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Number 1 Shimbun

Sadaharu Oh—Home-Run King

No1-2018-08 03

Sadaharu Oh—Home-Run King

by CHARLES POMEROY

Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants, whose prowess in hitting home runs brought him baseball fame, spoke at a Club luncheon on October 17, 1977. That was the year he hit 50 homers following on his earlier 51 in 1973 and his record 55 in 1964, the seasonal highs in a career that would total a lifetime world record of 868 home runs. Another high point was a 1974 home-run derby with Hank Aarons, the man who had just broken Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs (Aarons 10, Oh 9). Shaking Oh’s hand at the luncheon is Frederick “Ted” Marks (UPI), FCCJ president.

The son of a Chinese (Taiwan) father and a Japanese mother, Oh was born on May 20, 1940, in Tokyo, where he was also raised and educated. While still a high-school student, he made news nationwide as the pitcher who won Japan’s annual Koshien tournament in 1957 by continuing to hurl balls over four days despite painfully injured fingers. In 1959, the Yomiuri Giants signed him on as a pitcher, but soon switched him to first base and a focus on batting skills that saw his home runs jump from seven in 1959 to 17 in 1960. Although 1961 was an off-year at 13 homers, Oh’s hitting prowess rebounded to figures of 38 and then 40 over the next two seasons. These were followed by his record 55 homers in 1964, making him Japan’s home-run king. Seasonal homers during his career were mostly in the mid to high-40s range, marred by an off-year of 33 in 1975 and then in the 30s range in his final three years as a player.

Retirement as a player in 1980 saw Oh’s transition to assistant manager for the Giants in 1981, then manager in 1984, with a pennant win in 1987 before he retired in 1988. Although controversy had arisen in 1985, when his pitchers repeatedly walked Randy Bass of the Hanshin Tigers to prevent Bass from tying or breaking Oh’s seasonal home- run record, Oh denied any involvement. He returned to baseball in 1995 to manage the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and lead that team to three pennants and two titles. Controversies resurfaced in 2001 and 2002 when his pitchers, contrary to his orders, repeatedly walked foreign batters who threatened to break Oh’s seasonal record of 55 homers. He managed that team (re-named the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2005) until his retirement in 2008.

Although his seasonal record was broken by Wladimir Balentien of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows with 60 home runs in 2013, Oh’s career total of 868 home runs remains a world record.

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Charles Pomeroy is editor of Foreign Correspondents in Japan, a history of the club that is available at the front desk.

 

Published in: August 2018

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