Spencer on Baseball
September 29, 1972
Interview by Stu Kobak
Playing in the Show
"They call me 'The Monster'," say
Daryl Spencer, player-coach of the Hankyu Braves. Daryl's been playing and coaching baseball in
Japan since 1964, except for a two year break from baseball in 1969 and '70.
Daryl lives in Kobe, Japan, on a seasonal basis with his family of two
girls and wife Eleanor. Even though his family travels to Japan each year, they still face a four
month separation mainly because of the youngest girl's schooling.
His rookie year in the big leagues was 1953 with the New York Giants:
"Durocher was managing that year and when I came up I was a dead pull hitter. About halfway
through the season I have about 17 home runs and I'm batting around .270--real good shot at Rookie
of the Year--but Durocher takes me aside and says, 'Okay, you're doing fine, but you have to start
thinking about hitting to right field a little.' So then all I'm thinking about is hitting to right
field when I'm at the plate and my average drops down to .208. I think Durocher screwed me up that
year. It was probably his worst year managing in the majors."
Call from Japan
Spencer has played with four National League teams during his major
league career: the Giant, Cardinals, Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds. In August of 1963 he was
released by Cincinnati and returned to his home in Wichita, Kansas. He received a call from a
representative of the Chunichi Dragons who wanted him to play baseball in Japan. "When I got
the call I was so fed up with baseball because of my release I told them I don't even want to mess
with baseball." In 1964 he was contacted by reps of both the Braves and the Nankai Hawks and
he decided to come to the Braves. "I sort of wish I had gone to the Hawks 'cause they have
such a small ball park. Playing in their ballpark during my best Japanese years I think I could've
hit 50 maybe 60 homers a year." In Daryl's best years with the Braves he hit 36 and 38 homers.
Kansai-Action conducted this interview with
Daryl Spencer on August 28 at the Kobe Club where the "Monster" was quite relaxed and
talked with a rare candor about baseball here and in the States. The following are some of his
impressions and experiences as a "baseball hero."
"in Japan they have to tell the players who the pitcher is, what he
throws, which you never have to do in the States. When you've faced a pitcher 50 times you
If I were manager, I wouldn't have a meeting every day to tell the players
which way the wind is blowing, but I guess maybe they have to here or by God maybe the players
couldn't go out and play the game. I don't know. Sometimes you wonder. You wouldn't have to tell an
American ballplayer the wind is blowing--it's your job! You shouldn't have to tell a major leaguer
it rained today and the ground's a little wet!
The game's more of a country club thing
here. Everybody's too friendly. I used to tell this first baseman on Hankyu--this guy who hits into
double-plays all the time--why don't you get mean sometimes. But he just smiles at the catcher and
smiles at the pitcher. When the game starts you should play to win. That's the only way to play. I
am a bad loser. I can take losses, but if there's a way I can win, I'm goin' to do it--that's for
damn sure. Steal signs, anything--that's the one thing I learned playing for Durocher.
The majority of Japanese ballplayers change their style when a man gets on
base. They get really tense, like they're not good clutch hitters.
You see, they still don't understand percentage baseball here, like
bringing the infield in when you have an early lead. Now that's bad percentage baseball but the
Japanese do it. In the late innings they'll invariably give a home run hitter an inside pitch to
hit and he'll beat you with a home run. I've seen it happen to our team and I just don't have
enough control to run the team.
Styles and Training
It's more like a minor league here. You got
some superstars: Oh and Nagashima of the Giants, but they're both getting old now. The Japanese
star have no color. Nomura, who's hit over 500 home runs with the Hawks--to watch him would put you
to sleep. He doesn't draw fans--but they like me because I've made all sorts of gestures here. Just
being a crazy American I guess. I like to add something to the game. You can do any little thing.
God, just tip your hat and the fans go gah-gah.
They train more in Japan. They over-train! As hot as it gets here they go
through every routine every day. They do the same things in August as in Spring training. I really
shocked them my first year over here. I honestly think if they didn't go through with their routine
they couldn't play. Well, anyway, we're playing a double-header and the first game starts at 4:30.
I come at ten to four and everyone's been out there since 1:00. I put on my uniform, throw about
three balls in infield practice and the first time up I hit a line shot against the right field
fence. So they say, "No, it's impossible--no batting practice, he can't hit. So I get five
hits in the double-header and now they never question me if I get there two minutes before a game.
Bennies, Pills and Ups
I don't think they take them (bennies,
pills and ups) here generally. I've given a few players ups. When I came over--you know when you're
thirty-five and have to play a double-header--I used to take some pills. In the fourth inning I
used to take a pill that would last me for three hours. I felt like I needed it for double-headers.
There were several times when our catcher had to catch a double-header and
it was real hot so I'd give one (a pill) to him and maybe I gave them to a couple of the older
pitchers--but I never gave them to the real young players. Hell, you reach forty-four and have a
couple of drinks the night before a game and you might need something the next day.
They took them in the States when I played there. The Dodgers took quite a
few of them. Drysdale used to take two before every game he pitched. There's a lot of strain on the
ball field too. I don't know why people make such a big deal of it. People in normal life take
them. Businessmen take them. Why harp on the athlete. I remember the Cardinals used to give B-12
shots which I think was an excellent substitute for pills. Some of the guys took them almost every
day. When you're out there every day beating your brains in you need something like that.
Teaching and Coaching
I taught our catcher how to block home
plate. It took me a whole year to get through to our catcher and pitchers that on a pitch-out the
catcher has to step out to catch the ball--the pitcher has to throw it there so the batter can't
hit. A year for a simple thing like that! And base running is just terrible--they run with their
If I spoke Japanese I think I'd have a chance to manage here. You just
have to speak it more than I do. Even without Japanese I think enough situations come up during the
year--like changing pitchers--I think managers are weak on that, plus the pitching coach has them
warming up in the bull pen all the time and the pitchers never get a rest. Little things like that
could probably win ten or fifteen more games a year. Last year we had a catcher who spoke English
very well and many times he and I would run the game without the manager knowing.
Prejudice and Socializing
Oh, you hear "Yankee go home" and
all that, but I can't complain because I've done so well in Japan. I've been the only Gaijin on the
Up-Down Quiz Show on TV. I've been treated so well in Japan--God, I'd be stupid to say I
experienced prejudice. I've been treated like a king over here. Maybe some of the other players
feel like they've experienced it though.
I've never had a Japanese ballplayer in my house. I've been to several
Japanese players' houses. I've had the manager up to my house several times and when we're on the
road we go out and drink together. The Japanese players are fun-loving people. They like to enjoy
themselves--they like to drink--but it's difficult to me because of the communication barrier.
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