As Japan underwent spectacular economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s, baseball evolved into a highly successful commercial enterprise thanks to televised games and rising levels of national income. The long-reigning Yomiuri Giants fielded superstars that attained the status of national heroes – foremost among them Sadaharu Oh. In 1977, he broke American Hank Aaron’s lifetime homerun record of 755.

In fiercely competitive one-upmanship, Japanese professional baseball clubs looked to the United States for hired guns to bolster their offensive power. American professionals of diverse levels of accomplishment were recruited to play in Japan. Each club was initially allowed to have two foreign players on the active roster. Many went back home with little success, while some, like Warren Cromartie of the Tokyo Giants, Randy Bass of the Hanshin Tigers, and Don Blasingame of the Nankai Hawks, thrived.

The first Japanese to play in the MLB was Masanori Murakami, who pitched for the San Francisco Giants for two seasons before returning to Japan. The contractual dispute between the Nankai Hawks, Murakami’s home club, and the Giants ruptured the relationship between MLB and Japanese organized baseball. Consequently, no Japanese player would play in the American majors for the next three decades.