(AFP) – Dec 4, 2007
TOKYO (AFP) — Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh believes his lifetime home-run record of 868 is doomed to be broken by New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez.
"I think A-Rod will eventually hit his 1,000th," the 67-year-old Oh said. "Technically, he is already capable of doing so and he has been free from injuries. I hope he will set his goal that high and challenge it."
The Yankee third baseman has cracked 518 home runs since 1995, this year becoming the youngest player ever to hit 500 -- at the age of 32 years and eight days.
"My record will be broken as a matter of course. But Japanese players may not break it for some time as none is close," Oh said when he was honoured by the Foreign Sportswriters' Association of Japan Monday for his lifetime achievement.
Oh said he could also be overtaken by the controversial Barry Bonds, who surpassed Hank Aaron's 33-year Major League home-run record of 755 this year and now stands with 762. Bonds was indicted last month for allegedly lying about steroid use.
"He may be advanced in age but he is quite physically fit," Oh said of the 43-year-old Bonds.
Oh, manager of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks since 1995, has long admitted his mark cannot be compared to achievements in US Major League Baseball because the level of the US game is higher and US ballparks are bigger.
"No one thinks that my record is the world's number-one," he had said when Bonds cracked his 756th home-run on August 7, 30 years after Oh reached the mark. "I should have at least played on the same (sumo) ring with Bonds."
At home, the active player who is the closest to Oh's mark is 40-year-old Orix Buffalo Kazuhiro Kiyohara at 525.
But Oh did not mourn the growing drain of Japanese talent to the Major Leagues, saying he regretted he could not play on the big stage himself.
"Of course, I myself wanted to play at a higher level if I had a chance to go. It was impossible in my times," said Oh, who attributed his success to hard training including swinging his bat up to 1,000 times a day. "Be it right or wrong, we cannot stop the trend."
Oh, who was born to a Chinese father and Japanese mother and holds Taiwanese nationality, hit 868 home runs in his 22-year playing career which was spent solely as the first baseman of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants and ended in 1980.
Apart from Masanori Murakami's brief stint with San Francisco on loan from Japan's Nankai Hawks in 1964-65, Japan's exports of baseball talent to the United States only began in 1995 with pitcher Hideo Nomo's brilliant stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Some 30 players have followed Nomo's footsteps, including Seattle Mariners outfielder and lead-off man Ichiro Suzuki, New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui and Boston Red Sox rookie pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
For his part, Oh appreciated post-season exhibition tours in Japan by US Major League stars.
"I have personally done 20 exhibition matches with them. They were very helpful and gave fresh inspiration to us," he said. "I myself and Japanese baseball circles are full of gratitude for them."
Oh had his entire stomach removed in a cancer operation last year after guiding Japan to win the inaugural World Baseball Classic, which was organised by US Major League Baseball as the sport's answer to the football World Cup.
He said he might extend his career beyond 2008, despite his earlier comment that he would remain the manager of Fukuoka for just one more year before retiring.
Oh, who also managed the Yomiuri Giants for five years, guided Fukuoka to the Japan Series in 1999 and 2003. But after 2003 he has failed to lead the club to the Pacific League title, which gives them a spot in the national championship series.
"I made the comment just to brace my players for next year," he said. "I will go for it as if it will be my last year."
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