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You You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting Celebrates Twenty Years of Harmony in Baseball-Not

March 26, 2009
whiting1Robert Whiting is the author of several highly acclaimed books on Japanese baseball and contemporary culture. Whiting has written for The New York Times, The Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, Slate, and US News and World Report.He has also written ten books in Japanese, mostly collections. “You Gotta Have Wa,” published in 1989, is a work on Japanese society as seen through their adopted sport of baseball, was a Book of the Month Club selection and is required reading in the Japanese Studies departments of many American universities. “The Meaning of Ichiro” (2004), a sequel, examines the impact of Japanese players in the United States. “Tokyo Underworld” (2000) is being made in to a feature film by Warner Brothers, directed by Martin Scorsese.
He is currently working on the sequel to Tokyo Underworld and is writing a biography on Hideo Nomo.

Interview with Robert Whiting

Check out the updated 2009 version

Check out the updated 2009 version

The Rising Score: You must be thrilled with getting a chance to update a baseball classic in You Gotta Have Wa? How and why do you think you got the go ahead from your publishers to do this?

Robert Whiting: Random House had a 20 year lease on the rights,  which were set to expire  this year. The book was dated in some respects, so they asked me to write 12,000 new words describing how things have changed.

The Rising Score: Over the last twenty years baseball has changed dramatically, why is Asia dominating in the international competitions such as the Olympics and the WBC?

Robert Whiting: MLB won’t allow their top players to take time off in mid-season to play in the Olympics. Japan and Korea will. As for the WBC, Japan and Korea take it seriously. Their players start training in January and are really at the top of their game by the time the tourney starts. MLB players (and fans) think the WBC is a meaningless exhibition and they refuse to put in the advance training that is necessary. They seem to view the WBC tourney as just another warm up for the season, and not a matter of national pride and honor, as it is in Japan and Korea.   MLB created this tourney to expand the world market for their merchandise. The irony of it is that most MLB Gm’s don’t want their players to participate, for fear of injury. What matters in America is the 162 game season and the playoffs. That’s why you see such low attendance and TV ratings for games involving Team USA  in America–as opposed to Japan and Korea where the ratings are off the charts in their respective countries. Also, MLB players put too much emphasis on the big home run and the 100 mph fastball, while ignoring the fundamentals of the game.  But, in a short tournament, it’s the little things–advancing the runner, hitting to the opposite field,  making the plays, etc–that help a team win. As we saw in this tourney, Japan is superior at that sort of thing.

The Rising Score: The NPB still has the four foreign player rule. Do you think, with their recent success, that they may consider dropping foreign players and try to create a Gaijinless team like the powerhouse Giants in the seventies? Pre Davey Johnson….

Robert Whiting: That’s an interesting idea, but it would be pointless as long as Japan’s top stars keep emigrating to the States.

The Rising Score: From your experience, how has the average  NPB clubhouse changed from the heyday of Warren Cromartie and Randy Bass concerning foreign players?

Robert Whiting: Japanese are much more accustomed to foreign players than they were 20 years ago. There is a lot more information available about the American way of thinking  thanks to the years of accumulated experience in dealing with the gaijin, the advent  of satellite tv and the internet, and the experience of Japanese players playing in America. Accordingly there is a lot more information available to Americans about the Japanese way of doing things. There is more acceptance than there used to be.

The Rising Score: Ichiro selected Samurai Japan’s name. As you know the Samurai died off about a hundred some years ago. What is it going to take for the Americans to beat the Samurais again? And do you think it will be a Phyrrhic victory in doing so?

Robert Whiting: The Japanese game, which dates back to the late 19th century,  is based on the philosophy of the martial arts, which was the purvey of the samurai.  That philosophy is one of endless training and the development of spirit. So, in that sense, the connection to the samurai is a real one. What it is going to take for the Americans to defeat the Japanese in a WBC, is earlier training and a return to the  basics of the game. Having said that, it is still not clear how a Japanese all-star team would do if it had to play 162 games in the MLB.  Their players train so hard they tend to run out of gas by August.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 27, 2009 9:54 am

    I am a Mariners fan from Argentina. Very nice Mariners information.
    I am a big fan of Ichiro Suzuki and am disappointed that JJ Putz was traded.
    I hope to be in Seattle for a game this summer.

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