Japanese baseball player
Undoubtedly the greatest hitter in Japanese baseball, Sadaharu Oh holds the all-time record for most home runs in his career-an astonishing 868, surpassing the U.S. record of 755 held by Hank Aaron . Oh won 9 Gold Glove awards and 9 most valuable player awards, and played on 11 championship-winning teams and in 18 All-Star games. He combined martial arts, Zen, and baseball to achieve his poise, stamina, and phenomenal sports record, all chronicled in his autobiography, A Zen Way of Baseball. A long-time player for the Yomiuri Giants, upon retirement Oh became manager of the team,
then went on to manage the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. Today, Oh promotes good health.
Sadaharu Oh overcame shyness and his heritage to shine as Japan's all-time greatest hitter. His love for baseball began when he pitched for his Waseda High School baseball team, which won Japan's National Invitation High School Tournament.
In 1959 Oh joined the professional team, the Yomiuri Giants, where he would spend his 22-year career. The year he joined, he signed a $60,000 bonus as a pitcher. This move, compounded with his being the son of a Chinese father and a Japanese mother, made him seem like an outsider to Japanese fans. The rookie lefthanded pitcher and first baseman hit .161 that first year. He was switched to first base because he had difficulty hitting curveballs. Oh was also plagued by a hitch in his swing.
Zen and the Art of the Flamingo Stance
Giants' batting coach Hiroshi Arakawa guided Oh to perfect his swing. The two began a training method that involved Zen and martial arts to master mental, physical, and spiritual focus. Oh took samurai sword lessons so he could hit curveballs. He studied aikido for patience, practiced kendo for hip action and a downward swing, and focused his ki (life energy) from his shoulders to the bat.
To counter Oh's hitch and gain balance when he swung, Arakawa and Oh developed Oh's foot-in-the-air stance with his right foot raised as the ball reached home plate. This "flamingo" batting style was similar to American Mel Ott's, yet each was developed independently. Oh was known to practice his batting 30-40 minutes per day.
It has been reported that no one before Oh or since has duplicated this famous stance. With it, Oh was able to begin his amazing streak of batting records. After gaining new balance, his first two times at bat he singled and struck a home run.
Home Run Record
Oh's string of records and achievements made him the toast of Japanese baseball in the 1960s and 1970s. From 1963 to 1970, he hit 40 or more home runs per year. His personal best of 55 home runs in the 140-game 1964 season was a Japanese record. His batting average was .305 in 1963 and remained above .300 for the next seven years.
With Oh's performance on its side, the Giants saw 12 Japan Series crowns and from 1965 to 1973 won nine consecutive championships, an accomplishment never achieved in any other sport. Oh won triple crowns for both 1974 and 1975. He and the Giant's other batting sensation, Shigeo Nagashima, were Japan's equivalent of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig . During their joined career, the so-called O-N Cannon team of Oh and Nagashima hit home runs in the same games 106 times.
Oh broke many Japanese records. In 1972 he hit a record seven home runs in seven consecutive games. Two years later, he reached the 600 home run mark. Oh won 13 consecutive home run titles.
What put Oh in the history books was his surpassing of American Hank Aaron's home run record of 755 in 1978, and his achievement of a 22-year career total of 868 home runs. Oh hit 113 more home runs than Aaron in 448 fewer games.
Overall, Oh was named the Central League's most valuable player 9 times, played on 18 All Star teams, and won 9 Gold Glove awards. His career consisted of 868 home runs, 2,786 hits, 2,170 runs batted in, 1,967 runs, 2,390 walks, and a slugging percentage of .634. His lifetime batting average was .301.
From Player to Manager to Hall of Fame
Oh retired from professional baseball after the 1980 season. In 1984 he returned to his Yomiuri Giants as manager. That same year he wrote his autobiography, A Zen Way of Baseball, with David Falkner. In his four-year stint as Giants manager, Oh brought the team to one pennant win but no championships. He joined Hank Aaron in 1988 in working with children to foster good sportsmanship.
In 1994 Oh was voted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. At the start of the twenty-first century, heated discussions and an Internet debate at Baseballguru.com led by Japanese baseball expert Jim Albright were pushing for Oh's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Oh returned to managing baseball when he joined the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in 1995. The southern Japanese team went from the bottom of the Pacific Coast League to winning the Japan Series Championship in 1999, the first time for the team since 1964. A year later, the Hawks returned to the series playing against Oh's former team, the Yomiuri Giants, which was managed by Oh's former teammate Nagashima. The Giants won.
|1940||Born May 20 in Tokyo, Japan|
|1959||Joins Yomiuri Giants as a pitcher|
|1960||Switches to first base|
|1962||Develops his famous "flamingo" style of batting|
|1980||Retires from Yomiuri Giants|
|1984-88||Manages the Yomiuri Giants|
|1984||Writes his autobiography, A Zen Way of Baseball|
|1988||Works with Hank Aaron to promote baseball to children|
|1995||Joins the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks as manager|
|2000||Leads Hawks against Yomiuri Giants in Japan Series|
|2002||Joins Cypress Systems' public health education program|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1963||Begins an eight-year streak of hitting over .300|
|1964||Sets the Japanese record of 55 home runs in a 140-game season|
|1965-73||Leads Yomiuri Giants to nine straight championships|
|1972||Sets Japanese record of seven home runs in seven consecutive games|
|1974||First player in Japanese baseball to hit 600 home runs|
|1974-75||Wins Triple Crown|
|1977||Achieves a career high of 124 runs batted in in one year|
|1978||Breaks Hank Aaron's major-league 755 home runs record|
|1980||Upon retirement, Oh has a lifetime batting average of .301, 2,786 hits, and 2,170 runs batted in|
|1994||Is voted into Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1999||Fukuoka Daiei Hawks win the Japan Series Championship|
In January 2002, Cypress Systems Inc., a leading biotechnology company, announced that Sadaharu Oh, along with American baseball Hall of Fame great Harmon Killebrew , was joining its public health education campaign called "Step Up to the Plate and Take Control of Your Health." The campaign focused on the prostate health benefits to men over 40 derived from supplementing their diet with SolenoExcellS High Selenium Yeast, Cypress's flagship product. In addition to participating in advertising campaigns designed to raise awareness of high selenium yeast, Oh and Killebrew also worked to educate consumers about general cancer prevention and health related issues.
Although some might dispute how Sadaharu Oh would have fared in the American professional baseball arena, none can overlook the records Oh racked up in his home country of Japan, including the world record for 868 home runs. Oh should also be remembered for his longevity with the Yomiuri Giants, his intense practice schedules, and his skill in leading his league to victory.
|YG: Yomiuri Giants.|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY OH:
(With David Falkner) Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball. New York, NY: Random House, 1984.
Lincoln Library of Sports Champions. Columbus, OH: Frontier Press, 1989.
Shatzkin, Mike, ed. The Ballplayers. New York, NY: Arbor House, 1990.
Cypress Systems. http://www.cypsystems.com/mroh/press_release.html (December 15, 2002).
Nippon Professional Baseball. http://www.npb-bis.com/player/index.html (December 15, 2002).
Sadaharu Oh. http://www.sadaharuoh.com (December 15, 2002).
Sketch by Lorraine Savage