A Polite Bashing

Following Cecil Fielder's example, a major league all-star team graciously routed its Japanese hosts
November 16, 1992

The big man was trying hard not to be noticed as he sat by the window on the train bound for Seibu Stadium outside Tokyo. But at one station stop, someone shouted, "Ceci-lu!" and people on the platform started coming over to the window to pay homage, placing their hands on the glass until the only view out the window was palms, nothing but palms.

Cecil Fielder was back in Japan last week. The slugger, who went from the Hanshin Tigers to the Detroit Tigers and stardom in 1990, is treated with such awe and reverence by the Japanese that his arrival with the Major League Baseball All-Stars for their biennial tour of Japan was something on the order of a state visit. Not even the character played by Tom Selleck in the recent movie Mr. Baseball could match Fielder's hold on the Japanese. Fielder is more like Emperor Baseball.

What's more, Fielder came back with a vengeance. Two years ago, when he first returned as a member of the touring all-star team, Fielder was embarrassed by his teammates, who played and behaved like ugly Americans, winning only three of eight games against the Japanese and doing so with nonchalance and arrogance. "We got beat up, and it was not a good feeling," Fielder said on the train last week. "I didn't want this time to be like last time."

This time Fielder made sure his fellow all-stars understood the need for an attitude adjustment. At a press conference in Tokyo on the eve of the eight-game series, the ordinarily soft-spoken Fielder threw down the gauntlet: "I think we came over here [in 1990] with an attitude that, because of our names and who we were, we just had to lower our gloves out there and we'd win. I hope this team understands that if you just go through the motions, they're going to beat you."

Knowing full well that actions speak louder than words, Fielder hit a home run in the Oct. 30 opener, an 11-0 victory over the Yomiuri Giants in the Tokyo Dome. In the second game, also in the Dome, his three-run homer helped the U.S. to a 9-4 win over the team of Japanese all-stars that provided the opposition for the rest of the series. By the time the tour ended on Sunday, the major leaguers had a 6-1-1 record, and Fielder had a .440 batting average, with those two homers and eight RBIs. Talk about Japan bashing.

Fielder had a little help in reasserting America's baseball dominance. This time Major League Baseball and the Players Association chose players as much for their competitive drive as for their stats. Dave Hollins, Travis Fryman, Craig Biggio, Shane Mack and Larry Walker aren't household names in Japan, but they are very good players. The best play of the series, in fact, was made by Biggio, the Astros' catcher turned second baseman. Pressed into service in leftfield on Nov. 4, he preserved a 0-0 tie by gunning down Japanese star Takahiro Ikeyama at the plate for a game-ending double play (all games ended after nine innings).

Besides, there were enough major league stars to keep the hosts happy. The Japanese were particularly entranced by Ozzie Smith, whom they call either "Ah Gee," or "the Guy Who Does the Flips," and with Roger Clemens, who is known in Japan as Rocket-san. ("I kind of like that," said Clemens.) Then there was the guy who took batting practice with the Americans before the first game: Kevin Costner. The baseball-movie star (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams) was in Tokyo to promote his new film, The Bodyguard, and after he lined a few off Dennis Martinez, manager Tom Kelly shouted, "You've got a better swing than Selleck." Then Martinez threw him a major league yakker, and Costner swung like Madonna.

Rocket-san took his Nippon experience quite seriously. Asked how he prepared for pitching to the generally smaller Japanese strike zone, Clemens said that he had been throwing back home in Texas to his 5'5" wife, Debbie. "But I only threw 70-75 miles an hour to her," he said.

Clemens also threw himself into the Japanese customs. Before the opener, Clemens asked, "Now if I smoke [hit] a guy, I'm supposed to tip my cap to apologize, right?" He didn't drill anybody in that game; he gave up just one hit in five innings while striking out five. In his second outing, in Osaka, the 0-0 tie, Clemens went seven innings, allowing only three hits and striking out 10. But he did hit a batter—and he did not tip his cap. "Sorry," he said later, "but I was kind of angry about the condition of the mound."

American complaints were few and far between on this tour. The only loss, 10-3 in the fourth game of the series, came after an off day that most of the players had devoted to shopping with their wives or companions. "Man, playing a double-header was easier than that," said Hollins.

Actually, the Japanese did some of Hollins's shopping for him. After he hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning to give the major leaguers a 2-1 lead in the third game, at Seibu Stadium, he crossed the plate and was handed a stuffed Seibu Lion by a young woman. Right there on the field. The next inning Mack hit a home run and also received a stuffed lion, which came in particularly handy since he had to fly home before the next game to be with his wife, Darleena, who had gone into labor a month early.

"A stuffed animal," said Detroit catcher Mickey Tettleton. "I like that. If you hit a grand slam, do they give you a real lion?"

No, but Japan once gave the major leagues a real Tiger. "I think they view me as a son they sent off to America who has done extremely well," said Fielder. "They feel responsible for me doing well, like maybe Japanese baseball helped me to do some things. If that's what they want to think, hey, beautiful."

This time around it was Ceci-lu who showed the Japanese how to do it.

THREE PHOTOSKOJI SASAHARA/APOpposing managers (below, left) and players stood as one at the opening ceremony, but Fielder's home runs set him apart (left).