Monday, February 24, 2014

The Real Mr. Baseball?

Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck has long been one of my favorite movies about both baseball and Japan.  I`m not sure why that is.  As a comedy, its only somewhat funny with most of the gags being pretty obvious and I don't think I ever laughed out loud at it.  As a sports drama its not quite up there with the classics in the genre.  Still though, this is one of my faves. 

I may be biased since it was filmed in Nagoya and I live there, but I think its mostly because its just an enjoyable movie that does a decent job of simplifying differences between Japanese and American cultures. That is a delicate thing to get right without being offensive or annoying.  I sometimes compare it with Selleck`s Magnum P.I.  I love the character of Magnum, but if you ever watch an episode when they have an `Asian` guest star then you are going to see an example of how awful it can be when they get that balance wrong.  Those episodes are cringe-inducingly awful.

Another good thing about the film is that it is mostly filmed on location.  They actually went to Dragons games and filmed the fans in the stands.  Hardly any of it was shot in a studio and so you get a pretty good look at 1992 Japan in the movie, which gives it a more authentic feel than others.

Anyway, I have a baseball card in my 1987 Calbee set that features a player named `Gary` (no other name given) who bears an uncanny resemblence to Selleck`s Jack Elliot character.  Almost every detail is right.  He is wearing a Chunichi Dragons hat which has the same design as the one they wore in the film (they have since changed the logo a few times).  He has dark hair and a Magnum moustache.  Even the look in his eyes says "Yup, my girlfriend is the daughter of the manager and we went through a rough patch after I found out but, you know, its all good now."

I have no idea who Gary was, or even what his full name is.  I wonder though if his stint with the Dragons was anything like Jack Elliot's.  Did he not want to be in Japan at first, but then have a change of heart?  Did he lay down the sac bunt for the team in a clutch situation even though his instinct told him to swing away?

These questions come to me as I look at this card.  Perhaps one day we will learn the truth of the real Mr. Baseball.


  1. That's Gary Rajsich, who was with the Dragons from 1986 to 1988. According to his Wikipedia page, Rajsich has been working in scouting for the past decade.

    Mr. Baseball is a good movie, but it's not great, as you say. I think the on-location filming really helped it, and since the film starts by showing all the stereotypical differences between US and Japan it's an accurate portrayal of an American who reluctantly moves to Japan - culture clash hits big for some people.

    It seems like Jack Elliot changes less than he causes changes to the Dragons. He Americanizes the Dragons a bit too much. Still a good movie.

  2. Ah, thanks for that! I was wondering who it was.

    Its a good point about Elliot changing less than the Dragons do. In that regard, the end of the movie kind of annoys me - he finally seems to accept Japan but then they end by him high tailing it back to the US. Also his friend Max Dubois' character arc also ends with him escaping Japan back to the US. It kind of reinforces the stereotype of Japan as a backwater that Americans only stay when they can't make it in the US, and all they want is to leave as soon as possible (which is kind of contradictory to the film's overall theme of overcoming cultural differences).

  3. Just saw the movie again a few weeks ago on the MLB network. I had seen it some time during the 90's before I really got into Japanese baseball so it was interesting to see it with a new perspective. I completely agree with you guys about Elliot changing the Dragons more than the Dragons changing Elliot. And the whole thing about either Jack or Max being able to just leave Japan to play for an MLB team - they are under contract to the Dragons still.

    When I was preparing to go to Japan last year I learned that Japanese people would put up with most rude behavior by ignorant gaijin except for three things. I was amused that Jack managed to do all three things during the movie - he doesn't take off his shoes when entering the locker room the first time, he doesn't clean himself in the shower before entering the communal bath in the locker room and he leaves his chopsticks stuck in his rice while eating dinner with the Uchiyamas.

  4. Ha, yeah, those are the three faux pas that Japanese will not let slide!

    I think they had Leon Lee (or Leron? I get them mixed up sometimes) as a consultant, so a lot of those scenes were probably based on stuff that happened to him.

    I also like the bar scene where you see all the players (I think they had a few actual players making cameos in that one) bitching about life in Japan. It reminds me of my first year in Japan when I used to do the same thing with my fellow English teachers at our local pub, I think every ex pat in Japan can relate to that!

  5. Leon Lee and Brad Lesley are both credited with appearing in the movie. I think they're both in that bar scene. I know that Lesley had claimed credit for the scene where Jack didn't realize that the game was ending in a tie.

    Another piece of trivia: according to Wikipedia, the bar in that scene is now Shooters, who used to sponsor John Gibson's Japan Baseball Weekly podcast.

  6. My coworker never took her shoes off in her apartment here. She probably doesn't at her new place in Japan either. She is pretty good about taking them off elsewhere when it's appropriate.

    I never really complained about life in Japan. However, my foreign coworkers have done quite a bit of it. I think the more open you are to different cultures and the more prepared you are by reading books about life in Japan, the easier it will be. Nothing really fazes me. I found myself saying "Welcome to Japan" a lot every time someone complained. I guess because I knew it would happen...

  7. NPB Card guy - that is interesting, I will have to check Shooters in Tokyo out someday just to say I have been there!

    I recognize a couple of other spots in the movie from around town here. The temple scene for example I think was filmed in Osu, which is just a few minutes away from my apartment!

    Ryan - Interesting! In my first year my friends and I would complain like crazy every week at the bar! That was pretty much all work related complaints rather than Japan complaints. though we were all having the same trouble adjusting to the expectations of a Japanese company on its employees!

    I have been living in Japan for over 10 years now so I am long past that phase, but seeing stuff like that brings me back to my first days in Japan. I often use that "welcome to Japan" line to people who complain, but I always feel kind of bad when I do (except when it is someone just being an idiot) since I know I used to feel the same way.

  8. Probably way too late for anyone to read this post but I'll add it anyway. I played Little League through high baseball with the player in the card, Gary Rajsich, who grew up in Phoenix and played baseball at ASU from 1974-76. He was taken by the Astros in the 11th round of the 1976 draft. He moved around a little bit before debuting with the Mets. He did short stints with the Giants and the Cardinals before his major league career ended. He then spent a couple years playing in Japan. He is now the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Baltimore Orioles.

    1. Wow, that is interesting, thanks for sharing! I suppose one question I have is do you know if he has ever seen the film Mr. Baseball? :)