How Mr. Baseball Became a Go-To for Players Headed to Japan


Martinez confessed similar doubt before reaching acceptance in the way things were done there.

“They had some really unique transfer-of-balance drills where you use a bar or a stick across your shoulders and you shuffle side to side and land on one leg, putting your glute in kind of a power position,” Martinez recalled. “When you first do it, it looks really silly, so you’re kind of doing it half-ass because it just seems like eyewash. But when you take the time to learn it and get into a groove doing it, you’re like, ‘Man, I can feel my glute.’ It makes you more aware of your balance and where your power is coming from. It’s pretty cool.”

Rex Hudler is most likely the first player who was able to use the film as a resource. He signed with the Yakult Swallows following the 1992 season, just after the movie was released. His introduction to it was as the in-flight entertainment on the plane taking him to Tokyo to become a real-life version of Jack Elliot.

“I used it as a reference big time,” Hudler said. “Nobody else on the plane was going over there to play Japanese baseball, so they were all laughing. I was guarded and soaking it all in like a sponge.”

In eight major league seasons to that point, Hudler had played for the Hall of Fame managers Yogi Berra, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog and Joe Torre. That did little to prepare him for Katsuya Nomura, his manager in Japan and a Hall of Fame catcher notorious for his biting frankness and distrust of foreign players.

Hudler recalled being astonished when Nomura would dispatch the interpreter to the on-deck circle with ill-timed reminders about hitting. Hudler relied on just the kind of ingenuity and diplomacy necessary for face-saving survival in Japan.

“I said to the interpreter, ‘Hey, look, I’m a little offended by this right here,’” Hudler said. “‘I’m a professional baseball player, I have been for 15 years, so next time he sends you out here, don’t you dare tell me what he says. Just say, ‘Hey, Hud, get a big hit. He’ll never know what you told me.’ From then on, whenever he’d come out, that’s what he would say and everyone was satisfied.”

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