September 2012 Archives

Baseball, Japan's real national pastime

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Ever since I was stationed in Japan at the end of the Korean War, I have been fascinated by the fact that at that time on practically every corner and sandlot, I saw kids playing Baseball.  Understand, during that period, there was no question; Baseball was America's Sports Pastime. Football was in its infancy.


Many years after the Korean War, I had to go back to Japan on business. I became associated with a man named Tsubohiko Kuboki. It's easier if we just call him by the nickname "Tee". Not only because he loves golf, but more evidently his first name is difficult to pronounce.


Over the years we have become fast friends and he is like a little brother to me. On my numerous trips I would talk about Baseball and reminisce how in my service days as Sports Director of Armed Forces Radio (there was no TV at that time), I would not only Broadcast from their Major League Stadiums, but on off-days would go to games as a fan.


It's the same game, but yet the physical differences are plenty. For example, the Broadcast Booths are at ground level.  Every stadium, unlike ours, does not have grass infields. They have skinned infields, reminiscent of our sandlots. Their outfield walls in all the parks are exactly the same dimension... equal down left, right and center.


Also, the fans, unlike ours, are never rowdy.  In fact, they are organized and sit on different sides of the field.  Not unlike the way we sit at Football games. They have cheerleaders who lead cheers only when their team is at bat.  At all times they are polite... even bowing to the umpire when they strike out.


For a long time, they were considered a minor league in talent to our majors. Many American Ballplayers either at the end of their careers, or minor leaguers would go there for an opportunity to play. The money was good and if they had remaining star value, they could earn good paydays. If you have not seen the movie "Mr. Baseball" with Tom Selleck, you should. It captures the feel, the reverence and the tradition of Japanese Baseball.


Times are different!  Today, there are many native Japanese playing in our Major Leagues. The first name that comes to mind is Ichiro Suzuki who for many years played for the Seattle Mariners and today displays his talents in Yankee Pinstripes. My friend Tee is involved with Ichiro and Major League Baseball in a business capacity.  To me, it looks like business is good.


To show how coveted many of the Japanese players are, we do not have to look further than what it cost the Red Sox to pursue and sign Dice Matsuzaka, Japan's most valuable pitcher at the time. Dice's agent demanded the Red Sox bid for Dice's services in an auction. They outbid the New York Mets and the Texas Rangers for just the right to negotiate. The winning bid was $51, 111,111.11 (three times the Seibu Lions entire payroll). In addition, they signed him to a six-year contract with a no trade clause for an additional $52,000,000 plus a

$2,000,000 signing bonus.


So, I started thinking about what has happened and asked Tee to help me in my research.  It started 10 years ago. He and I went to see the Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants. In essence they are the New York Yankees of Japanese Professional Baseball. Are you aware that the greatest Home Run Hitter of all time was not Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, or Barry Bonds?


His name is Sadaharu Oh! In his entire career, which was with the Tokyo Giants, he hit 868 home runs... Wow!


Let's look into history of the game.  Although the game was brought to Japan in the mid 19th century, it wasn't until the 1930's when Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner at the time, allowed American Major Leaguers to go to Japan to play exhibitions. Lefty O'Doul led a group of Hall-of-Famers including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, capturing the imagination of the Japanese. Lefty was the sport's goodwill ambassador and when the Professional Leagues were founded he actually name the Yomiuri Giants and designed their uniforms in the mode of the New York (now San Francisco), which he had been a part of.


How good have the Japanese become at the American game, they just won the 2012 Little League World Series. Noriatsu Osaka hit three Home Runs and a Triple as they beat Tennessee for the crown. As for International Play, the World baseball Classic, Japan has won it both times since its inception, 2006 and 2009.


But the language and the fact that Sushi is sold instead of Hot Dogs confuse me. It just didn't seem like Baseball. So Tee took the time to tutor me.


In case you are interested, Tee gave me some words to go by... For example, "Yakyu" is "Baseball. "Boru" is Ball.  Umpire is the same in both languages. Kill is "Shine" pronounced "shine-a". "Poray Boru" 

means play ball and the word for "the" is "senshu"


So, when you are next at a Ball Game and you are not happy with the Umpire's call just yell "Shine senshu Umpire". People might look at you strangely, but you won't get in trouble.

An NFL Giant falls like a tree in the forest

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When a tree falls in the forest there is silence. Today, I am going to tell you a story about a man I knew who in his day made a great deal of noise while making the NFL the power it is today.

You know, when you are growing up you have no idea where life's paths may lead you.  You have no idea who will emerge as a giant in your time, or who might fall by the wayside.  

For example, growing up in Cambridge through my early teens I never dreamed that when my cousin Burton and I played touch football on the Cambridge Common, that Teddy Kennedy who usually played End on our side would become a Senator. Or that Sheldon Adelson would become one of the wealthiest men in America.  

That's why when I first met Art Modell (we came to work in Cleveland on the same day in the same year), I thought he was abrasive, loud and did a lot of bragging. However, I was soon to learn, he was capable of backing up whatever he said he would do.

I had joined WJWTV, the CBS affiliate which carried all the Browns games. It was the only TV Football available. There was no other Football TV deal nationally. We carried the Browns games.

Together, we did a great many promotions to enhance both Browns attendance and TV viewership. One of the original things we did together was to create the first ever Senior Citizens promotion. We called it the "Golden Agers" club. Thanks to Arthur, we were way ahead of our time. Our "Golden Agers" club became a national prototype. Among the things we offered were half-price hotdogs and tickets. Arthur soon established himself as a pillar of the community with his many charitable endeavors.

His first foray into the NFL was as an advertising executive. He wanted his client's beer sold exclusively in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. Through Arthur, the client Schaeffer Beer, America's oldest beer company, bought an interest in the Browns. Arthur was named operations overseer.  He immediately took to the task.

Some of you might remember the slogan Arthur created "Schaeffer the one Beer to have when you are having more than one beer." Eventually in 1961, he borrowed $250,000 and led an investment group purchasing the Browns for $4,000,000.

He immediately was at loggerheads with the legendary coach and team namesake Paul Brown. Arthur fired Brown in 1961. This led to the first of many confrontations with the fans of Cleveland.  Arthur never backed away from a fight.

No one was more instrumental in bringing about the AFL/NFL merger. To expedite things, he voluntarily made his Browns the first team to join the American Conference.

In all  TV contract negotiations, ranting and raving, he sat alongside Commissioner Rozelle. Calmly Rozelle would explain what the NFL wanted. They proved to be the winning combination making the NFL the wealthiest sports league in the world.

 In Cleveland he was a recognized philanthropist. In 1996, however, he became a pariah.  Ohio did not know that without the move to Baltimore, he was facing Bankruptcy. Baltimore's financial backing rescued Art. So much so, that when he finally sold the Ravens in 2004, it was worth almost $600 million. Not a bad return on a borrowed $250,000.

Right now,  he is probably negotiating with the celestial powers for a better seat at the table. But one thing is missing!  Art should be enshrined in Canton.

Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.