Oh, My! Sadaharu Slams Single as Comeback Continues
(Sapporo, Japan) - Legendary Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh continued his comeback effort with a single in four at-bats as his Fukuoka Softbank Hawks defeated the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 4-1 in Japanese Pacific League action Monday night.
The single came in the third inning off Fighters pitcher Felix Diaz when catcher Shinji Takahashi and third baseman Kuniyuki Kimoto collided while going after Oh’s nubber, which traveled about 15 feet down the third base line. Despite the efforts of Makoto Kaneko , who had to run in from shortshop to field the ball, Oh was still able to beat out the throw by a step. The single raised Oh’s batting average to .027 in fifteen games.
The 67-year-old Oh, who also manages the Hawks, stunned the baseball world with his comeback announcement last winter after a 27 year retirement. Although Oh was silent about his motives, speaking only of his "love for the game," many have speculated that Oh is determined to add to his international baseball record of 868 home runs in an attempt to preserve his record from San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds, currently in third place on the all-time list with 744. Bonds, who trails American home run champ Hank Aaron by 11, is expected to lay claim to that record some time in the next two months.
Oh has fueled the speculation over the years, drawing comparisons between himself and Bonds, who has been constantly dogged by rumors of steroids use. Oh recently said that he had never played under the effects of "anything stronger than saki."
"I realize I am older now," Oh continued. "My athletic skills may no longer match those of the younger American players, say for example, Julio Franco, Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson. But there is still spring in step and snap in bat."
Despite the slow start, Hawks shortstop Munenori Kawasaki has no doubt Oh will eventually round into shape. "We all know Skipper-san has a lot to deal with," Kawasaki said. "His managerial duties add a heavy burden to his comeback effort. We will try to help him out as much as possible by being cooperative with his strategic suggestions. I expect he will be rounding into mid-season form any time."
ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons shares Kawasaki’s optimism. "Let’s face it, with [Daisuke] Matsuzaka and [Kei] Igawa now in America, Japanese pitching isn’t what it used to be. With the smaller dimensions in Japanese ballparks, I don’t see why Oh couldn’t finish with at least 30 home runs this season. That could put the record out of reach forever."
Oh’s comeback continues tonight with the opening of a three-game series against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Sendai. Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura said his pitchers would be careful in pitching to Oh, and did not rule out intentionally walking the slugger with runners in scoring position. "Sadaharu is still a dangerous hitter," Nomura said. "We know he has been out of the game for a long time, but you can never really get baseball out of your system. That is a blood test that Sadaharu will always fail."