Born: May 20, 1940, Tokyo, Japan
High School: Waseda Jitsyugo, Tokyo
Currently: Manager, Japan National Baseball Team
Although he managed Team Japan to the World Championship at the first-ever World Baseball Classic in 2006, Sadaharu Oh is still best known as the All-Time Home Run King who hit 868 home runs in his 22-year Japanese professional career. He led the Japan Central League in home runs 15 times (13 of them consecutive). He won League Most Valuable Player honors 9 times, made 18 All-Star Teams, won 5 batting titles, and even won the Triple Crown (leading the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in) twice in a row. Oh’s greatness wasn’t limited to hitting, he also won nine Gold Glove awards for his defense at first base. More importantly, he paired with Shigeo Nagashima to lead their team — the Yomiuri Giants — to 9 straight Japan Championships in the 1960s. Oh went on to become Manager of the Giants in the 1980s.
In high school, Oh made many appearances at Koshien and suffered several tough defeats. In 1957, Waseda High School made it to the Spring Koshien Tournament with the second-year Oh as their ace pitcher. Right before the tournament started, Oh suffered serious blisters on two fingers of his pitching hand. The only way to heal the injury was with rest, but Oh refused to let his team down. Hiding his injury so as not to demoralize his team, Oh pitched the entire first game at Koshien and won. Oh’s catcher noticed the bloodstained ball, but agreed to keep the injury secret from the rest of the team. The next day, Oh pitched another complete game and earned the victory, and again his catcher kept the injury a secret, but the blisters worsened. The pain and infection was unbearable, and now Oh faced the prospect of pitching two more games — on back-to-back days — for the championship. All the same, Oh pitched and won another complete game, enduring the worst pain of his life. After the game, on the eve of the Final, he had already lost all feeling in his fingertips, and was convinced he couldn’t pitch in the Final.
That night, Oh was paid a surprise visit by his father, who had noticed the subtle injury while watching his son pitch on television. Oh’s father had traveled 350 miles from Tokyo to bring him a Chinese herbal remedy. The miracle treatment worked, and Oh was able to just make it through his fourth complete game in four days, squeaking out a one-run victory. Oh had won the Championship, proved his fighting spirit, and earned fame and the respect of the nation.
In his 1984 autobiography, A Zen Way of Baseball, Oh wrote:
“The press in our country makes much of ‘the spirit of high school baseball.’ And it is true — as far as it goes. High school players back then — and now — give themselves to the game in ways that are both admirable and foolish … The papers the next day and for some days following made much of the fact that I pitched with such an injury. It demonstrated this superb ‘spirit of high school baseball.’ But if the game had been lost — as well it might — the stories might have been different.”