Sadaharu Oh is one of Japan's all-time favorite baseball players - I think Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, Ichiro, and Matsui are in every Japanese fan's top five! Oh is known for his home run records - 868 in his career playing with the Giants and 55 in a season, though he also hit .301 over his career and later managed the Giants and Hawks.
Sadaharu Oh was the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball, obviously. His career record of home runs might never be broken. However, his single-season home run record has been approached by foreigners three times since then. In 1985, Randy Bass reached 54 - the last game of the season was versus the Oh-managed Giants and he was intentionally walked on 4 straight pitches 4 times. In 2001, Tuffy Rhodes reached 55 with several games left, but played the Oh-managed Hawks and was intentionally walked every time he came to the plate. And in 2002, Alex Cabrera also had 55 homers with five games left in the season, ending against Oh's Hawks. Cabrera, too, was pitched around and was unable to hit a 56th home run.
While Oh claims he instructed his pitchers to throw strikes, statements made by Oh's coaches and players indicate a decision was made at some point each time (by coaches, head office staff, or the players themselves) to keep the foreign players from breaking his record.
Why is this important now? If you haven't heard, Wladimir Balentin hit his 52nd home run Friday night, with 29 games remaining in the season. It'll be quite interesting to follow the rest of the season and see if he can break it - and what steps might be taken to prevent that. Balentin went 1 for 2 tonight (a single) with 2 walks and a strikeout.
And why do I mention all this? I found two little Oh cards a couple weekends ago while browsing around Nakano's shops.