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The Old Ball Game Essay, Research Paper
The Old Ball Game
An American dream can be defined through an examination of the American
lifestyle, and by picking out the most common themes. The most common themes
Americans associate with are the basics: graduating at the top of the class,
finding a high-paying job, settling down with the perfect spouse, a house in the
suburbs with a white picket fence, two children running through the yard chasing
the dog and of course apple pie and baseball.
Yes, baseball is considered by many to be part of the American dream.
It is through baseball that many can relive their childhood. It has been the
one daily and constant event that the American society depends on to be there
during every summer night. The annual fall classic, the World Series, catches
the attention of the entire country. Like the New York Yankees, baseball has
become a part of America.
After World War II, many countries were completely demolished physically
and mentally. Among these countries was Japan. Countless numbers of Japanese
people were dead, and land, buildings, and entire cities were destroyed. For
the first time in Japan’s history, their “God” had spoken to the public
destroying his immortal reputation. During the postwar years, Japan looked to
the major powers of the world to develop a foundation for a new country.
Included in this foundation was a need for new ideas and dreams. Of course
Japan did not completely erase thousands of years of tradition and culture, but
Japan did take many international ideas and transformed them into her own. In
the Movie Mr. Baseball, a Japanese woman describes Japan’s borrowing techniques.
“Japan takes the best from all over the world and makes it Hers” (Welles).
Included in the world powers of the time was America; therefore, Japan borrowed
several ideas from the United States. One such idea just happened to be
America’s National pastime, baseball.
The history of Japanese baseball dates back to the middle 1800’s. They
“adopted baseball from the U.S. as early as 1873″ (Constable 23), but the spark
for baseball ignited during the post war occupational years. A foreign student
from Japan explains, “The thousands of American troops stationed in Japan after
the war kindled the passion for baseball that was lacking before the war”
(Akutsu). The American soldiers showed the Japanese the American ways of
baseball, and the popularity of Japanese baseball has skyrocketed from that time
on. Baseball in Japan has reached the top level with its professional standings.
Many other countries throughout the world have tried to establish the American
sport of baseball but “Japan is the only country in the world to have
developed a real enthusiasm for baseball outside the context of American culture
and political domination” (Tasker 30).
Why would the Japanese be searching for a new “pastime” or dream to take
over their country? George Constable, a critic of baseball in Japan, explains,
“The Japanese are finding increasing time to participate in a variety of leisure
activities, including several sports from the United States. Among the most
popular is baseball” (24). The people of Japan are swallowing up this new
obsession. If they are not playing the game professionally, they are finding
ways to become a part of baseball. Constable says, “Today the game has so many
players that public playing fields must be booked a month or two in advance.
Baseball is also Japan’s leading spectator sport with 15 million people a year
attending professional games” (23).
Japan has taken the American dream and shaped it to fit their basic mold.
The Japanese are known throughout the world for being extremely dedicated to
their work. This dedication has spread to their baseball. Where Americans look
at baseball as fun and entertainment the Japanese think of baseball as work. It
is expected that with the birth of a new “pastime”, excitement and interest will
follow. No one in the U.S. expects a new trend, especially in the form of
recreation, to be effected by the work ethic, but Japanese standards expect the
most out of every activity including recreation. Even when baseball was center
stage in the United States, it was in no way related to the work place; almost
the direct opposite. The Japanese have “transformed America’s pastime into a
game that mirrors their obsession with hard work and harmony. The consequences
are often alarming” (Whiting 76). Whiting is implying that Japan’s work ethic
combined with America’s dream of baseball could overrun the American version.
Baseball is taken so seriously in Japan that even the corporations owning the
teams enforce the relationship between baseball and work. “Japanese teams
assume the names of the corporation that own them, rather them the cities where
they play” (Fimrite 65). Dialogue taken from Welles’s movie, Mr. Baseball,
relates American baseball to Japanese baseball by showing the two different
sides. An American baseball player is forced to play within the Japanese system.
The different styles and beliefs between the two countries causes tension
between him and the Japanese coach.
