TOKYO, NOV. 9 -- They came, they saw, they stunk.
The two dozen major league baseball all-stars who came here last week for a series with the best of Japan's pro leagues have had a wonderful time -- everywhere but on the field. They have partied and shopped and seen the sights, but meanwhile they have played decidedly sloppy ball.
After today's game here ended in a 6-6 tie -- tie scores being one of the oddities of Japanese yakyu or baseball -- the hapless U.S. team has managed just one victory in the six games played thus far.
With two games remaining, that means the Japanese already have wrapped up the eight-game bilateral series. And that means 1990 will mark the first time in the history of inter-country play that the Japanese have taken a series from an American all-star team.
This development has shaken baseball officials on both sides of the Pacific. Commissioner Fay Vincent said earlier in the week that he was embarrassed by the team's performance. It has prompted a seemingly endless round of analyses here as to why the major leaguers, sheer giants by Japanese standards, are not playing up to par.
The American players, unable to hit the Japanese pitchers and committing error after error, managed to lose the first four games of the series. Inspired by a soaring three-run homer by Detroit's Cecil Fielder, the American League home run champ who himself played two years in Japan, the Yanks rallied to a win in Game 5. But that mini-rally fizzled with today's tie.
To add insult to injury, sportscasters here have put together a hilarious bloopers tape made up of bonehead plays made by the visiting Americans. As the tape unfolds, we see Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., the American League's rookie of the year, drilling a pick-off throw so far into right field that the runner he is trying to nail manages to score from first. Montreal pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd is seen talking to himself after walking in a run; three U.S. fielders bump into one another while a pop fly drops in short right; and American manager Don Zimmer of the Chicago Cubs looks sorrier and sorrier in the forlorn U.S. dugout.
A columnist for the nightly newspaper Shukan Gendai contended that the U.S. players have been spending too much time at "soapland," a Japanese slang term for the type of establishment that used to be called a house of ill repute. Others have complained that the major leagues did not care enough to send their very best all-stars here, and that the Americans who did come have not cared enough to try their hardest.
But the most direct assessment of the current tour came from Bob Horner, a former major leaguer in both the U.S. and Japan and now associated with the Major League Players Association. "The Americans just got their butts beat," Horner said. "The Japanese have been playing better baseball, day in and day out."
And with that bald-faced admission that Japanese ballplayers might actually be better than the Americans they have always idolized has come new talk of making the World Series a genuinely world event, with the best Japanese team invited to play the best of the United States each year.
"There's a lot of interest on both sides in putting on a Japan-U.S. world series," Horner said. "People are talking about it. But it's a pretty big step, and things move pretty slowly in Japan. We're probably five years away from it at the least."
Of course, if any U.S. team played the way the all-stars are performing, a U.S.-Japan world series would turn into a rout.
One problem with the "Super Major Series," as this week's games are billed, is that it is really not a match-up of the best U.S. stars versus the best of the Japanese.
The home team really does seem to be the best that Japanese baseball has to offer. All the certified stars -- including the fireballing rookie ERA champ, Hideo Nomo, and designated hitter Hiromitsu Ochiai, winner of three triple crowns in a long career -- are present and playing.
For the American team, though, the term "all-stars" is something of a stretch at certain positions. There is no Rickey Henderson, no Cal Ripken (for that matter, no Orioles at all), no Carlton Fisk, no Jose Canseco, no Roger Clemens. On the other hand, certifiable stars like Fielder, Oakland pitcher Dave Stewart, Pittsburgh outfielder and MVP candidate Bobby Bonds and both Ken Griffeys of Seattle did make the trip.
Without question, the man of the hour is the formidable Fielder, who was a Hanshin Tiger here before he became a Detroit one. The Japanese fans have opened their hearts to him, and his every step and utterance have been recorded in the lively all-sports papers here. When Fielder lashed his three-run boomer Wednesday at his former home field in Koshien, every sports daily ran his photo virtually the full length of the front page.
Fielder has been generous both with his autograph -- no paid signatures here -- and with his comments on the strength of Japanese baseball.
"I frankly don't think there's much difference any more," Fielder said here. "The Japanese have come a long way, and you can't really say they're far behind us now."