Wednesday, August 8, 2007

868 - Sadaharu Oh

Sadaharu Oh (born May 20, 1940, in Sumida, Tokyo, Japan), is a former baseball player and manager of the Yomiuri Giants in Nippon Professional Baseball and is the current manager of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. He holds the professional baseball record for home runs, having hit 868 in his prestigious career.

Oh is the son of a Chinese father and a Japanese mother. Because of nationality laws at the time, Oh has never been a Japanese citizen, but in fact a national of the Republic of China (Taiwan), though he speaks only Japanese. Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian happily appointed him as an "itinerant ambassador" twice, and decorated him with a medal.

In 1959, he signed his first professional contract as a pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants. However, Oh was not a strong enough pitcher to succeed professionally and soon switched to first base, working diligently with coach Hiroshi Arakawa to improve his hitting skills. This led the development of Oh's distinctive "flamingo" leg kick. It took the left-handed hitting Oh a few years to blossom, but he would go on to dominate the baseball league in Japan.

Oh led his league in home runs fifteen times (and for thirteen consecutive seasons) and also drove in the most runs for thirteen seasons. More than just a power hitter, Oh was a five-time batting champion, and won the Japanese Central League's batting triple crown twice. With Sadaharu Oh at first base, the Yomiuri Giants won eleven championships, and Oh was named the Central League's Most Valuable Player nine times and to the All-Star team eighteen times.

Sadaharu Oh retired in 1980 at age 40, having amassed 2,786 hits (3rd after Isao Harimoto and Katsuya Nomura), 2,170 RBIs, and a lifetime batting average of .301. Moreover, his record of 868 career home runs, is 112 more than Barry Bonds' Major League Baseball home run record of 756.

His hitting exploits benefited from the fact that, for most of his career, he batted third in the Giants' lineup, with another very dangerous hitter, Shigeo Nagashima, batting fourth; the two players forming the feared "O-N Cannon." In his autobiography, Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way Of Baseball (ISBN 978-0812911091), Oh said he and Nagashima were not close, rarely spending time together off the field. Nagashima, in fact, was and is more popular than Oh, possibly due to Oh's mixed heritage.

Oh was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.


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