From the S&S archives
Aaron outslugs Oh in homer contest 10-9
TOKYO — Hank Aaron, the Atlanta Braves' top slugger and the No. 1 home run hitter in all of American baseball history, added one more notch to his bat Saturday at Korakuen Stadium here as he shaded Yomiuri Giants' top stickman Sadaharu Oh 10-9 in home runs in a much publicized battle that Aaron later said "hadn't really proved anything."
"I was happy to come to Japan and was able to engage in the contest with Oh. I was pleased that so many fans came out to see us in action.
"But it doesn't necessarily prove that I'm a better hitter than Oh," Hank added, in the sportsmanlike manner for which he is famous.
The contest before 50,000 was based on the number of home runs either Aaron or Oh could rap out on 20 fair balls. They alternated with five fair-hit swings each. Foul balls didn't count.
Aaron slammed 10 out of 18 fair balls for homers. Oh connected on nine out of 20.
With Kuniyasu Mine, Yomiuri's special batting practice pitcher on the mound for Oh, the Giants' No. 1 first baseman was first up. He hit three homers over the right-field fence.
New York Mets coach Joe Pignatano, a former Los Angeles Dodger catcher, pitched to Aaron. "He throws directly overhand, and I could pick the ball up better," Aaron said.
Both Aaron and Oh had a half-hour of batting practice at the stadium before their duel. Korakuen's dimensions are 300 feet from home plate to left field, 390 to center field and 300 to right field.
Aaron followed with two belts into the left-field stands to trail 3-2 after the first of four rounds.
Going into the second session, Oh rapped three high into the right-field stands. Aaron followed and killed the Giant's one-run margin by smashing four out of his five fair balls into the leftfield stands. The score was 6-all.
Once in the third session, Oh failed to get the ball away from the diamond on four out of the five pitches — a failure that eventually led to his defeat in the fourth round.
His only sizzler went high into the right-field bleachers. Aaron, on the other hand, put away a 9-7 lead by belting three homers into the left-field stands.
In the box for his last-ditch opportunity, Oh pounded out two home runs into the right-field stands but narrowly missed a third to make the score 9-9.
Aaron grounded his first ball to left and then the next to third.
But on the third he smashed another high fly over 300 feet along the left-field foul line and high into the bleachers that sent Japanese and American fans scrambling for possession of. the ball.
It was Hank's 10th homer of the four-round competition.
According to the arrangement set up between Oh and Aaron, the Atlanta slugger still had two more swings coming after his winning fly. But he chose not to take them. The contest was officially over when Aaron defeated Oh by that one home run margin.
"I was glad I needed only one to win," Aaron said modestly. "The bat was beginning to get heavy in my hands."
Aaron described his 10 homers as "good ones."
Oh, now 34, was generally considered the contest favorite.
He had been playing against the visiting New York Mets all week and just recently finished playing in the Japan Central League pennant race.
Hank, 40, on the other hand, had not had any batting practice for more than a month and "was feeling rusty."
Then how is it Aaron won the contest? If he was rusty and tired from the long trip from the United States, he didn't show it.
"I won it (the contest) because it was a home run contest," Aaron explained. "I waited for my pitches and I'm a very patient guy. I tried to pull the ball because I thought if I hit to left-center, the ball would drop into the fans.
Aaron went on to say that he still wasn't sure he'd be the winner when Oh hit his lone rap in the third session. In fact, when the Yomiuri Giant hit two in his last session, the Atlanta slugger had to admit that "I was a little bit worried.
"But I was the last hitter so when I hit that one in my fourth session and took that 10-9 lead, well, the contest was all over."
Oh, who going into the contest had 634 home runs and expects to pass the 800 mark sometime in the next four or five years, had nothing but praise for the Atlanta Braves' power hitter.
"He is a wonderful hitter," he said of Aaron. "I was amazed that he hit so many homers even though he had been out of practice for so long ... and he only arrived last night."
By his own admission, Aaron had been out of batting practice for about a month but he had said Friday night that "if I take 10 practice swings, I should be in shape."
The Aaron "shape" is well known. He used it to surpass the mighty Babe Ruth's home run record of 714 on April 8. He now leads the world record books with a lifetime record of 733.
"For myself," Oh continued, "I am satisfied with my performance today. It was not a one-sided contest."
Aaron had similar praise for Oh.
"When he hits 'em," he said in an interview after the game, "he hits 'em hard."
Would Aaron consider playing ball in Japan? That is, if he were given an attractive offer?
"I can't really say," he admitted. Then he added, "By the way, I was also very recently married."
So now it's over ... the publicity, the hoop-la, the excitement of the mighty Aaron meeting the mighty Oh in at-the-plate "combat."
Hank Aaron is still stick king, and now not only of the U.S. major leagues but of the world. He's spread his reign to Japan and the Japanese professional leagues.
Aaron was paid $50,000 for winning the "homer derby" and Oh received $20,000 from the Columbia Broadcasting System, sponsor of the event. The contest was shown on stateside TV by CBS.