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.

The Interview

     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 remember.
     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!

Japanese Style

     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 heads down.
     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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