament, manager Hideki Kuriyama, Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish all expressed hope a WBC championship would energize Japanese baseball from top to bottom, and increase interest among children to take up the game and invigorate it.
But it’s going to take more than just increased participation to make it better. Although his team provided the ideal of a shining baseball city on a hill — or mound if you prefer, the reality is that the sport’s ideological and structural foundation represents some of baseball at its worst.
Pro baseball is just the tip of Japan’s iceberg. It is supported by a vast network of amateur establishments that provide the pros with players and shape the way those players learn, develop and physically mature.
And though changes have been made by federations to try and make youth baseball less dangerous to the health of Japanese youngsters’ arms, the underlying structure will have to change in order to unleash Japan’s true potential.
At the youth level, Japanese baseball requires a massive commitment not just from the young players themselves but from their parents, who are expected to support the team in various ways—including serving the coaches tea–something not every family has time for.
Once kids take part in school teams, they enter year-round “bukatsu” or club activity baseball, with daily running and practice over the entire year, because that’s how Japan’s educational system rolls and there’s no getting around it. Because the school year has no season when student athletes are allowed to step away from their club sport or compete in another it’s a mental and physical grind.
Continue reading A bright future and the dark side