Sadaharu Oh, who rarely had trouble hitting balls as a player, believes that Japanese baseballs are a problem. The Fukuoka Daiei Hawks skipper would love to do away with the system where each home team can buy its balls from up to three different manufacturers.
At a recent manager's meeting, Oh spouted off on one of his favorite topics, reportedly saying, "managers know which balls fly farther and which don't."
A year and a half ago, just before a game against visiting major league all stars, Oh held court on the subject.
"They (the majors) have one ball," Oh said. "That's the only way to do it. That's fair."
At the time, no one asked the genial Oh if he thought it was fair to have used a specially compressed bat--one illegal in the majors and banned from Japanese baseball after the all-time home run king retired.
Aspersions aside, Oh has a point. Although the rabbit ball is an urban myth of impressive proportions in the U.S., there is documented evidence of the creature in Japan.
After an unprecedented home run explosion in 1980, the commissioner's office upgraded its testing procedures to keep jumping baseballs from altering the character of the game. That season, four Pacific League teams adopted the balls of one particular maker, and they flew like nobody's business.
The impact of this ball, or rather, the exaggerated impact bats had on it, was documented by Tetsuya Usami in his encyclopedia of Japanese baseball records, "Puro Yakyu Kiroku Daikan."
Charlie Manuel of the Kintetsu Buffaloes won the home run race that year with 48, beating the 45 hit by the Nippon Ham Fighters' Tony Solaita. According to Usami, Manuel averaged one homer every 2.4 games with the suspect ball and one dinger per 5.2 games with other balls.
Solaita was even better, going deep once in every 2.2 games with the rabbit ball and once every 3.7 games with real balls. But Manuel won the home run crown because he played in twice as many games with the jumping beans--104 to 52 for Solaita.
Usami referred to the rabbit ball's manufacturer only as "Company M."
In the majors, players used to refer to hitting a home run as "dialing nine"--the prefix one needed to call long distance from a hotel room. But the Buffaloes got hammered so often--251 times that year--that "dialing M" would have been a better nickname.
That sort of thing isn't supposed to happen anymore, with the new testing and all that, but one wonders.
The last two seasons, Fighters pitchers have allowed 130 home runs on the road but 229 at home. Home runs are 70 percent more common in the Fighters' home games than when they are on the road. So wear protection against line drives if you sit in the front row of the bleachers at Tokyo Dome.
The Fighters, like the Buffaloes, Orix BlueWave and Seibu Lions purchase all their baseballs from the same maker, Mizuno. These other teams don't show the appalling home run numbers the Fighters do at home, but all three have home fields that are deeper to straight-away left and right than Tokyo Dome.
Yuka Kondo, a Mizuno spokeswoman, said that all Mizuno balls were tested in-house and conformed to specifications.
But with the exception of a test in the spring and summer, all testing for resiliency is done by the manufacturers themselves.
Twice a year, balls are sent to an independent testing organization in Saitama Prefecture, and Mizuno's balls, according to one source, stood out when it came to exceeding specifications.
As of now, the commissioners' office is considering narrowing the specs even further, but until then watch out.
Word is that the Hawks will switch entirely to Mizuno this year, meaning Oh's plea for a single ball may not come in time to save his home run record from someone batting with an unfair advantage.
The Hot Corner appears each Thursday in The
Daily Yomiuri .