Sadaharu Oh at the 2006 World Baseball Classic
May 20, 1940 |
Sumida, Tokyo, Japan
|April 11, 1959, for the Yomiuri Giants|
|October 12, 1980, for the Yomiuri Giants|
|Runs batted in||2,170|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the Japanese|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|World Baseball Classic|
|2006 San Diego||Team|
Sadaharu Oh (Japanese: 王貞治, Ō Sadaharu; born May 20, 1940), also known as Wang Chen-chih (Chinese: 王貞治; pinyin: Wáng Zhēnzhì), is a retired Japanese–Chinese baseball player and manager who played 22 seasons for the Yomiuri Giants in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) from 1959 to 1980. Oh holds the world lifetime home run record, having hit 868 home runs during his professional career. He established many NPB batting records, including runs batted in (RBIs) (2,170), slugging percentage (.634), bases on balls (2,390), and on-base plus slugging (OPS) (1.080). In 1977, Sadaharu Oh became the first recipient of the People's Honor award. He was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
Oh batted and threw left-handed and primarily played first base. Originally signed with the powerhouse Yomiuri Giants in 1959 as a pitcher, Oh was soon converted to a full-time hitter. Under the tutelage of coach Hiroshi Arakawa, Oh developed his distinctive "flamingo" leg kick. It took Oh three years to blossom, but he would go on to dominate the baseball league in Japan. He was a fifteen-time home-run champion, and was named to the All-Star team eighteen times. More than just a power hitter, Oh was a five-time batting champion, and won the Japanese Central League's batting triple crown twice. With Sadaharu Oh at first base, the Yomiuri Giants won eleven championships, and Oh was named the Central League's Most Valuable Player nine times. In addition to the world career home run record, he held Japan's single-season home run record with 55, until Wladimir Balentien broke the record in 2013.
Oh played his entire professional career with Japan's Yomiuri Giants, and was their manager from 1984 to 1988. He also managed the Fukuoka Daiei/Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks from 1995 to 2008 and he was the manager of the Japanese national team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. The Japanese team defeated the Cuban national team for the championship. He is currently the chairman of the Hawks.
Oh was born in Sumida, Tokyo the son of a Chinese father and a Japanese mother, Although born in Japan, he was born with Republic of China citizenship, which he still holds today, as his father left China when the ROC still governed the mainland and chose to remain a Chinese citizen.
In high school, Oh made many appearances at Koshien Stadium and suffered several tough defeats. In 1957, Waseda Jitsugyo High School made it to the Spring Koshien Tournament with the second-year Oh as its ace pitcher. Right before the tournament started, Oh suffered serious blisters on two fingers of his pitching hand. The only way to heal the injury was with rest, but Oh refused to let his team down. Hiding his injury so as not to demoralize his team, Oh pitched the entire first game at Koshien and won. Oh's catcher noticed the bloodstained ball, but agreed to keep the injury secret from the rest of the team. The next day, Oh pitched another complete game and earned the victory, and again his catcher kept the injury a secret, but the blisters worsened. The pain and infection was unbearable, and now Oh faced the prospect of pitching two more games — on back-to-back days — for the championship. All the same, Oh pitched and won another complete game, enduring the pain. After the game, on the eve of the final, he had already lost all feeling in his fingertips, and was convinced he could not pitch in the final.
That night, Oh was paid a surprise visit by his father, who had noticed the injury while watching his son pitch on television. Oh's father had traveled 350 miles from Tokyo to bring him an herbal remedy. The miracle treatment worked, and Oh was able to just make it through his fourth complete game in four days, squeaking out a one-run victory. Oh had won the championship, proved his fighting spirit, and earned fame and the respect of the nation.
In 1959, he signed his first professional contract as a pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants. However, Oh was not a strong enough pitcher to succeed professionally and soon switched to first base, working diligently with coach Hiroshi Arakawa to improve his hitting skills. This led the development of Oh's distinctive "flamingo" leg kick. His batting average jumped from .161 in his rookie season to .270 in 1960, and his home runs more than doubled. His performance dipped slightly in both statistical categories in 1961, but Oh truly blossomed in 1962, when he hit 38 home runs.
In 1964, Oh hit 55 home runs, a single-season record he owned for 38 years until it was tied by Alex Cabrera in 2002. Oh surpassed 50 home runs in a season two other times, in 1973 and 1977.
Oh became friends with Hank Aaron, his contemporary in Major League Baseball. The two squared off in a home run derby before an exhibition game at Korakuen Stadium on 2 November 1974, after Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth's home run record. By that time, Oh was running away with the Japanese home run record, having become the first Japanese baseball player to hit 600 career home runs that year. Aaron won, 10-9.
His hitting exploits benefited from the fact that for most of his career he batted third in the Giants' lineup, with another very dangerous hitter, Shigeo Nagashima, batting fourth; the two players forming the feared "O-N Cannon". In his autobiography, Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way Of Baseball (ISBN 978-0812911091), Oh said he and Nagashima were not close, rarely spending time together off the field.
Sadaharu Oh was the assistant manager of the Yomiuri Giants between 1981 and 1983. He became the manager of the Yomiuri Giants between 1984 and 1988. He led the Giants to one Central League pennant in 1987.
