Thursday, September 21, 2023

Sadaharu Oh Goes To Charm City

My oldest daughter started dating someone when she was a freshman at the University Of Maryland - Baltimore County (aka UMBC, the destroyer of everyone's NCAA brackets in 2018).  One time when she was visiting her boyfriend's family at their house just north of Baltimore, she mentioned her father's twin odd hobbies of collecting Japanese baseball cards and writing a blog about them.

Her boyfriend's father replied, "Your father might be interested to know that I have Sadaharu Oh's autograph."

Indeed I was.  When I eventually met him, he explained that Oh had attended the "Tops In Sports" Banquet some time in the 1980's and he had gotten Oh to autograph his program.

The "Tops In Sports" banquet was an annual event put on by the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association every January for almost 50 years.  The first one was held in 1954 and I believe the last one was held in 1998 - there's an article behind the paywall at the Baltimore Sun that indicates that the 1999 event was canceled due to some conflict with the Orioles.

My daughter broke up with this particular boyfriend a while ago and went on to marry someone else so I never got to see the autograph.  And I didn't know which year Oh attended.  But still it was cool to discover that he had visited Baltimore...or at least Baltimore County as the event was actually held in Towson, just north of the city.

Fast forward to last week - I discovered that someone on Ebay was selling photos of Oh from the event!  The auction is for a set of five photos featuring Oh.  They are from the estate of Frank Sliwka who ran the banquet for years.  I swiped the photos from the auction but I've done a little cropping to zero in on each photo individually.

This first photo shows Oh, Sliwka and Henry Aaron:

Oh signing a ball for Sliwka:

The three people on the left are Sliwka, then-Baltimore mayor (and later Maryland Governor and Comptroller) Willam Donald Schaefer and Oh.  I think the guy on the far right is Irv Hall, the president of the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association at the time.  I'm not sure who the other person is - the program for the event (I'll get to that in a minute) lists a couple possibilities - Kensaku Hogen from the Japanese Embassy; Hioroaki Hirano, "Director of International Liaision, Tokyo 'Yomiuri' Giants" (Not sure if his name was spelled right in the program and I think they meant "Liaison"); Dr. Hiroshi Nakazawa from St. Agnes Hospital and restauranteur Lanny Miyamoto.  Or it could be none of those.  Maybe it's Oh's translator.

Oh was the recipient of the "Babe Ruth Crown" so here's Sliwka holding over his head as they pose with the unidentified gentleman from the previous photo.

Here's Oh holding the crown while flanked by Sliwka and yet another unidentified person:

Here's one last photo from the auction showing all five photos at once:

I mentioned earlier that I'd seen a program for the event.  After I saw this auction last week I did some searches on the internet to see what I could find out about the event.  I hit pay-dirt twice.  I found an article on the banquet from the Washington Post written by Tom Boswell which established that the event was in January of 1985.  Then I found an archived Ebay auction over at Worthpoint for a program from the event.  It looks like it's the same seller who's selling the photos.  It establishes that the date of the event was January 11th, 1985.  I've again swiped the photos from the program:

Looks like it was an interesting lineup of people.  One of the players at the event - Jim Traber (mispelled "Trabor" in the program) would eventually spent two seasons in Japan with the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

I always enjoy discovering the intersections of Japanese and American baseball and as this was so close to home, it was particularly satisfying.


Fuji said...

That program is a unique piece of baseball memorabilia. It would have been cool to attend that banquet and land Oh and Aaron's autograph.

NPB Card Guy said...

Until I saw these images a couple weeks ago I had had no idea that Aaron was at the same banquet as Oh. It's possible that my daughter's ex-boyfriend's father had gotten Aaron's autograph as well. Unfortunately I haven't talked to him in about ten years so I have no way of finding out.