On September 3, 1977, Sadaharu Oh of Japan’s Yomiuri Giants hits the 756th home run of his career, breaking Hank Aaron’s professional record for career home runs. Oh was the greatest Japanese player of his era, though not the most popular because of his half-Japanese, half-Chinese background. Nonetheless, his record-breaking homer was cause for celebration throughout Japan.
Sadaharu Oh, like Babe Ruth before him, began his career as a pitcher. He was a celebrity even before turning pro with the Yomiuri Giants in 1959: In the 1957 Spring Koshien Tournament, the high school baseball tournament that is among the biggest events in Japanese sport, Oh threw four shutouts over four consecutive days to help Waseda Jitsugyo High School to the championship. Soon after joining the Giants, he was moved to first base and developed a unique left-handed swing, featuring a “flamingo” leg lift reminiscent of New York Giants great Mel Ott and the productive journeyman slugger Darryl Strawberry. Oh and his more popular teammate Shigeo Nagashima–known as the “Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of Japanese baseball”–led the Giants to 11 Nippon Baseball League championships.
On September 3, 1977, Oh entered the game between the Giants and their cross-town rival Yakult Swallows hitting .321. In the first inning, he was walked by Swallows pitcher Yasumiro Suzuki; it was the 2,180th walk of Oh’s career, a professional record at the time. When he returned to the plate in the third inning, the crowd’s enthusiasm at Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo had reached a fever pitch. The Swallows decided to employ the “Oh shift,” (similar to the “Williams shift” that American League teams employed against Ted Williams) in which the team moves to the right of the left-handed batter, anticipating that he will “pull” the ball to right field. The shift was no match for Oh: The slugger sent a 3-2 breaking ball 328 feet into the right field stands. The lucky fan who caught it was given an autographed ball, bat and trip to a hot springs spa in exchange for the home run ball.
Oh was presented with the Japanese Medal of Honor by Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda the day after the game. He retired in 1980 with 868 home runs, still a professional record.