“Baseball is work, not fun,” says the Japanese coach. “Baseball is
grown men getting paid to play a game. When you were a little kid I bet you
didn’t pick up a bat and ball cause you were dying to work?” answers the
American player (Welles). Americans tend to think of baseball as fun and
pleasurable while the Japanese consider it to be actual work, sometimes causing
them to miss the fun that the American dream provides.
Since Japan shaped their baseball from the U.S., there are many
similarities between the two. On the other hand, Japan is vastly different
from the U.S. which explains the many differences. “Japanese professional
baseball is molded closely on the U.S. system where two separate leagues are
maintained” (Tasker 31). American baseball is divided into two leagues: the
American League and the National League. Japan also breaks down into two
leagues: the Central League and the Pacific League. Japan even copies team
mascots by “having names like the Buffaloes, Braves, and Tigers” (30). In each
case the rules remain the same, but that is where the major similarities end.
Playing style differs the greatest. American baseball is known for big ball
parks, grass infields, aggressive play, home plate collisions, small strike
zones, battling pitchers, and homerun hitting all-stars. According to Ron
Fimrite, the Japanese systems runs a little different:
Their ball parks are considerably smaller, in some parks the infields
are entirely dirt, the aggressive doubleplay breakup had to be introduced by an
American, the strike zone is the size of a big screen television, constant
hooking of troubled pitchers, and homerun hitters sacrificing runners along to
abide to basic strategy. (64)
Although Japanese baseball is well established, it can still use
some help from the United States. Some Americans travel to Japan to play
baseball either because they are not good enough to play in the states, or
because a Japanese team needs the American experience. Once the Americans
arrive in Japan, they are greeted with a mixture of feelings and expectations.
“Americans must perform well enough to keep their teams afloat, but must be
careful not to eclipse the local heroes” (Tasker 31). It is important for the
Americans to play well and win games for their teams, but if they come close to
breaking Japanese records, they are immediately taking out of the spotlight.
“Ray Bass, who hit 220 homers in the U.S. minor leagues, looks absolutely
Ruthian at the plate in Japan, also with three triple crowns, the most
prestigious award in all of baseball” (Nefk 72). Ray Bass was on pace to tie
and possibly beat the Japanese record for most homeruns in a season until
pitchers started intentionally walking him to keep the record in Japanese hands.
Some Japanese people feel “it is time for them to play America’s game without
the Americans” (Fimrite 66). One Japanese manager said, “I think it is better
to have only Japanese players on the teams” (qtd. 66). Even though the Japanese
have taken an American tradition, some are not fully willing to share it with
the rest of the world, namely its founders.
Japan is also beginning to challenge America’s love for the game.
American baseball fans can find their identification to the sport through the
“American” team, the New York Yankees. Japan also has a New York Yankees of
their own. “A visitor would find many Japanese as passionate about the Yomiuri
Giants as any baseball fan in the U.S.” (Constable 24). Peter Tasker explains
the significance of the Giants, “The Giants is not just a baseball club, it’s an
institution through which Japanese people can reassure themselves of their
essential fellowships” (31). These Giants are much like the American Yankees in
that they are both ambassadors for the sport. Like the New York Yankees of the
U.S., the Yomiuri Giants of Japan have become a national symbol representing a
new dream and also the American dream.
There is no question that Japan has taken a great part of the American
dream and plugged it into their way of life. The many similarities and
differences between the two countries capture a wonderful part of the American
spirit which is rapidly becoming the new Japanese spirit. Japan has looked to
America to develop several of their dreams.
Akutsu, Daisuke. Personal Interview. 17 Nov. 1995.
Constable, George. Japan.
Alexandria, Virginia: Time Life Books, 1985.
Fimrite, Ron. “Land of the Rising Fastball.” Sports Illustrated 9 Sept.
Mr. Baseball. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Tom Selleck. Universal City Studios,
Nefk, Craig. “The Hottest American Import in Japan.” Sports Illustrated 23
March 1987: 74.
Tasker, Peter. The Japanese. New York: Truman Talley Books, 1987.
Whiting, Robert. “The Pain of Perfection.” Sports Illustrated
5 may 1989, 76.
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