The Meaning of Ichiro by Robert Whiting
Bushido Ball The Meaning of Ichiro: The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of Our National Pastime by Robert Whiting Warner Books. 272 pp. $25.95 Reviewed by Stephen Barbara The subtitle of this book conveys the provocative suggestion that Japanese players are taking over American baseball and, in so doing, just possibly bringing about its demise. But there is no need for alarm. Having lived in Japan for decades, Robert Whiting does display an unmistakable preference for both Japanese baseball and Japanese culture. Like the snobbish prep-school boy Carl Luce in The Catcher in the Rye, Whiting “simply happens to find Eastern philosophy more satisfactory than Western.” But his main message to American baseball fans is that it is time to pay notice to the Japanese game, and that message is well worth heeding. Since 1995, almost two dozen Japanese have made their mark in the major leagues, and many more will surely follow. To explain how this has come about, Whiting undertakes both a history of Japanese baseball and an explanation of the unique philosophy behind it, born (he says) of Japan’s group-oriented culture. He also sets out to explore the consequences—the “meaning”— of the new wave of players, and to shed light on their lives and careers. All these topics are hung on the peg of the dazzling outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, now of the Seattle Mariners, who for Whiting as for millions of American fans is the preeminent symbol of the Japanese game.
Ichiro Suzuki was born in the industrial city of Nagoya. Raised chiefly by his father, a strict Buddhist and passionate baseball fan, the young Ichiro by his own count spent no more than five or six hours a year hanging out with his friends. Instead, his life was devoted to baseball, and this devotion paid off. In his three-year career at Meiden high school (a kind of baseball academy), he batted a sensational .502, striking out only ten times in 536 times at bat. After being drafted into Japan’s professional league, the NPB, he maintained this superb form, winning seven straight batting titles and earning the title “kaibutsu”—monster—from the Japanese press
About the Author
Stephen Barbara, a new contributor, is a writer living in Hoboken, New Jersey.