Sadaharu Oh or officially Wang Chenchih (born May 20 1940), is a former baseball player and manager of the Yomiuri Giants in Nippon Professional Baseball. He holds the world record for home runs on a professional level, having hit 868 in his career.
Oh is the son of a Chinese father (from Zhejiang) and a Japanese mother and was born in Sumida, Tokyo, Japan. He had Japanese citizenship when he was born because Taiwan, his father's home, was part of the Empire of Japan. After the end of World War II, control of Taiwan was given to the Republic of China (ROC). Taiwanese people were converted from Japanese citizenship to ROC citizenship. Until January of 1985 the children of a Japanese father inherited Japanese citizenship, but if the father was not Japanese, the child was not Japanese. This changed on January 1 1985. This was a big problem for Oh as a youth: he speaks Japanese and has lived in Japan all his life. He and his three daughters hold Republic of China passports.
In high school, Oh made many appearances at Koshien Stadium and suffered several tough defeats. In 1957, Waseda Jitsugyo High School made it to the Spring Koshien Tournament with the second-year Oh as its ace pitcher. Right before the tournament started, Oh suffered serious blisters on two fingers of his pitching hand. The only way to heal the injury was with rest, but Oh refused to let his team down. Hiding his injury so as not to demoralize his team, Oh pitched the entire first game at Koshien and won. Oh's catcher noticed the bloodstained ball, but agreed to keep the injury secret from the rest of the team. The next day, Oh pitched another complete game and earned the victory, and again his catcher kept the injury a secret, but the blisters worsened. The pain and infection was unbearable, and now Oh faced the prospect of pitching two more games — on back-to-back days — for the championship. All the same, Oh pitched and won another complete game, enduring the pain. After the game, on the eve of the final, he had already lost all feeling in his fingertips, and was convinced he could not pitch in the final.
That night, Oh was paid a surprise visit by his father, who had noticed the injury while watching his son pitch on television. Oh's father had traveled 350 miles from Tokyo to bring him a Chinese herbal remedy. The miracle treatment worked, and Oh was able to just make it through his fourth complete game in four days, squeaking out a one-run victory. Oh had won the championship, proved his fighting spirit, and earned fame and the respect of the nation.
In 1959, he signed his first professional contract as a pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants. However, Oh was not a strong enough pitcher to succeed professionally and soon switched to first base, working diligently with coach Hiroshi Arakawa to improve his hitting skills. This led the development of Oh's distinctive "flamingo" leg kick. It took the left-handed hitting Oh three years to blossom, but he would go on to dominate the baseball league in Japan.
Oh led his league in home runs fifteen times (and for thirteen consecutive seasons) and also drove in the most runs for thirteen seasons. More than just a power hitter, Oh was a five-time batting champion, and won the Japanese Central League's batting triple crown twice. With Sadaharu Oh at first base, the Yomiuri Giants won eleven championships, and Oh was named the Central League's Most Valuable Player nine times and to the All-Star team eighteen times.
His hitting exploits benefited from the fact that, for most of his career, he batted third in the Giants' lineup, with another very dangerous hitter, Shigeo Nagashima, batting fourth; the two players forming the feared "O-N Cannon". In his autobiography, Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way Of Baseball (ISBN 978-0812911091), Oh said he and Nagashima were not close, rarely spending time together off the field. Oh was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
In 1995, he returned to baseball as the manager of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (later the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks). Oh led the Hawks to three Pacific League pennants in 1999, 2000 and 2003, and two Japan Series titles in 1999 and 2003.
In 2006, Oh managed the Japan national baseball team, winning the championship in the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic over Cuba. On July 5, he announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks to combat a stomach tumor. On July 17, 2006, Oh underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove his stomach and its surrounding lymph nodes. The surgery was considered to be a success.  Although the tumor was confirmed to be cancerous, it was caught in early stages. He has since returned to coaching the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Protecting the Record
Oh's tenure as a manager has not been without controversy. On three occasions, foreign players have challenged his single-season home run record of 55 (Americans Randy Bass in 1985, 54 HRs, and Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes in 2001, 55 HRs; and Venezuelan Alex Cabrera in 2002, 55 HRs). Each of these men played against teams managed by Oh late in the season with the record on the line. In each instance Oh's pitchers either refused to or were instructed not to throw hittable pitches, in order to safeguard Oh's record. Reacting to treatment of Bass in 1985, Japanese baseball commissioner Hiromori Kawashima termed Oh's team's behavior "completely divorced from the essence of...fair play."
The Bass/Oh record incident was used as a plot point in the Tom Selleck movie Mr. Baseball in which Selleck's character, preparing to break his team's manager's record for consecutive home run games, starts getting walked by pitchers when he comes to bat. And similar to Bass, Selleck would challenge the pitchers to throw strikes by gripping the bat upside down.
In the case of the Rhodes incident, Oh's pitching coach, Yoshiharu Wakana, took the blame by saying he gave the order to pitch around Rhodes. He then bluntly added, "I just didn't want a foreign player to break Oh's record.". Hawks pitcher Keizaburo Tanoue went on record saying that he wanted to throw strikes to Rhodes and felt bad about the situation.
Sadaharu Oh became friends with Hank Aaron, his contemporary in Major League Baseball. The two squared off in a home run derby before an exhibition game at Korakuen Stadium on 1974-11-02, after Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth's home run record. By that time, Oh was running away with the Japanese home run record, having become the first Japanese baseball player to hit 600 career home runs that year. Aaron won, 10-9. In 1988, Oh and Aaron created the World Children's Baseball Fair (WCBF), to increase the popularity of baseball by working with youngsters.
Oh was married to Kyoko Oh (Template:Lang Ō Kyōko), and has three daughters with her. Kyoko Oh died of stomach cancer in December 2001 at age 57, the same illness he would combat in 2006. In December 2002, her ashes were stolen from their family grave. The reason for this theft is still unclear.
"Ō" is the Japanese rendering of the common Chinese surname "Wang", which literally means "king". This is a coincidence considering he is considered a "Home Run King" in baseball.
On December 4, 2007, Oh said in Chiyoda, Tokyo that it's just a matter of time before his world record of 868 home runs will be broken. "I think the 868 record will be broken. There's nobody near that mark in Japan, but I think Alex Rodriguez can do it", he added. "He has the ability to hit 1,000." Rodriguez currently has 619 home runs after 18 seasons in Major League Baseball.
- Taipei Times - archives
- The Seattle Times, "Briefs: Sadaharu Oh to have stomach surgery", July 6, 2006.
- Associated PRess, "Japanese Baseball Great Sadaharu Oh Has Operation for Stomach Cancer", RedOrbit, July 18, 2006.
- Roah, Jeff, "tokyo under the tracks: It's Never Too Late to Insert an Asterisk", Tokyo Q, October 12, 2001.
- Merron, Jeff, "The Phoniest Records in Sports", ESPN.com, February 28, 2003.
- Sadaharu Oh [Archive] - Baseball Fever
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