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Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese single season homer record and the HOF

To Whom It May Concern:

I read with interest your page discussing reasons to try to elect Sadaharu Oh to the Hall of Fame. What your page does not mention is another reason for keeping Oh out. As I'm sure you are aware, foreign players came close three times to breaking Oh's single season home run record in Japan. In every case, these players were unfortunate enough to have to face Oh-managed teams in some of the final games while trying to break the record. Oh disgracefully had his team's pitchers intentionally walk these foreign players again and again. With the Pete Rose debacle, it seems that character also plays a part in electing players to the Hall. While Oh's actions may pale in comparison to Rose's alleged actions, he has proven to be a man of poor moral character. He lacks the guts and true sense of fair competition that should be required of any man inducted into the Hall of Fame. Although it was unfortunate that Oh was not allowed to play in MLB during his prime, he has also neglected foreign players in Japan of reaching their potential. I do not believe a man of Oh's cowardly character belongs in the HOF. Just my two cents.

John Rucynski

Palmerston North, NZ

Jim Albright's Response

I'm aware of the cases of Bass, Cabrera, and Rhodes and I agree they do not reflect well on Oh. He tried a fig leaf of saying his pitching coach ordered the walks against these players, but since he never to my knowledge disciplined anyone over it, that story won't wash. It clearly shows he is a competitor who desperately wants to hang on to that single season home run record. His behavior still is petty and beneath him, but other than this and a very murky sign stealing allegation, his record as a sportsman and ambassador of the sport is quite good. I think these aspects balance the scales at the very least.

I wish Oh could grasp something Bill James wrote about Babe Ruth losing the single season and career records. Of course, Oh will retain the career mark in NPB for the foreseeable future, which to my mind only emphasizes the point I am about to make. James wrote that once "Ruth's records" were held by others, people began to look at his overall record--and there is none better in the history of the majors. If Oh loses the single season record, people will focus on the career record and may look a little at the overall record--and there's none better in Japanese baseball history. That should be more than good enough for anyone. Single season marks are far more vulnerable than the career HR mark, and that in turn is more vulnerable than the overall broad based excellence which makes Oh Japan's best.

Back to the discussion of Oh and Cooperstown: where do we draw the line on morality? Cap Anson and Ty Cobb are notable as racists, Babe Ruth was a womanizer of epic proportions even though he was married, the Lord himself only knows how many HOFers were alcoholics, Orlando Cepeda trafficked in drugs, Gaylord Perry frequently threw an illegal pitch (the spitter) and all of them are in. Pete Rose is out because of betting problems that mandated he be banned for at least a time, but many, myself included, believe he no longer should be being punished. Some even want to pardon Joe Jackson, who was by his own admission (under oath, no less) at least complicit in the fixing of the World Series, for heaven's sake. Jackson can rot as far as I'm concerned, and maybe Cepeda bothers me, but beyond that I'm not troubled by the idea that these men are honored by the HOF for their exploits on the field. Jackson clearly knew about the fix, did nothing to stop it and may have even participated, so I'm not going to give him a pass. Drug dealing is far more offensive than Oh's petty transgressions, I'm sure you'd agree. Frankly, to me even Perry's cheating with the spitter is less in the spirit of fair play than Oh's refusal to let his pitchers give Bass, Cabrera and Rhodes a chance to break his single season HR record.

The bottom line is, all of these "heroes" are men blessed with tremendous athletic talent and are just as human as the rest of us in all other respects. Some are very good men, some not. Most, like Oh, fall somewhere in between. Short of Joe Jackson-like actions which would make the game nothing more than pro wrestling, I'm not keen on trying to impose moral standards here. After all we're honoring baseball players, not evaluating people for sainthood. It's hard enough to evaluate what happened on the field in some cases without getting into such philosophical issues. It seems that the HOF implicitly agrees, given the characters who have been honored.

Jim Albright

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