Casey McGehee hit 28 home runs for the 2013 Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Nippon-Japanese Professional League. The team also included Andruw Jones, Kaz Matsui, and Masahiro Tanaka-now pitching for the Yankees.
You’d never know Rakuten won the Japanese Series or that McGehee led his team in home runs if baseball reference was your bible. Under McGehee for 2013, there’s a grey bar with no data. The same empty space exists for Bob Horner and any MLB player who played professional baseball in Japan.
A player’s Japanese stats are listed on a separate page so McGehee’s one year in Japan looks kind of lonely; sitting there like an island in need of compare and contrast. He plays third base for the Miami Marlins now.
It seems like a slight but the website does keep statistics for every Japanese player; every team and every season including the 22 seasons of Sadaharu Oh and his 868 home runs, all as a member of the Yomiuru Giants
Sadaharu Oh or Wang Chen-chih hit more home runs than however many Barry Bonds hit; more than Henry Aaron’s 755 and more than Babe Ruth’s 714. Yet, that number- 868 carries next to no meaning; in North America anyway.
I’m guilty. I can’t kick the habit of Ruth’s 714 despite his record being broken 40 years ago this April 8th. I know Roger Maris hit more in a single season and so did McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds. I know both Aaron and Bonds hit more in a career, but Babe Ruth……Babe Ruth; just the name wins me over.
Bonds is easy to discard; so are McGwire and Sosa. It’s not entirely their fault. Wrong place at the wrong time. Too much media. And Maris seemed miscast for the role; too shy; didn’t know how to handle the attention. Not enough media.
Aaron, on the other hand defined class and respectability in the face of Jim Crow hate. He was a man of great integrity; more saintly than legendary; incredibly consistent and as a result; probably taken for granted. He never hit 50 home runs in a season, but Henry Aaron…….Henry Aaron, just the name wins me over.
Babe Ruth never suffered from lack of opportunity. Yeh, he was raised in a reform school; a rabble-rouser from a young age, but he was still white and well fed. Doors were opened to him.
Maybe it’s easier to raise Babe up because he comes in black and white scratchy footage with very few interviews. He remains elusive and mysterious; a legend, not to mention being a damn good pitcher before becoming the sultan of swat. Ruth housed a reservoir of fat and lots of love. He was the one at bar time buying beers for us all refusing to let the candle go out.
So what about Oh and his 868 home runs. Oh was a singles hitter until he landed on the wings of coach Hiroshi Arakawa. He helped Oh adopt the flamingo leg kick-hitting style. Those sessions must have been incredibly severe. What a shock it must have been to the traditional Japanese baseball family, but what could anyone say about the leg kick? Oh’s home run totals skyrocketed and didn’t stop.
Oh went on to manage and apparently on three separate occasions; forced his pitchers to intentionally walk batters threatening his own single season home run record of 55. He did it to Randy Bass four times on four straight pitches during the last game of the 1985 season. Bass entered the game with 54 home runs.
Oh did it again in 2001 when Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes was stuck on 55 home runs and faced Oh’s team to close out the season. Then in 2002 Alex Cabrera suffered the same fate. Last season Wladimir Balentien hit 60 home runs, breaking Oh’s single season record once and for all.
In fairness to Oh, all four players were Gaijin or non-Japanese, alien outsiders. The country is suspicious of strangers and very protective of tradition. But what’s done is done. Oh’s name will forever be stained; even in Japan.
Only Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. They weren’t perfect either, but Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron, just the names win me over.