In a recent column, I advocate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame to enshrine home-run king Sadaharu Oh. He is 80 years old. He should be honored for his contributions to the game around the world. The NBHOF is the closest thing to a true international baseball hall of fame. Oh was a remarkable player and winner: The Giants captured 11 Japan Series titles during his 22-year career.
By Ed Odeven
Sadaharu Oh performed one part of his former job ー bashing home runs ー better than anybody in pro baseball history.
Which is why it’s long overdue for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, to overhaul its induction requirements. The institution, which opened its doors in 1936, celebrates, promotes and curates baseball history. There are 333 elected members.
Oh, who celebrated his 80th birthday on May 20, deserves to be honored by America’s Baseball Hall of Fame while he’s still alive. I also believe other Nippon Professional Baseball legends, living and dead, should be a part of a permanent exhibition in Cooperstown. (Ask NPB and the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame to produce a list of 10-20 names for recognition at the New York landmark. That would be a step in the right direction.)
Greats of the game from Latin America (Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, Luis Aparicio, Orlando Cepeda, Rod Carew, and Pedro Martinez are notable examples) have enriched the breadth and depth of the hall’s collection. The same is true of Hall of Fame players, coaches, managers and others who were employed in the Negro Leagues in the past, including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, and Cool Papa Bell.
As the biggest (and best) of the game’s halls of fame in the world, the Cooperstown shrine has a unique opportunity to expand its reach and highlight some of the greats from Asia alongside its mementos of North American baseball.
Since Hideo Nomo’s MLB debut in 1995, Japanese players have left a continuous, indelible mark on the big leagues.
But don’t forget this: Decades before The Tornado’s first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oh was an inspiring presence in the lineup year after year for the mighty Kyojin. He paved the way for future players to pursue greatness throughout his 22 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants.
“The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a not-for-profit educational institution dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of the game and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience, as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our National Pastime,” reads a statement on the NBHOF website.
Baseball is Japan’s national pastime, too. Therefore, there’s no reason why it can’t find a way to honor some of Nippon Professional Baseball’s greats, too. Start with the great slugger who wore No. 1 for the Giants.
A Great Baseball Ambassador
Generations of baseball fans and aficionados recognize the fact that baseball’s all-time home-run king was a remarkable player. He’s also a great ambassador for the game.
On September 3, 1977, Oh slugged his 756th career home run in the third inning against the cross-town rival Yakult Swallows at Korakuen Stadium to break MLB slugger Hank Aaron’s pro baseball record. The left-handed slugger smacked a 3-2 pitch over the right-field wall and dashed toward first base with both arms raised in jubilation. (See video footage of the historic clout here.)
It was a joyous occasion and one of the defining moments of Oh’s career.
“I would have loved to have been there tonight to put the crown on top of his head because he certainly is quite a gentleman and the people of Japan have a lot to be proud of,” Aaron said in a videotaped message that night.
On August 3, 1978, Oh became the first ー and only ー player in pro baseball history to hit homer No. 800. He did so against Taiyo Whales reliever Hiroshi Okawa at Korakuen Stadium, connecting on the first pitch of the sixth inning. The ball landed in the shoe of a 34-year-old fan named Hiromori Miyayoshi, who “had taken off his shoes to watch the game in greater comfort,” The Associated Press reported.
In 2016, Aaron received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette in a special ceremony at the home of Takashi Shinozuka, Japan’s consul general in Atlanta.
The occasion was a tribute to Aaron’s friendship with Oh and their shared commitment to baseball as co-founders of the World Children’s Baseball Fair in 1992, while serving as honorary directors to the present. The organization unites youth around the world through the sport at annual baseball camps.
“For 25 years, we’ve been going back and forth trying to help young kids,” Aaron was quoted as saying by The Associated Press in a story that highlighted his special honor. “Not to make them home run hitters, but just to make them pen pals. By that, I mean someone that can write letters and be able to communicate with each other. The Japanese people have helped me out quite a bit. I want to thank them for all they do.”
Fittingly, Oh, who didn’t travel to Atlanta, recorded a video message for Aaron, who sported the medal on his jacket.
“This makes me happier than if I had received the decoration myself,” Oh said.