Clifton: Where the twain shall meet, Japanese and American baseball

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on July 28, 2015:

A couple of weeks ago Rob Fitts, the co-author with Masanori Murakami of a fine new book titled Mashi, asked me to preface his remarks at a signing in Rhinebeck, New York. I spoke for perhaps three minutes and then stepped aside; however, I enjoyed the privilege of joining both men for dinner afterward, and got to know the charmingly self-effacing “Mashi” Murakami a bit. Then, semi-miraculously, a week later I bumped into him at a massively attended outdoor party prior to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, where we greeted each other like long-lost friends. I have all the admiration in the world for Mashi, who, while he is not the best Japanese national to have played here, is forevermore the first, an indelible and incredibly arduous achievement. Returning home from the All-Star Game and then moving on to Cooperstown and Pedro Martinez’s effervescent celebration of his native and adopted lands, I thought about Merritt Clifton, and the great story he wrote for The National Pastime in Spring 1985–before Hideo Nomo, when Mashi seemed likely to be an isolated instance of Japanese-American cooperation at the major-league level. Here is that story, not republished in all these years and still fascinating.

My friend Merritt Clifton described himself, back then, as a freelance writer and small-press publisher and the author of Relative Baseball, a sabermetric classic self-published in 1979. I can testify to that brilliant book’s influence on me before publication of The Hidden Game of Baseball. And upon re-reading this brilliant essay three decades later, I see how he has influenced my thinking about baseball’s primordial past, its vibrant present, and its glimmering future.


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Originally published: July 28, 2015. Last Updated: July 28, 2015.