I see nothing to be gained by comparing the two great home run hitters - Sadaharu Oh of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants and Henry Aaron, formerly of the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers.
To arrive at some valid judgment we need a legitimate standard of comparison, which, of course we don't have. Oh himself dealt with the issue of a comparison best when he told the packed stadium and national television audience on the night of No. 756: "I don't care whether my record is the No. 1 in the world. I am satisfied that people know that in Japan a man hit 756 home runs."
Inevitably, Oh's achievement of belting 756 home runs have stimulated comparisons with Aaron. Some have argued that it took Oh only 19 years and 2,425 games to better a mark set by Aaron in 23 playing seasons and 3,275 games.
On the other hand, it must be readily admitted that there are more powerful hitters in the American major leagues than the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Oh. And the U.S. ballparks are indisputably bigger and fences farther. If a power-hitting American played 19 years in Japan, it is conceivable that he would have hit more round-trippers than Oh.
It also is conceivable that had Aaron played 23 seasons and 3,275 games in Japan he would have hit fewer than 755 home runs. One of the few weaknesses Aaron had was the hitting the low breaking ball, which happens to be the strength of so many Japanese pitchers.
Actually, some of Oh's other numerous records are more brilliant, if less celebrated, than his home run total. He has won the triple crown twice and is pursuing his 15th home run title in his 19-year career. And he has been named the league's most valuable player eight times (no American has won the honor in more than three seasons).
Mr. Oh, as he is known in Japan, is more than just a great baseball player. He is the national hero in Japan and a source of tremendous national pride. His unorthodox "flamingo" stance, with his front leg raised and bat cocked as he waits for the pitch, and his booming home runs have made him the most exciting athlete in the country.
But it is Mr. Oh's human qualities that have most endeared him to so many millions of Japanese. He has worked tremendously hard to perfect his batting style and timing and build up his strength. He is always modest and polite, traits that are highly valued here. And, through all the glory and fanfare, he has remained a consummate team player.
But in one area Mr. Oh is without comparison: the love of his countrymen. I understand that Aaron's 755th home run flew out of the stadium without anyone going after it.
In contrast, as soon as Oh neared the record many young fans filled the right field seats in eager anticipation. A great struggle for both the 755th and 756th home run balls ensued and even the lucky young man who retrived the record-setting homer became a celebrity.