Remembering Senichi Hoshino: 'Man on Fire'
TOKYO — The history of Japanese baseball is filled with colorful characters, among them Hiroshi Oshita, a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Toei Flyers known for his trademark blue bat. Oshita swung with an American-style uppercut, hit soaring fly balls into the stands, once hitting a home run in Hokkaido’s Maruyama Stadium that traveled 170 meters.
Oshita was also famous for hitting the bars and chasing women, often stumbling back to his room drunk at four in the morning. Legend has it that Oshita set a record by getting seven hits in a game in 1949 while suffering from a severe hangover after drinking all night, expecting the game the next day to be rained out. Oshita’s longtime rival was Tetsuharu Kawakami, first baseman for the Yomiuri Giants, who used a red bat to hit .383, in 1951, a Japanese record that stood for decades until it was broken by American Randy Bass in 1986.
Kawakami was a taught, muscled level-swinging hitter whose trademark was low screaming line drives to the outfield fences. He was also a perfectionist whose idea of a good time was taking shadow swings late into the night at the team dormitory and meditating during the offseason at Buddhist temples, chanting, reading scriptures, and doing supplicant drills, in an effort to conquer his inner self and perfect his concentration.