In 1995, he returned to baseball as the manager of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (later the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks). Oh led the Hawks to three Pacific League pennants in 1999, 2000 and 2003, and two Japan Series titles in 1999 and 2003.
On July 5, Oh announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks to combat a stomach tumor. On July 17, 2006, Oh underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove his stomach and its surrounding lymph nodes. The surgery was considered to be a success. Although the tumor was confirmed to be cancerous, it was caught in early stages. He returned to coaching the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, although he announced he would retire at the end of the 2008 season as manager (but remain as Hawks' GM). He retired as a manager in 2008.
Home run record controversy
On three occasions, foreign-born players challenged Oh's single-season home run record of 55 and faced Oh-managed teams late in the season. On each occasion, Oh's pitchers refused to throw strikes to them.
In 1985, American Randy Bass, playing for the Hanshin Tigers, came into the last game of the season against the Oh-managed Giants with 54 home runs. Bass was intentionally walked four times on four straight pitches each time. Bass reached over the plate on the fifth occasion and batted the ball into the outfield for a single. After the game, Oh denied ordering his pitchers to walk Bass, but Keith Comstock, an American pitcher for the Giants, later stated that an unnamed Giants coach had threatened a fine of $1,000 for every strike that any Giants pitcher threw to Bass. The magazine Takarajima investigated the incident and reported that the Giants front office had likely ordered the team not to allow Bass an opportunity to tie or break Oh's record. For the most part the Japanese media remained silent on the incident, as did league commissioner Takeso Shimoda.
In 2001, American Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes, playing for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, hit 55 home runs with several games left. The Buffaloes played the Oh-managed Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on a late weekend series in Fukuoka. Rhodes was intentionally walked during each at-bat. Hawks catcher Kenji Johjima could be seen grinning as he caught the intentional balls. Again, Oh denied any involvement and Hawks pitching coach Yoshiharu Wakana stated that the pitchers acted on his orders, saying, "I just didn't want a foreign player to break Oh's record." Rhodes completed the season with 55 home runs. Hawks pitcher Keisaburo Tanoue went on record saying that he wanted to throw strikes to Rhodes and felt bad about the situation.
In 2002, Venezuelan Alex Cabrera hit 55 home runs with five games left in the season and his team played Oh's Hawks. Oh told his pitchers to throw strikes to Cabrera, but most of them ignored his order and threw balls well away from the plate. After the game, Oh stated, "If you're going to break the record, you should do it by more than one. Do it by a lot." In the wake of the most recent incident involving Cabrera, ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) listed Oh's single-season home run record as #2 on its list of "The Phoniest Records in Sports".
Oh was married to Kyoko Oh (王恭子 Ō Kyōko?), and had three daughters with her. Kyoko Oh died of stomach cancer in December 2001 at age 57, the same illness he would combat in 2006. In December 2002, her ashes were stolen from their family grave. Their second daughter, Rie Oh (born in 1970), is a sportscaster and presenter on the J-Wave radio network.
In popular culture
- In 1988, Oh and Hank Aaron created the World Children's Baseball Fair (WCBF), to increase the popularity of baseball by working with youngsters.
- On December 4, 2007, Oh said in Chiyoda, Tokyo that it is just a matter of time before his career record of 868 home runs will be broken: "I think the 868 record will be broken. There's nobody near that mark in Japan, but I think Alex Rodriguez can do it", he added. "He has the ability to hit 1,000."
- In 2002 and 2005, he was named by President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan as Ambassador-at-Large of the Republic of China.
- President Ma Ying-Jeou honored Sadaharu Oh with the "Order of Brilliant Star" on February 5, 2009, in Taipei. Oh called receiving the award, "The highest honor of his life." 
- During the 2009 World Baseball Classic Oh attended many of the games played by Japan.
- Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Ō Sadaharu" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 758.
- Spatz, Lyle. Historical Dictionary of Baseball (Scarecrow Press, 2012), p. 169.
- Wu, Debby. "Baseball great has roots in ROC," Taipei Times. Sunday November 16, 2003. Page 2. Retrieved on August 3, 2009.
- Sadaharu Oh [Archive] – Baseball Fever
- The Seattle Times, "Briefs: Sadaharu Oh to have stomach surgery", July 6, 2006.
- Associated PRess, "Japanese Baseball Great Sadaharu Oh Has Operation for Stomach Cancer", RedOrbit, July 18, 2006.
- Whiting, Robert, "Equaling Oh's HR record proved difficult", Japan Times, October 31, 2008, p. 12.
- Coskrey, Jason. "Bass says Balentien won’t get easy path to Oh's record," Japan Times (September 6, 2013).
- Roah, Jeff, "Tokyo under the tracks: It's Never Too Late to Insert an Asterisk", Tokyo Q, October 12, 2001.
- Merron, Jeff. "The Phoniest Records in Sports," ESPN (Feb. 25, 2004).
- Berry, Adam (September 15, 2013). "Balentien breaks Oh's Japanese home run record". MLB.com. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
- Wallace, Bruce. "Column One: Home run king and gentleman: Japan's Sadaharu Oh reflects on his career, Barry Bonds and cancer. 'I feel lucky,’ he says," Los Angeles Times (July 4, 2007).
- "World Children'S Baseball Fair". Wcbf.org. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
- "Japanese baseball player expects A-Rod to surpass his home-run record". Agence France-Presse. December 4, 2007.
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