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Friday, June 17, 2011

What Bryce Harper Could Learn From Sadaharu Oh

When Sadaharu Oh, the greatest home run hitter in Japanese professional baseball history (868 lifetime home runs; interestingly, he was Chinese and his family experienced discrimination when he was growing up), was in high school, his team played in an important tournament against its arch rival. Oh was on the mound that day. He pitched a shutout, and his team won 4-0 (initially, Oh was signed as a pitcher -- he once through four complete games in four days! -- but was converted to first base later). When the final out was made, Oh became so excited that he "threw his glove high into the air, jumping and yelling in celebration!" After the game, Oh's brother, who a fine baseball player in his own right, took him aside and lashed out at him ("Sadaharu Oh: Zen Way of Baseball," p. 39):
"What you did today was a disgrace!"
"What did I do?"
 "What did you do? Are you a first-year man?"
"First year man? Yes, yes."
"Where do you get off carrying on like that?"
"Like what?"
 "Throwing your glove in the air, rubbing salt in their wounds. Wasn't it enough you beat them? Did you have to humiliate them as well? Have you no respect for the feelings of your opponents?"
From that point on, Oh never showed his feelings in public. When he was playing professional ball and hit an important home run, he would occasionally raise his arms, but never intentionally rubbed salt into his opponents' wounds.

Compare Oh's attitude with that of Bryce Harper's. Some of you are undoubtedly aware that Harper was the first player selected in last year's major league baseball draft (picked by the Washington Nationals). This year he's playing for the National's single A team in Hagerstown, Maryland (the Hagerstown Suns), and is enjoying a good season at the plate. In a recent game against the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Harper hit a home run against the Grasshoppers. Harper paused in the batter box to admire his home run before beginning a very slow jog around the bases. The Grasshopper pitcher, Zachary Neal let Harper know that he took exception at Harper's actions, and in response Harper blew him a a kiss halfway between third and home ("Nats prospect Bryce Harper blows kiss at pitcher after HR").  Harper's kiss was not received well by former MLB player and Hall of Fame member Mike Schmidt.
I would say Bryce, if you're going to hit a lot of 'em ... you'd better learn not to show up the pitcher because it's just going to get tougher and tougher on you if you watch your home runs. Just hit your home runs and hit 'em like you're used to hitting 'em, not like you're surprised when you hit one.
Schmidt also reportedly said that "big league pitchers will stick one in Harper's ear if he brings that act to the show" ("Nationals Prospect Bryce Harper Blows Kiss at Pitcher After Homer"), by which he means that if Harper puts on a similar display in the big leagues, his next time at bat he will have a pitch thrown at his head.

Personally, I think Oh's brother's attitude was a bit excessive. I think some excitement after winning a game or hitting a home run is acceptable. Nevertheless, Oh and his brother are on to something here. Excessive celebration, such as admiring one's home runs from the batter's box and blowing kisses at opposing pitchers, is unnecessary and shows a lack of respect (and class). So, I think Harper could learn a thing or two from Oh.  If he doesn't, then he'll probably learn it the hard way. One day he may have to pick a baseball out of his ear.

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