on April 12, 2014
Following baseball in the 1970"s, it was not uncommon to follow a veteran major leaguer and wonder where they went to. It became more common to see players on the downside of their career like Don Buford or Matty Alou disappear, only to learn that they were plying their trade for big dollars in Japan.
It was considered a distant minor league back then, where lucrative contracts and an opulent lifestyle awaited. For some, like George Altman, it became a rich experience. For others, like Joe Pepitone, not so much.
This book details the culture and the attitude of the fans and the management in Japan in the 1960's and 1970's. is it still relevant? Mostly probably not. A couple of generations have now passed through the Japanese leagues. Japanese players have come to America and have had stellar careers, most notably Ishiro Suzuki.
Also there have been a couple of interesting books by American's playing in Japan, such as Warren Cromartie.
But this was a groundbreaking book detailing the culture of this sport in Japan as well as the attitudes and behavior of an industry that was adopted from our country. The fans are more knowledgeable and analytical than ours, and the game has evolved beyond what is detailed in this book.
Probably not a recommended read for any but the most hardcore fans.
on March 19, 2015
"I was a big baseball fan in Japan and found that looking at the different way the Japanese approached the game provided a window into the Japanese culture as a whole. Friends encouraged me to write a book about it and so I did. Took a year to write 100,000 words. The result was The Chrysanthemum and the Bat. It was the first thing I’d ever written and it showed." -- Whiting on how he started writing
Written a full generation ago (1977) and covering players I had no clue about, this book was both entertaining and educational. Robert Whiting is now a renowned author most famously known for his late-80s masterpiece and follow-up to this book, You Gotta Have Wa. It really is not fair to compare the two books, but this one has a lot more direct quotes and long excerpts from other sources, and sounds a lot more like someone reporting what he has read or heard. 'Wa' sounds much more like a baseball guru telling the world what he already knows and has processed in his mind clearly.
That does not make this book less worthy or uninteresting, though. It takes me back to a time before I was even born and fills me in on the beautiful and quirky history of the game here in Japan, filled with colorful characters such as Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, Isao Harimoto, Katsuya Nomura, and more. It also looks closely at the life of a fan, the external expectations placed on the players, and the struggles that some foreign players (almost exclusively Americans in those days) had adjusting to life in Japan.
Interestingly, the book ends with a chapter speculating on how the Japanese would fare should there be a "real World Series". Obviously this has, in a way, come to fruition with the World Baseball Classic having been played three times in the past decade, but it is interesting to read thoughts about it written nearly 40 years ago. All in all this book is a splendid read and a must-add to the library of any Japanese baseball fan who wants to know more about the game before they started following it.
on May 3, 2004
It's now been nealry 30 years since The Chrysanthemum and the Bat was first published, and Japanese baseball (and Japan) have both changed a great deal in that time. Whiting has since published two more books on Japanese baseball, You Gotta Have Wa, which is very good, and The Meaning of Ichiro, which I unfortunately haven't read yet. If you're looking for a view of what the current era of Japanese baseball is like, you should definitely start with those books. Definitive though it may have been when it was released, and I have little doubt that it was, TCATB now exists primarily as a cultural artifact, and is only worth tracking down if that's what you're interested in.