17 October 2005

Lotte Marines Clinch Pennant!

I'm happy to see the long-suffering White Sox in the U.S. World Series. Last year about this time, I was wondering whether this year would see an all-Chicago series between the Cubs and the Sox. The major drawback of the White Sox victory over the Angels is that it brings to an end Matt Welch's season of sharply informed comment on the national pastime.

Meanwhile, Japan's Pacific League playoffs have ended, too, with gratifying results.
FUKUOKA (AP) Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines are going to the Japan Series for the first time in 31 years.

Tomoya Satozaki doubled in a pair of runs in the top of the eighth inning at Yahoo Dome on Monday as the Marines defeated the Softbank Hawks 3-2 in Game 5 of the Pacific League's second stage playoffs to advance to the Japan Series, where they will face the Central League champion Hanshin Tigers.

"I don't think either team should have lost," said Valentine. "The Hawks are a great team and the Marines are a great team and I congratulate everyone in the organization."

The Marines, who last played in the Japan Series in 1974 when they were known as the Lotte Orions, will open the best-of-seven championship on Saturday at Chiba Marine Stadium.
When I was a kid, my brother and I used to root for the Nankai Hawks, while my Dad would root for their archrivals, the Daimai Orions. Now I'm happy to see the successors of the Orions beat the Hawks, mostly because the Hawks have been rather unfair toward foreign players, while the Marines have gone so far as to hire a foreign manager, not to mention one of Hawai‘i baseball's favorite sons, Benny Agbayani.

In a sloppy piece (see comments) from 2001, Scott Gorman at JapanBall.com described the Hawks' attitude toward foreign players who threaten their manager's home run record.
On September 24th, [Tuffy] Rhodes, a journeyman when he played in America, did the unthinkable: He tied Sadaharu Oh’s decades-old record for most home runs in a season when he belted number 55. That he was even granted a chance to tie and perhaps surpass Oh, the unchallenged king of Japanese baseball as a player and now the manager of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, may be a testament to how much attitudes towards American players have changed in Japan, just as the immense popularity of Ichiro Suzuki in the United States signals a sea change in the American acceptance of Japanese players.

In contrast, consider the case of Randy Bass, an American slugger of an earlier era, who in 1985 was denied even the opportunity to challenge Oh. When he got close, Japanese players and managers appalled at the thought of an American (and it must be said in race-conscious Japan, an African-American player to boot) taking home the precious record intentionally walked or hit him every time he came to the plate in the last games of the season. Oh said nothing.

But this year, Oh let it be known that Rhodes should have a chance without prejudice, much to his credit. Perhaps he suddenly remembered that as a young player, before he was anointed, he took lots of guff because his mother was born in Taiwan, and he therefore was not a “pure” Japanese. [Oh's family name is Wang in Chinese, and more likely came from his father's side.] Rhodes’ lot was made easier by the fact that he showed proper respect for the record and the personage of Oh all year, much to the dismay of the Japanese sporting press, who love to create screaming headlines.

(But perhaps Oh still had mixed feelings, at least about seeing his 37-year-old record broken in front of him. In a game against Oh’s Fukuoka Daiei Hawks on September 30th, Rhodes was walked or given impossible-to-hit pitches, despite Oh’s statement that he wanted everything on the level. Were Oh’s coaches acting against his wishes? Hard to say, but unlikely. But the general principle remained; Rhodes, it was maintained, was still be given his chances, apparently just not against the Hawks).
UPDATE: Tom of That's News to Me notes that Gorman seems to have mixed up Randy Bass, who's white, with Tuffy Rhodes, who's black.

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