First it was cameras, cars and electronics. And now, horror of horrors, is baseball to be the next U.S. industry to find itself outgunned by the Japanese juggernaut?
The question, which would have evoked laughs last week, seems suddenly pertinent after the showing of a major league all-star team touring Japan for an eight-game series.
The Americans have lost the first four games to their Japanese counterparts, including an 11-6 rout today in Fukuoka, a city on the southern island of Kyushu.
The major league team, which includes Cecil Fielder, Dave Stewart and Rob Dibble, lost 4-1, 4-3 and 2-1 in its previous three games.
Today, Makoto Sasaki of the Diaei Hawks had five hits in six at-bats to highlight a 20-hit outburst by the Japanese all-stars.
The major leaguers committed four errors and allowed five stolen bases in the game at Heiwadai Stadium in Fukuoka, on the southern island of Kyushu.
The Japanese have tied but never won a series against major league competition.
“The Japanese are playing really well,” Commissioner Fay Vincent said. “You can’t take anything away from the Japanese.”
In Game 3, four major leaguers were thrown out on the bases.
“I’m trying everything to win,” said Don Zimmer, the Chicago Cubs manager who is managing the all-star team. “We want to win. We all want to win. But they’ve (the Japanese team) outplayed us.”
Does this mean sayonara to U.S. superiority on the field? Does this mean the World Series of the future in Tokyo?
Hardly, say the experts.
“Japanese baseball is better than most Americans think,” said Robert Whiting, whose book “You Gotta Have Wa” examined the differences between the Japanese and American approaches to the game. “But it’s not as good as some of these Japanese commentators are starting to say now.”
To begin with, the playing field is not exactly even for the series. The major leaguers have to contend with jet lag and most of them have been off for a month since the end of the regular season.
And while the Japanese roster includes virtually all the country’s top players, many of the leading stars from the United States aren’t on the major league team.
When Whiting asked the manager of the Seibu Lions, winners of this year’s Japan Series championship, how his team would do against the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, “He threw up his hands and said, ‘There’s no way we’d win.’ ”
Whiting believes about 20 Japanese could play in the major leagues, but he said most other professional players in Japan would have difficulty making a Class AAA team.
Yoshikazu Matsubayashi, a writer for Baseball Magazine, said the series has shown that the Japanese game, and particularly the pitching, has improved.
“The pitching is now almost at the American level,” he said.