Sometime in the near-future, Barry Bonds will take his famous left-handed swing and send a ball over the wall, a shot that will break baseball’s all-time home run record.
Or will it?
That’s the question being considered by the Japanese press following the Giants’ slugger in his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s 755 career homers, a legendary number in American sports since he retired in 1976. But the Japanese have their own revered home run king, Sadaharu Oh, whose iconic mark of 868 long balls almost dwarfs Aaron’s total.
“It’s a tough question because I think people in Japan think of the Japanese leagues and the major leagues as two different things,” said Kiyoshi Miyata, a sports reporter with Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. “So I think Oh will still have the record in the Japanese league and Barry Bonds will have the American record.”
Miyata is one of about 15 to 20 Japanese media members in The City following Bonds on the home run chase, according to Giants director of broadcasting and media services Maria Jacinto. Many refer to Oh respectfully as “Mr. Oh” and said his presence still looms large over the game in Japan. Oh played professionally for the Yomiuri Giants from 1959 to 1980, leading the league in home runs 15 times (including 13 straight) and in RBIs 13 seasons. He later went on to manage that club and currently manages the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
“For me, it’s really tough because I’m a big fan of Mr. Oh,” said Kuzue Shirai of Fuji TV. “If [Bonds] keeps playing, who knows? I don’t know the percentage of what people in Japan think, but for me, they’re two different records.”
But like Bonds, some of Oh’s records have been shrouded by controversy. His single-season record of 55 homers has been threatened three times by former major-
leaguers playing in Japan and each time Oh allegedly ordered his pitchers to walk them late in the season.
Bonds, of course, is dealing with accusations that he used performance-enhancing drugs, but according to Shirai he has not been condemned by public opinion.
“Some people have their doubts, I’m sure,” she said. “But like here, in Japan, you’re [innocent] until proven guilty.”
And while performance-enhancing drugs have become a huge topic of conversation surrounding Major League Baseball, Miyata said he didn’t think they had seeped their way into the Japanese game.
“In Japan, people are not used to the drug issue.” he said. “Any drug, not only performance-enhancing drugs, is strictly prohibited. So I personally don’t think any Japanese players are using drugs.”
Yuichi Usudu of the Yomiuri Shimbun said, all drama aside, the story of the homer that breaks Aaron’s mark is still being highly anticipated.
“I’m not sure how [how big a story it is now back in Japan], but once he hits 754 it will be,” Usudu said. “And when he breaks the record, it will be on the front page. Maybe not the biggest story, but on the front page.”
Which mark do you consider the top record?
Share your comments below.