Former MLB outfielder Wladimir Balentien has tied a record held by three other players in Japanese baseball history by swatting his 55th home run of the year on Wednesday. Now, Balentien, who plays for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, has 22 games remaining on the schedule to hit just one more home run, which would give him one more than Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Cabrera, and, of course, Japanese legend Sadaharu Oh.
The Curacao native missed the first dozen games of the season with injury, but has been on an unrivaled homer pace since that time, amassing 55 long balls in just 109 games. The problem will, as it's always been, getting someone to throw him pitches that he can hit from here on out: Japanese players have been very protective of Oh's record, historically, and Balentien was even walked on four pitches in the plate appearance that followed his record-tying homer.
With 22 games remaining, it's going to be incredibly obvious what's going on should NPB's pitchers refuse to give Balentien anything in the strike zone from here on out -- with any luck, Balentien will get the chance he deserves to break or not break the record on his own merits, rather than because of a quiet, league-wide rebellion against him. If what the New York Times wrote recently is any indication, though, this might not end up being a problem this time around, as Japanese fans are ready to see the record be broken.
Before you judge NPB fans too harshly, might I remind you of the hate mail and the death threats that Roger Maris received for daring to chase Babe Ruth's then-record of 60 homers in a year back in 1961? People love their legends, and they love history, and it takes time for a shift to occur where it's fine to let go. Hell, fans of present-day MLB still search for excuses to slap asterisks on the current records in order to "give" the record back to Maris, whom their forebears didn't even want to have it in the first place. It's a complicated process, but it's one that could finally be progressing in Japan.
In less heavy thoughts, who wants to see Balentien smash a record-tying dinger?
And in video form: