Q & A with “Mashi” Author Rob Fitts

71hJJD1zE6LIn 1964, 20-year-old Masanori Murakami became the first player from Japan to play in the Major Leagues. Japanese baseball expert/author Robert Fitts documents Murakami’s journey from the Nankai Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League to the San Francisco Giants in “Mashi.

Fitts was the winner of the Society of American Baseball Research’s 2013 Seymour Medal for the best baseball book with Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan. Prior to that he had penned Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Baseball.

Fitts was kind enough to take some time after a recently-concluded book tour with Murakami to answer some questions from the VORG ….

A few general questions before we get into the book …

VORG: Its quite a leap of faith to go from a career in archaeology/anthropology to writing about baseball history. Can you describe what pushed you towards giving up one career for the other?

RF: That’s a really long story. The gist of it is: in the late 1990s I created a website for selling off of Japanese baseball card doubles. The site did well enough that I left my job as a consulting archaeologist to focus on the website. I began writing about Japanese baseball history to promote the card sales but soon realized that I enjoyed the research and writing far more than selling cards. After meeting Wally Yonamine in 2003 and hearing his stories about playing in Japan, I decided to write Remembering Japanese Baseball. That got me hooked and I’ve been writing full-time ever since.

VORG: Your bio mentions that you lived in Tokyo from 1993-1994. What were you doing over there at that time?

RF: My wife was a Japanese major in college and could speak fluent Japanese. Her law firm sent her over for 2 years and I went along.

VORG: There are all types of baseball fans, and SABR helps niches within the fandom grow. What drew you to study and write about baseball in Japan specifically?

RF: During my time in Japan, I fell in love with the Japanese game. I enjoyed that atmosphere of the games.

VORG: I would suspect that doing research about Japanese baseball history is a magnitude more difficult than most other baseball interests, given the written and oral language barriers. What sort of resources (online, library, societies) have provided you with the broadest help in navigating the language differences?

RF: I’ve built an extensive library on the topic so that I can do most of my research at home. I also have a wonderful research assistant named Keiko Nishi who translates for me as well as interprets when needed.

VORG: How good is your Japanese these days?

RF: It’s pretty poor. I can accomplish basic tasks like ordering food, asking directions etc. Sometimes I can follow a conversation. I can read names, box scores and stats but not much beyond that.

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More Pitching Matchup Weirdness

Friend of the VORG Tim Moore on the “Effectively Wild” Facebook page earlier this week: Curious about pitchers with the same surname as the opposing pitcher’s birthplace. Bonus points if it’s a Capitol. resulting in the following discussion … Diane Firstman Tim ….. are you serious about that? Tim Moore Always. OK, so pulling the … Read more

Same Last Name Pitching Matchups

Today’s Diamondbacks/Rockies matchup features Jorge De La Rosa versus Rubby De La Rosa.  Its far from the first time a game has featured two pitchers with the same surname.  Here is the complete list through the end of 2014. (Data from Retrosheet.  Please donate to their cause.)

More Fun with “Quarter Pole” and the Baseball Season

Three years ago, I wrote about bloggers/journalists misusing the term “quarter pole” when discussing the first quarter of the baseball season.  I mentioned that the “quarter pole” specifies the point on a racetrack one-quarter mile from the finish line, not the starting gate.

Here we are in 2015, and the misuse continues. Some examples:

“The New York Yankees hit the quarter pole of their season on Wednesday night, …”

“As they close in on the quarter pole of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, the Red Sox remain a work in progress.”

“Castellanos epitomizes the nervousness in this town as a still-young season just passed the quarter pole with the Tigers struggling to keep pace with division-leading Kansas City.”

Just this evening, during FOX’s “Baseball Night in America” pregame show, the studio host used the term twice within the first two minutes.
Listen gang. I’m not a “semantics Nazi.” My followers don’t think so.

However, when I see sportswriters incorrectly co-opting terms from other sports, I have to call it.

So, in order to hopefully help stop this from happening (again), I am providing the approximate “quarter pole” of each baseball season, based on the original schedule as listed on Retrosheet. Basically, take the total number of games to be played in each year, multiply by .75, and that is the game number that represents the “quarter pole.” Most years, it will involve a team playing in game 120-123 (out of 162), some time between August 15 and August 21.  This season, the “quarter pole” should be reached on August 22nd. (The “quarter pole” game might be slightly different than the one listed, based on the ordering of the Retrosheet list.  However, the basic theme remains intact)

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Q & A with “Benchwarmer” Author Josh Wilker

51ffH8N4iMLJosh Wilker, the author of “Cardboard Gods,” one of the best-ever baseball books not necessarily about baseball, is back with another memoir.  This time, it chronicles his first year as a new father, and the insecurities (and joys) therein.  “Benchwarmer” presents his son Jack’s first year, while also detailing, in almanac form, the annals of all-time benchwarmers/sad sacks. Its not the easiest subject matter to traverse, as Wilker lays his first-time fatherhood neuroses and raw emotions out for all to read. There are of course, moments of joy as his son grows, but there are also many moments of wrenching angst. Its not a book you’ll finish in a day or so, but you WILL want to finish it. It will be worth it, especially if you are a parent and especially if you are new to parenthood.

Wilker was delighted to answer some questions I had about the book, including his affinity for athletes as diverse as Calvin Schiraldi, Mackey Sasser and Walter “Sneeze” Achiu:

VORG: How did you come up with the “almanac” format for the book? Was there a particular inspiration?

JW: The core idea for the book came in a bit of a rush, but I later saw from looking through my notebooks that I’d been dancing around a book like it for quite a while in different ways. The book really started taking shape when I came up with a working title, “Failure Face,” based on a concept coined in a Peanuts strip by the Shakespeare of the artistic depiction of losing, Charles M. Schulz. Years ago my brother and I built a whole mythology around the notion of the Failure Face as it appeared in sports, most notably with Calvin Schiraldi in the ’86 World Series, and when my wife was struggling through her labor this face was exactly what I saw in the mirror. Just a guy totally overmatched by the moment. I hadn’t been able to write about that labor or about anything I’d been struggling through as a new parent, but I figured I could at least write about Calvin Schiraldi, and from there I figured I could grope my way through the experience one Calvin Schiraldi at a time, so to speak. The encyclopedia format appealed to me not only because I’d loved sports encyclopedias as a kid but also as a potentially dynamic juxtaposition, in its orderliness, to the total disorder of my new life. Also, when you’re a new parent you are suddenly completely bullied by the alphabet every two seconds. It seems to emit from every object and surface all the time in an insanely cheery sing-song. I don’t know if the book was a product of a mental breakdown in the face of this onslaught or an attempt to head off such a breakdown. Maybe a little of both. I did really enjoy playing around with the encyclopedia format. One of the last fun developments stemming from the form came during the proofreading process, when one of my brethren in that heroic calling found that I’d put one of the entries just slightly out of correct alphabetic sequence. At first I was mortified and wanted to fix it, which we still had time to do, but then it struck me as a perfect comment on the whole doomed attempt at bringing order to the world.

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“Hidden Game” Q & A with John Thorn

Back in the mid-80s, if you wanted to think “outside the box” about how to evaluate players and teams, you had few choices.  Of course there was Bill James, whose annual Abstracts were a must-read.  But there were few books that made it into the homes of baseball stat nerds and deep thinkers. Then came … Read more