[FOUNTAIN]What legacy for Oh?A batting average of .161, 72 strike outs and seven home runs. Sadaharu Oh’s rookie year with the Yomiuri Giants in 1959 was nothing special. He played first base and took 27 at bats before he recorded his first hit. His mediocre period continued for three more years. Fans heckled him with his last name, saying that the Chinese character king, which is pronounced “Oh” in Japanese, stood for strike-out king.
Then in 1962, Oh transformed into a slugger and went on to hit 38 home runs that year. He continued setting many new batting records in Japan’s professional baseball league. Oh hit the ball out of the park in seven consecutive games, held the home run title for 15 season, led the league in runs batted in for 13 seasons, reached base safely for 12 seasons and was named the Most Valuable Player for nine seasons. It got to the point that Oh was dubbed “The World’s Oh.” Pitchers thought up many ways to prevent Oh from getting on base, with most avoiding pitching to him entirely. As a result, he led the league in bases on balls for 18 years from 1962. The Hiroshima Carps even played six fielders on the right side of second base to have a better chance of getting him out.
Oh went on to hit 868 home runs in his career, which is more than the Major League Baseball record of 755 set by Hank Aaron. He failed to earn the title in the Guinness Book of World Records due to the fact that Japan had smaller stadiums than the United States. In 1980, Oh decided to hang up his cleats after 22 years, saying he couldn’t continue his unique style of batting. The Giants retired his number 1 to honor Oh. His popularity, however, was overshadowed by that of his teammate Nagashima Shiego, mainly because Oh was a Taiwanese-Japanese. To this day, he maintains his Taiwanese citizenship.
His start as a manager was not as smooth. After taking over the helm of the Giants in 1984, they won the pennant only once in his five-year stay there. He also experienced all sorts of humiliation after accepting the managerial post with the cellar-dwelling Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (currently the Softbank Hawks) in 1995. But after the initial hardships, Oh transformed the Hawks into a powerhouse. They won the Japan Series twice under his management.
Oh’s baseball philosophy emphasizes a small game, which utilizes steals, singles, bunts and data about his team and opponents. On Monday, Oh’s players on the Japanese National Team hoisted him up after Japan won the inaugural World Baseball Classic. He finally succeeded in becoming “The World’s Oh” as a manager also. Where is the final destination of Sadaharu Oh’s legacy?
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.