Wladimir Balentien breaks Japan's single-season home run record
September 18, 2013 12:36 AM   Subscribe

Japanese baseball's single-season home run record has been broken. Set by the legendary Sadaharu Oh (still holder of the world career home run record) in 1964, it stood for 49 years. In recent years, several players had come close to breaking it... only to be walked for the rest of the season, by teams managed by Oh himself. The record was broken by Wladimir Balentien, who's from Curaçao -- an island familiar to baseball fans partly for its oddball names which combine Dutch, Papiamentu, and other influences. In affectionate tribute, Notgraphs published this guide to figuring out your Curaçaoan name.
posted by LobsterMitten (32 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
So dope.
posted by dhammond at 12:51 AM on September 18, 2013


In recent years, several players had come close to breaking it... only to be walked for the rest of the season, by teams managed by Oh himself.

OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH snap.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:53 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wikipedia has a little more info on the 'previous players'. They all played teams besides Oh's team - one of them matched the record with five games remaining in the season, only one of which was against Oh's team. I'd be curious to find out if any of the other teams had pitched badly to them as well, since it sounds like it wasn't coming from Oh himself.
posted by jacalata at 1:01 AM on September 18, 2013




This article in Sports Illustrated has a bit more on the three people who came close to breaking the record previously, and just a bit on how Japanese attitudes toward foreign players are improving.

Also - the league introduced a bouncier ball this season, which accounts for part of the increase, but Balentien is also having an extraordinary season in his own right (see the link under his name in the post for some stats).
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:12 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I mean yes, so I'm not just making bad puns, for the non-baseball fans in the thread, there are a number of defensible reasons to intentionally walk a good hitter- two outs with a bad hitter on deck; to get in a good double play situation with a slow runner on first; late innings in a close game with playoff implications; other things that don't immediately spring to mind; some combination of these. Barry Bonds got walked a ton- I feel like in the season he broke the career record he only saw pitches, like, every 19 days.

Oh supposedly told his pitchers to throw strikes to Cabrera, but loyalty to their manager, or fear of the shame of giving up number 56, led to Cabrera being pitched around as well.

There's a farcical indie comedy in there and I can't wait for it to premiere at Sundance.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:20 AM on September 18, 2013


Man, these names! I love mine and am grateful to this guy and this post for making his "code" for them public, so that I can turn around and use mine as my new pw next time it expires.
posted by riverlife at 1:30 AM on September 18, 2013


Who's on second?
No, Who's on first.
Oh!
No, he's the manager.
posted by zippy at 2:00 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]




Yeeeeeeeeah. Having lived in this country for about ten years, I'm not at all willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt that the preservation of his record was anything other than blatant racism. There's this article too.
Then of course there's also the incident a few years ago where some HS sports association or another limited the number of black track athletes to no more than 3, because it was "unfair competition." My apologies, Dear Blue, but the article escapes my Google-fu; I would very much like to provide a link to the track and field thing.
posted by GoingToShopping at 3:46 AM on September 18, 2013


There's a farcical indie comedy in there and I can't wait for it to premiere at Sundance.

Mr. Baseball
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:20 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


And in all the newspaper reports on the breaking of the record, I have searched, but have yet to find the phrase, "Balentien received a call from Oh himself, offering congratulations on breaking the record ..."
posted by woodblock100 at 4:27 AM on September 18, 2013


That CuraƧaoan naming algorithm is pretty amazing, especially in view of the crappy "Your ___ Name" generators all over the internet that basically ignore your real name.
posted by exogenous at 4:37 AM on September 18, 2013


I feel kind of weird about the name generator, partly because I'm uncomfortable with mocking people's names and partly because, well, they're not weird if you spend 30 seconds thinking about CuraƧao. At least half the algorithm is devoted to making your name look a bit more Dutch, which is only funny if you've never seen Dutch before and somehow don't connect the picture of the guy wearing a Dutch uniform to those 'funny' people from the Caribbean.
posted by hoyland at 5:01 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember the years when Rhodes, then Cabrera got to fifty-five. They couldn't get a pitch to save their lives, and they were noticeably upset about it. No, they didn't only play against the Hawks (Oh's team at the time) but Oh is pretty much one of the faces on the Rushmore of Japanese baseball (Nagashima being one of the other fixtures, and he seems, from what I've seen of him, to be a decent human being, unlike the towering asshole that Oh seems to be), and I'd be willing to take almost any bet that discussions were had out of the spotlight.

