(Sadaharu) Oh Yeah!
Written by Jim Rednour   
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The greatest Japanese baseball player of all-time, Sadaharu Oh compiled a .301 lifetime average while setting records for home runs (868) and RBIs 1,967 and winning two consecutive triple crowns in 1973 and 1974. In 22 seasons, from 1959-80, he was a nine-time Most Valuable Player. Oh also holds the Japanese single-season home run record (55 in 1964).

Oh’s Landmark homeruns, including No. 756, which passed Hank Aaron’s all-time record (at the time) and others culminating in his final home run No. 868.

Oh was famous for the unique batting stance, which was designed for him by Tokyo Giants’ hitting coach Hiroshi Arakawa in 1962. The Giants' hitting coach, Arakawa was also a swordsman of some repute. He taught Oh to hit using principles applied by swordsmen. It involved Oh raising his leg toward the plate but required tremendous practice and discipline to perfect.

Don’t forget that Japanese pitchers of Oh’s time didn’t throw as hard as U.S. major leaguers.  That means Oh was generating more of his own power to propel the balls that far than he would have to against major league pitching.
Oh wasn’t blooping fly balls over short fences, either. 191 of Oh’s homers were hit 394 feet or more, which would have put them out over the fence in straightaway right in almost every major league park of Oh’s time, much less down the right field line. 

Another 286 were hit 361-393 feet, which means many to straightaway right would have gone out, and virtually all down the right field line would have been out of every major league park. And 289 more would have gone out of most major league parks if they had been pulled to the right field corner (361-393 feet).  Only 102 were less than 328 feet, and even a few of those would have gone out down the right field line in some major league parks, like old Yankee Stadium.

The dispute waged over what kind of success Oh would have had in the United States, but major leaguers who toured Japan for exhibition games in the '60s and '70s felt he would certainly have been a major star in the US, despite pitching that was likely much better here.

Here’s What Major Leaguers Had To Say About Sadaharu Oh

Davey Johnson (the only man to have been a teammate of Oh and Aaron): “Oh would have hit 700 homers in the US.  He would be a good hitter anywhere in the world.  Quality is still quality.”

Tom Seaver:  “He sure hit me.  He was a superb hitter, who hit consistently and with power.  If he played in the U.S., he would have hit 20-25 home runs a year, and what’s more, he’d be a lifetime .300 hitter.  He had tremendous discipline at the plate.  He knew the strike zone extremely well. .He could pull your hard stuff, and you couldn’t fool him off-speed.”

Hal McRae:  “Oh had tremendous patience as a hitter. I don’t know how many he would have hit here - start with 20 (a year) at least.  He was a great All Star who would have been a Hall of Famer.”

Pete Rose:  “There’s no question in my mind Oh would have hit 800 home runs if he’d played here.  If he played in a park tailored to his swing, he’d have hit 35 homers a year and hit he’d hit .300, I’ll tell you that.”

Don Baylor:  “Oh could have played anywhere at any time.  If he played in Yankee Stadium, being the left handed pull hitter he is, I have no doubt he’d hit 40 home runs a year.”

Frank Howard:  “He would have hit 30-35 home runs a year and hit from .280 -.320 and drive in up to 120 runs a year.  The point being, he rates with the all-time stars of the game.”

Greg Luzinski:  “There’s no question he’d have been a great player in the United States, that he was a super talent.”

Brooks Robinson:  “He could have played in the big leagues with the best players in the world. Not as many home runs [as he hit in Japan], but he would have hit his share and hit for average.  He was just an outstanding hitter.”

Frank Robinson:  “I’m sure he would have hit in the 30’s [of homers per year] and probably in the low 40’s.  Thirty home runs a year add up to over 600 home runs, and he’d do that if he played the same number of years here that he played there.”

Don Drysdale:  “He would have hit for average and power here.  In a park tailored to his swing, there’s no telling how many he would have hit. He was always ready for anything we threw him.  We were all impressed.”