Pitching the Japanese work ethic for baseball

Mike Royko

February 10, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

WHAT'S THE penalty for treason?" Slats Grobnik said.

In extreme cases, I believe it is death. Why do you ask?

"Just wondering. So maybe I should keep my mouth shut."

Are you engaging in treasonous activities?

"I better not say. I wouldn't want to wind up in a courtroom."

You can tell me. With the jukebox going, nobody else will hear you. Confess. It's good for the soul.

"OK, I'll say it. I kind of like the idea of the Japanese buying the Seattle baseball team. There. Now you know."

That's the most terrible thing I've ever heard you say. How can you even think such a thought?

"I know. But I'm curious."

About what?

"The famous Japanese work ethic. I wanna see if they can put it into baseball, which is one place where it's really needed."

You aren't going to start moaning about how much baseball players are paid, are you?

"Nah. I figure that in the free enterprise system, everybody should get paid as much as they can hustle their boss or the customers for. That's supposed to be the American way."

Then what is this talk of a work ethic?

"Because I also figure that if you're taking the paycheck, you ought to earn it."

And you don't believe that baseball players earn theirs?

"Some, yeah. But I'm thinking about some of the others. Like there was this pitcher the Cubs had a few years ago. Making pretty big bucks. But every time he went out there to pitch, the people who live across from the outfield wall checked their window insurance."

We've had many pitchers like that.

"Yeah, but this guy gets traded. But before he goes to his new team, he spends the winter in a dry-out joint. Turns out that when he was with the Cubs, he was always pitching drunk or hung over. Or maybe in between."

Ah, yes, I remember him. After he went on the wagon, he went on to stardom. A future Hall of Famer, some say. So what does that have to do with the Japanese?

"The work ethic. In Japan, you don't show up for work half in the bag or you're on the street. I'd like to see what they do with guys like him or the ones who sniff coke. Maybe they'll make them give their paychecks back or stick a sword in their bellies in disgrace. I mean, when I'm paying for my ticket to the ballpark, it ain't to see some guy three sheets to the wind. I can get that in here free. Or education. I wonder what the Japanese would do about the ones who don't learn?"

Learn what?

"Like our shortstop. Nice kid, but sometimes I wonder about him. He's been playing baseball since he barely could walk -- more than 20 years. You got to figure that somewhere along the line, somebody taught him to count to four, right?"

I would assume so.

"And somebody must have told him that if the pitcher throws four terrible pitches, he will get to go

stand on first base."

That is a fundamental.

"Yeah, but he don't know it. If the pitcher throws the ball over the roof, he might swing at it."

Yes, he does seem impetuous at times.

"He's not the only one. Baseball is full of guys who can't count to four. So maybe the Japanese will say to them: 'Ah, you know count to 2,000,000 because that how much we pay you. But you no count to four. When you learn count to four, we pay you 2,000,000. Now you go work behind sushi counter and slice fish. Come back when you learn count to four sushi.'"

An interesting motivational concept.

"Yeah, or the guys who cry about their contracts. They sign a contract, then the next day somebody else signs for more, and they start screaming that they ain't getting no respect and they want a new contract. And they say they won't play as hard if they don't get one."

That is not uncommon.

"So I'd like to see how the Japanese handle that. Maybe they'll say: 'You sign contract. Contract legal. You no work hard, we no pay. We no pay, you no fancy cars, fancy house, fancy women, fancy gold chains. You just bum. You go on street, beg with cup. Come back when you want work hard. Sayonara, schnook.'"

You're missing the point. Yes, they might demand greater attention to detail, less selfishness and a stronger team concept. And the fans of Seattle are looking for someone who will keep the team from being moved to another city. But baseball is ours. It is our national pastime. Why, selling a baseball team to foreigners would be like . . . well . . . like selling the White House to foreigners. It is unthinkable.

"If you put it that way, I guess you're right. Selling the White House. What a rotten thought."

Absolutely. I'm glad you agree.

"Sure. Why sell it when you can rent it out once in a while to the emir of Kuwait?"

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