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Publisher: Warner
Release Date: 2004
ISBN: 0-446-53192-8
Format Reviewed: Non-Fiction / sports
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Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Jeff Shelby
Reviewer Notes:  

The Meaning of Ichiro
The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of Our National Pastimes
By Robert Whiting

     Robert Whiting wrote the definitive book on Japanese baseball in You Gotta Have Wa, exposing the idiosyncrasies of the game as it is played in Japan. In The Meaning of Ichiro, Whiting takes a look at how the influx of Japanese players to America and the major leagues has affected all those involved.

     The title comes from Ichiro Suzuki, the first every day player to come from Japan and sign with the Seattle Mariners. While a few pitchers had been signed by MLB, no every day player had ever caught on with a major league team, due in part to the notion that Japanese players were simply inferior to American born players. Ichiro immediately changed all of that by instantly become one of the best all around talents in MLB, winning a batting title in his first season and leading all players in votes garnered for the All-Star Game. MLB immediately began taking Japanese baseball more seriously and Whiting documents the steady flow of players looking to make the jump across the Pacific.

      Whiting uses his intimate knowledge of the Japanese game – he lives in Japan – to contrast nicely with the views and perceptions of American players and managers. He gives exacting portraits of the Japanese stars that have come to America – Ichiro, Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu, Hideki Matsui and Kaz Matsui in particular – showing in great detail their struggles in battling the demands of their homeland and the battles of living and performing in a new culture. His depictions of how each player handles the insatiable and overbearing Japanese media while in America are great indicators of each player’s personality.

      Whiting also covers some of the ground he originally covered in Wa – something he warns the reader of at the beginning of the book – and for the baseball fan, it is still more than interesting. Comparing the way Japanese players and management meticulously prepare for games to the way American teams take more of a relaxed approach indicates exactly why MLB is so appealing to Japanese players. Whiting also uses Bobby Valentine, a former major league manager who managed in Japan in the mid-nineties and just recently returned, as a great example of the two different approaches to the game by two different countries. His constant struggle to adopt his style to the Japanese style is one of the most interesting tales in the book.

      While the subtitle may be slightly inaccurate – proclaiming The Transformation of Our National Pastime seems a little exaggerated considering that only 17 Japanese players have come to MLB between 1995 and 2003 and to this point only Ichiro and, to a certain degree, Hideki Matsui have succeeded as every day players – there is no denying that Ichiro opened a new door to the baseball world. Whiting has done an excellent job of putting it all together in a very readable, very engaging book that will more than satisfy every baseball fan.