The Chrysantheum and the Bat: Baseball Samurai Style

An excerpt from the book The Chrysantheum and the Bat: Baseball Samurai Style by Robert Whiting a look at baseball's influence in Japan.

THE CHRYSANTHEMUM AND THE BAT: BASEBALL SAMURAI STYLE by Robert Whiting. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1977.

About the Book: Since its introduction about 20 years after the visit of Commodore Perry and his "black ships," beisuboru has flourished throughout the island nation of Japan. But baseball in Japan is not the same game as that played in the U.S. Through fascinating modifications, baseball has accommodated itself to Japanese social values, which stress group identification, cooperation, hard work, respect for age, seniority, and saving "face."

From the Book:

Japan may be the only place in the world where a losing team feels obliged to offer its followers an apology. But what else would you expect in a country where a team sent out thousands of New Year "apology" cards as the Tomiuri Giants did in 1975 when they finished in the cellar? Such behavior reflects the deep sense of responsibility Japanese teams feel toward their paying customers. This attitude has elevated the team/fan relationship to an almost personal level .... Players in Japan apologize for getting hurt, batters apologize for batting slumps, and winning pitchers apologize for not throwing a shutout. Veteran players even apologize for playing too long and not giving younger players a chance while retiring players apologize for retiring too soon.

The pitcher went into his windup and fired a fast ball. Thousands of fans sighed in relief as it sailed past the plate, high and outside, and the umpire called "ball four." Then something incredible happened. Dropping his bat, the batter broke into a sprint down the first-base line and slid headlong into the bag amid a cloud of dust. Had the batter mistaken the last pitch for a called third strike? Had the summer heat gone to his head? No, he was merely following orders. At the pre-game meeting, the manager, after delivering a sound verbal thrashing about responsibilities to the fans and the club ownership, ordered every player to slide head first into every base until the team regained its fighting spirit.

Typically, disputed calls require a group discussion. The umpire-in-chief will assemble the other five umpires (there are seldom more than four in the States) and together they will discuss and analyze the situation at length--taking into account such factors as which manager has more stature, who argued the hardest, and whether the hometown fans will riot if they don't like the ruling. Each umpire's opinion is solicited, with the younger ones careful not to air their views too strongly. The group will then rediscuss and reanalyze the problem until--in a way that is peculiar to Japanese group decision-making--a consensus emerges. The umpire-in-chief will then announce the decision and make an agonizing appeal to the "losing" manager to accept the result.

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