The visiting clubhouse in Heiwadai Stadium in Fukuoka, Japan, is two floors above ground level, so some of the major league all-stars decided to have some fun after their 16-8 victory over the Japanese all-stars on Nov. 8. Outfielder Rafael Palmeiro of the Chicago Cubs showed a box of Rawlings baseballs to the crowd of fans waiting below, then let the empty box float to the ground. Roger Craig, the San Francisco Giants manager serving as pitching coach for the Americans on the seven-game Japanese tour, took off his cowboy hat and flicked it as if to sail it into the air, only to pull the hat back at the last instant. The biggest laugh of all came when Cub pitcher Greg Maddux threw down a 10,000-yen note ($81) but yanked it back up with a string.
Even though it was all a big tease, the Japanese delighted in the antics. And in a way, that's what this tour was: a 10,000-yen note pulled back at the last moment. The series didn't really count, but the Japanese loved seeing the U.S. stars play; five of the seven games were sold out. And with the Americans winning just three of the games—they also tied two because both teams had agreed to restrict each game to nine innings—the tour raised the question. What about a real world series?
"It's way down the road, but geez, it would have a heckuva flavor," said Sparky Anderson, manager of the Detroit Tigers and the U.S. team. "The Japanese are definitely competitive, much better than they were in '78, when I came over here with the Reds. I'm not sure there'll be a true world series in my lifetime, but I would love to see one."
For this exhibition series, the commissioner's office and the Players Association worked together to select a team, and the players were chosen as much for their diplomatic skill as for their talent. The result was a young team but one that a true baseball connoisseur could appreciate: Montreal Expo first baseman Andres Galarraga, San Diego Padres catcher Benito Santiago, Toronto Blue Jay first baseman Fred McGriff, Seattle Mariners second baseman Harold Reynolds, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Vince Coleman, New York Mets pitcher David Cone and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Danny Jackson, to name a few. For 10 days in Japan, the players each received $30,000, which just about covers lunch in Tokyo.
The Japanese fans were especially taken with Anderson, whom they treated with the reverence accorded a Zen master, and two players: Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett and Los Angeles Dodger ace Orel Hershiser. Puckett was popular not just because of his outstanding stats but because of his mini-sumo body. "We have never seen anyone like him before," said a Japanese reporter. "Neither have we," replied an American.
Hershiser had originally turned down the tour, but changed his mind when his agent, Robert Fraley, told him that he should explore the possibility of playing in Japan if he becomes a free agent after next season. Hershiser threw himself headlong into the experience, and he charmed the Japanese. At a news conference 10 minutes after the players arrived at their Tokyo hotel, following a two-hour drive from the airport, Hershiser was asked, "What do you think of Japan?" He replied, "Very impressive highway system." At a reception that night, Hershiser broke the ice with the Japanese players, chatting in Pidgin English and showing them how he grips the ball for different pitches. He was also generous in his pitching: He gave up two home runs, his first since Aug. 14, in two outings. When he returned home after the game in Fukuoka—his two-month-old son, Jordan, who was born with fluid buildup in his lungs, had caught a cold—Hershiser had an uncharacteristic 7.37 ERA.
A good time was had by almost all the Americans, despite the constant dollar shock. One of the highlights was a visit from Sally Konishiki, the renowned sumo wrestler. The 536-pound Konishiki sat in the dugout in Fukuoka and signed autographs for the players as they marveled at the size of a man who weighs 50 pounds more than Maddux, Reynolds and Coleman combined.
The Japanese won the first game of the tour, 2-1, in the Tokyo Dome, thanks to some fine pitching by Makihara Hiromi of the Yomiuri Giants. In the second game, also in the Dome, the Japanese came from behind three times, on the third occasion scoring two runs in the ninth for a final 6-6 score. The sixth American run scored when U.S. umpire Jim Evans called pitcher Kaku Genji of the Chunichi Dragons for a balk with men on first and third in the ninth. "Balk?" said Kaku after the game. "How can they call a balk when we don't even know what they are?" Japanese umpires, you see, never call balks.
The tour left Tokyo for the next three games. The Americans hammered the Japanese 16-8 in Fukuoka, as Reynolds, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee, Pittsburgh Pirate third baseman Bobby Bonilla and Boston Red Sox outfielder Ellis Burks all homered. In Nishinomiya for the fourth game, the major leaguers won 8-2 with Galarraga striking the big blow, a two-run homer. The fifth game, played in Tokorozawa, was a nail-biter, with the Americans winning 3-1, as Kansas City Royals pitcher Mark Gubicza extinguished a ninth-inning Japanese rally.
The series returned to the Tokyo Dome for the final two games, and last Saturday the Japanese fought back from a 3-0 deficit to win 5-4. The most dramatic moment of that game came when Makihara struck out Oakland Athletics outfielder Dave Henderson, using a split-fingered fastball he had just been taught by Craig. The final game on Sunday ended in a scoreless tie.
There were a multitude of excuses for the seemingly lackluster showing by the Americans: They weren't in shape; they didn't take the series seriously; they were playing under foreign circumstances. But the fact of the matter is that the Japanese played better than anyone—even they—had expected. As Anderson said, "The Japanese should stop comparing themselves to Americans. They are good baseball players, period. They should stand on their own."
Could any Japanese players be successful in the majors? Some of the pitchers could, according to the Americans, who were particularly impressed by Makihara. "He would make any pitching staff in baseball," said Anderson. Would Makihara like to pitch in the States? "If that is possible, I would like to," he said.
Perhaps it is just a romantic notion, but someday American baseball and Japanese baseball may be considered equal. The Japanese have these lovely traditional dolls called daruma. When purchasing one, a wish is made and one eye of the doll is painted in. If the wish comes true, the other eye is then painted in. With that tradition in mind, Shoriki Toru, the owner of the Yomiuri Giants, says, "Having a real world series between Japan and the U.S. has been my lifelong dream. We are still a long way away, but as this tour has shown, we are progressing. To celebrate, I will go out and buy the biggest daruma I can find, and I will blacken in one eye. When we have that world series, I will blacken in the other eye."
One familiar sign in right made Vance Law feel at home.
Craig gave Makihara a split-finger lesson that came back to haunt the Americans.
Should Hershiser jump to Japan after next year, he wouldn't want for well-wishers.