This Day in Baseball History: April 26th, 1959

Update: Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes hit his 450th homer in Japan last night. How coincidental.

The “Flamingo”. He started his swing like this. It’s not just a Paul O’Neill leg kick.

On April 26, 1959:

Yomiuri Giant Sadaharu Oh hits his first home run.

Most of us don’t really pay attention to Japanese baseball, and most of us have no idea when it started or any other trivia nugget. The only things we know are Kosuke Fukudome, Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and maybe, just maybe, Sadaharu Oh. He is the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball. Oh is a legend in the international baseball community, but because he played in Japan, most people generally don’t know who he is. Therefore, I figured I would take the time to talk about him.

Signed in 1959 by the Yomiuri Giants, Oh was originally a pitcher, but he wasn’t really good enough to stick in the big leagues. The team moved him to first base and began working on his hitting. In his first three seasons, he wasn’t very good, but he was improving every season. With his distinctive “Flamingo” kick that resembled Mel Ott (though he had no idea who Mel Ott was), Oh became the greatest home run hitter in baseball history. Oh would go on to win 15 home run championships and 13 in a row. In total, he hit an amazing 868 home runs in his 22-year career.

But Oh was more than just a home run hitter. He won two Triple Crowns. He was a lifetime .301 hitter with a .446 OBP. Oh won 9 MVP Awards and made 18 All-Star Games. How valuable was he to his team? The Giants won 11 championships while he was there.

One of the biggest records that Oh set was his single-season record of 55 home runs in 140 games in 1964, but that record has led to hostility toward Oh than praise. Several players have come close to breaking his record, but each time, the player had to face Oh’s (while he was manager) team at the end. Randy Bass had 54 home runs in 1985 coming into the last game, and Oh’s pitchers intentionally walked him all four times. Karl Rhodes tied the record in 2001, but when he played Oh’s team late in the year, they walked him every time. A year later, Alex Cabrera hit 55, and he was walked during a final series. Oh always maintained that he never ordered the intentional (or “unintentional”) passes, but there has been a lot of skepticism. The pitchers and catchers of the teams often said they just didn’t want a foreigner to break Oh’s record.

Trivia Time
Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh competed in a home run derby to decide who was the best home run hitter in 1974. Who won?

Yesterday’s Answer –> Pitcher Rene Arocha in 1991 (interesting article)


One Response to “This Day in Baseball History: April 26th, 1959”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I don’t remember this HR derby at all. I’m going to guess that it ended in a tie, and that the real winner was “The Fans”

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