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How Mr. Baseball Became a Go-To for Players Headed to Japan


Martinez confessed similar doubt before reaching acceptance in the best way things were done there.

“They’d some really extraordinary transfer-of-balance drills where you utilize a bar or a stick across your shoulders and also you shuffle side to side and land on one leg, putting your glute in sort of an influence position,” Martinez recalled. “Once you first do it, it looks really silly, so that you’re sort of doing it half-ass since it just looks like eyewash. But if you take the time to learn it and get right into a groove doing it, you’re like, ‘Man, I can feel my glute.’ It makes you more aware of your balance and where your power is coming from. It’s pretty cool.”

Rex Hudler is most certainly the primary player who was in a position to use the film as a resource. He signed with the Yakult Swallows following the 1992 season, just after the movie was released. His introduction to it was because the in-flight entertainment on the plane taking him to Tokyo to grow to be a real-life version of Jack Elliot.

“I used it as a reference big time,” Hudler said. “No person else on the plane was going over there to play Japanese baseball, in order that they were all laughing. I used to be guarded and soaking all of it in like a sponge.”

In eight major league seasons to that time, Hudler had played for the Hall of Fame managers Yogi Berra, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog and Joe Torre. That did little to organize him for Katsuya Nomura, his manager in Japan and a Hall of Fame catcher notorious for his biting frankness and distrust of foreign players.

Hudler recalled being astonished when Nomura would dispatch the interpreter to the on-deck circle with ill-timed reminders about hitting. Hudler relied on just the sort of ingenuity and diplomacy needed for face-saving survival in Japan.

“I said to the interpreter, ‘Hey, look, I’m just a little offended by this right here,’” Hudler said. “‘I’m an expert baseball player, I actually have been for 15 years, so next time he sends you out here, don’t you dare tell me what he says. Just say, ‘Hey, Hud, get an enormous hit. He’ll never know what you told me.’ From then on, at any time when he’d come out, that’s what he would say and everybody was satisfied.”

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