That said, foreign players are a fixture in Japanese baseball, and things are (very, very slowly) getting better. Congrats to Mr. Balentien.

What, seriously, no one pointed out how fantastic Yakult's team name is? Japanese team names are like a Jeopardy category to themselves. The name of the category, of course, would be "Team Names That Would Never Fly In The U.S."
posted by Ghidorah at 6:05 AM on September 18, 2013


The Little League World Series [I say little advisedly because in the most recent LLWS Chad Lorkowski from Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores stood 6 feet 3 inches and 219 pounds, Grant Holman from Chula Vista stood 6'4" and 166 pounds - while many players would have to stand on their toes to get on that ride at the fair] is the best baseball going. They seem to have cleaned up their age verification problem and a lot of those kids are scary good. What is really striking to me is how emotionally composed they are.
posted by vapidave at 7:49 AM on September 18, 2013


The Little League World Series [I say little advisedly because in the most recent LLWS Chad Lorkowski from Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores stood 6 feet 3 inches and 219 pounds, Grant Holman from Chula Vista stood 6'4" and 166 pounds - while many players would have to stand on their toes to get on that ride at the fair] is the best baseball going. They seem to have cleaned up their age verification problem and a lot of those kids are scary good. What is really striking to me is how emotionally composed they are.

As an American, I enjoy watching the games that feature teams from other countries and arbitrarily picking a team to root for. This year's Japanese team was crazy good.
posted by dismas at 8:06 AM on September 18, 2013


Do they juice in the Japanese league?
posted by Nelson at 8:21 AM on September 18, 2013


Do they juice in the Japanese league?

Yeah, but there's always a big argument between fans of centrifugal juicers and the masticating types.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:25 AM on September 18, 2013


(In other NPB record news, on September 13, Rakuten Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka set the NPB record for consecutive wins by a starting pitcher in one season and over two seasons with his 25th win in a row, his 21st this season. Tanaka is headed to MLB next season, if negotiations work out.)
posted by mwhybark at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2013


What, seriously, no one pointed out how fantastic Yakult's team name is? Japanese team names are like a Jeopardy category to themselves. The name of the category, of course, would be "Team Names That Would Never Fly In The U.S.

There's some pretty weird minor league team names. like there's actually an Isotopes out there, and a "Nuts". (I really don't know if I'd be able to hold back shouting DEEEEEEZ NUTS at one of their games so it's a good thing I'm not going to one anytime soon). Also Manatees and Gnats and Fighting Phils.

My initial favorite Japanese team name though was the Nippon Ham Fighters based on my own misunderstanding. Disappointed to find that it wasn't the "Ham Fighters" of Nippon, but rather the "Fighters" of a company called Nippon Ham. I really liked the idea of a ham fight, with people just battling each other armed with large pieces of cured meat.

Anyway, so how much of this is attributable to the "livelier ball"? Have baseballs been of the same specs up until this year since Oh's time?
posted by Hoopo at 10:44 AM on September 18, 2013


Hoopo: "I really don't know if I'd be able to hold back shouting DEEEEEEZ NUTS at one of their games"

I wonder if they get much of that in Modesto.
posted by exogenous at 11:55 AM on September 18, 2013


Re: Minor league team names.

Winston-Salem had a team called the Spirits for what seemed like an eternity. This was an appropriate name because the bootleggers eventually got a similarly named racing event thingy around those parts. I was unaware of what a "Spirit" was at the time, I was seven when I went to my first game, so I simply referred to them as the ghosts. My father was okay with this and taught me how to keep score. The smell of mustard dog with chili and slaw still makes me think of those days. Round here they call that a Carolina Dog, I still don't know why because Winston-Salem is the home to Texas Pete, not Hormel.

