Fighting Spirit

Fighting Spirit

     Back in 1978, my contract was sold to Japan from the St. Louis Cardinals. My brother, LeRon, had gone to Japan the year before and had a monster season, coming close to winning the triple crown. In those days, there were only two American players allowed per team. Expectations for the American players were high. I found the Japanese culture to be very different, especially with the language barrier. Two things that really stood out to me that was very important in Japanese Baseball, I felt was very different was the importance of team harmony and "Fighting Spirit". There is a saying in Japan that says "The nail that sticks up has to be hammered down".


      This means that any player that stands out or acts a little too confident, even if he is a star player, has to be chastised and brought back down to size. Therefore, most of the Japanese players conformed to just being team players. I felt this was different because in the US, you are used to the large ego's of many players, so it's something you get used to.


      One night we were having a home game, and our team was at the plate, late in the game. We had bases loaded, with one out and a 3-2 count on our hitter. My brother and I were sitting in the dugout, when we noticed that our third base coach had just put on the squeeze bunt sign. We thought that was a strange time to put on a squeeze, but you could actually justify it since it was a full count on the batter and the opposing pitcher had to throw a strike, which would make it easier for our batter to get the bunt down. But, the other team had picked up our sign, and immediately had their pitcher throw a pitch-out.


      Now, I know what most of you are thinking. How could the other team even think about pitching out when it was 3-2 on the hitter. But wait a minute, the story doesn't end there. When their pitcher threw the pitch-out, out hitter then dove across the plate in his effort to get the bunt down. Of course he missed the bunt and our runner at third base who was running home on the play was easily tagged out. Double play, inning over. We sat there a little dumbfounded at what we had just witnessed. Our hitter was never criticized for that play, but complimented for showing his "fighting spirit".


      After playing in Japan for ten years, and also coaching and managing in Japan, I became very aware of what the Japanese mentality was then and now. I would always say that we could learn much from Japanese Baseball.  The fighting spirit that seemed so different to me, I found really just means total commitment. Players are committed to do whatever it takes to get their jobs done for the team. When they are asked to get a bunt down, they usually get it done, because in their commitment, they work for hours and hours on their bunting. Hours and hours on their situational hitting in case they have to execute a hit and run.


      This "Fighting Spirit" mentality led the Japanese team to win the first two World Baseball Classics. While here in American Baseball we are putting so much emphasis on the home run, in Japan, they are still playing the game the way it was designed to be played. Good fundamentals and execution. So a message to all young aspiring baseball players. If you want to become a winning player and a great player in general, learn to have "Fighting Spirit".

Talking Baseball with Leon Lee
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