Oh, Sadaharu

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Sadaharu Oh

1940-

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.

Chronology

1940Born May 20 in Tokyo, Japan
1959Joins Yomiuri Giants as a pitcher
1960Switches to first base
1962Develops his famous "flamingo" style of batting
1980Retires from Yomiuri Giants
1984-88Manages the Yomiuri Giants
1984Writes his autobiography, A Zen Way of Baseball
1988Works with Hank Aaron to promote baseball to children
1995Joins the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks as manager
2000Leads Hawks against Yomiuri Giants in Japan Series
2002Joins Cypress Systems' public health education program

Awards and Accomplishments

1963Begins an eight-year streak of hitting over .300
1964Sets the Japanese record of 55 home runs in a 140-game season
1965-73Leads Yomiuri Giants to nine straight championships
1972Sets Japanese record of seven home runs in seven consecutive games
1974First player in Japanese baseball to hit 600 home runs
1974-75Wins Triple Crown
1977Achieves a career high of 124 runs batted in in one year
1978Breaks Hank Aaron's major-league 755 home runs record
1980Upon retirement, Oh has a lifetime batting average of .301, 2,786 hits, and 2,170 runs batted in
1994Is voted into Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame
1999Fukuoka 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.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Online: http://www.sadaharuoh.com.

Career Statistics

YrTeamAVGGPABRHHRRBIBBSB
YG: Yomiuri Giants.
1959YG.161941931831725243
1960YG.270130426491151771675
1961YG.2531273965010013536410
1962YG.272134497791353885726
1963YG.305140478111146401061239
1964YG.320140472110151551191196
1965YG.322135428104138421041382
1966YG.311129396111123481161429
1967YG.32613342694139471081303
1968YG.326131442107144491191215
1969YG.345130452112156441031115
1970YG.3251294259713847931191
1971YG.27613043492120391011218
1972YG.296130456104135481201082
1973YG.355130428111152511141242
1974YG.332130385105128491071581
1975YG.2851283937711233961231
1976YG.32512240099130491231253
1977YG.324130432114140501241261
1978YG.30013044091132391181141
1979YG.285120407731163381891
1980YG.236129444591053084720
TOTAL.30128319250196727868682170239084

SELECTED WRITINGS BY OH:

(With David Falkner) Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball. New York, NY: Random House, 1984.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Lincoln Library of Sports Champions. Columbus, OH: Frontier Press, 1989.

Shatzkin, Mike, ed. The Ballplayers. New York, NY: Arbor House, 1990.

Other

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