Later the team was renamed into the confusing but lovable Warthog, with it's wily mascot Wally. I went a couple times, they mostly catered to the "Thirsty Thursdays" crowd with discount alcohol. The area around the field had taken a turn for the worse and eventually had several dive bars and even a place that had some pretty good live music. I think the temptation was to try to entice that crowd into showing up at a game or two. Even as a college student who frequented several of those spirited locations, none of this felt quite right.

The local university bought the land the field was on and the team had to move, so now instead of playing on a field named after a person who did good things during the war and still managed to play a bit of ball... they play on a field named after the only bank in town that wasn't too big to fail but still had enough money to throw at a struggling baseball team.

Now they're just called The Dash. I can only assume that is because of the hyphenated city name that even the DMV refuses to acknowledge. Their new stadium is about as fancy as one could see without living in a major metropolis, the seats are clean, the food is unsurprisingly mediocre, all of the lights on the scoreboard work, and they still have specials on beer on Thursdays. But I still prefer the old place.

So I imagine I somewhat understand the nostalgia about pitching around batters near that mark. And I say that as someone who spent summers on the island next to Curacao, which has some great baseball btw. So if you need a little league team to follow, but you want one that'll stick around for enough of the tournament for you to stay interested, they're not a bad team to pick.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:43 PM on September 18, 2013


In recent years, several players had come close to breaking it... only to be walked for the rest of the season, by teams managed by Oh himself.

That's not cricket.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:44 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize how cool the Swallows name was until I found out that Yakult makes yogurt drinks...it makes so much sense with the product. It's the only current team name that goes well with the corporate owner.

Ha, the Brevard County Manatees. The Brewers also are affiliated with such great team names like the Nashville Sounds (what the heck is a Sound?) and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Now if you want some more unusual/atypical team names (ignore the corporate sponsorship, that's just the way East Asian baseball rolls) try Korea's major league. Heroes, Wyverns, Dinos, and entering in 2015--the Wiz. (KT is the phone company, so I suppose it fits with the owner. Kind of.)
Still better than the Montgomery Biscuits, though....
posted by Electric Elf at 1:50 PM on September 18, 2013


A sound is a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land a la the Long Island Sound...
posted by AJaffe at 1:54 PM on September 18, 2013


The Nashville sound was a stylistic movement in country music. (The Seattle Sounders are named for the sound in the sense of body of water, I think.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:00 PM on September 18, 2013


Oh, I know what the Nashville Sound is--if only they had named the team in the Era of Collective Noun Sports Teams instead of the 1970s. It just sounds (no pun intended) silly for singular player, but then we have to worry about what a singular Wild or Jazz is, for example.
posted by Electric Elf at 2:03 PM on September 18, 2013


Aha! The mid-'70s World Football League ws the apex of singular team names: Chicago Fire, Philadelphia Bell, Southern California Sun, Shreveport Steamer, Memphis Southmen...
posted by AJaffe at 2:07 PM on September 18, 2013


Ah, I see. Yeah, US Soccer teams have this problem worst of all, IMO - weather names and collective abstract nouns.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:19 PM on September 18, 2013


I want to reiterate my recommendation of the film Mr. Baseball to everyone in this thread, and anyone with the slightest interest in Japanese baseball. Many expats say it is the most faithful film rendition of the life of a gaijin.

I heard that the film Mr. Baseball was inspired by Robert Whiting's book, "You Gotta Have Wa." Here's a nice essay by Whiting with some of these themes.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:52 PM on September 18, 2013


One of the best Beastie Boys lyrics ever: "And I got more hits than Sadaharu Oh" from "Hey Ladies" on Paul's Boutique. RIP MCA
posted by z11s at 5:16 PM on September 18, 2013


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