Oh's the guiding force of Japan's title

Oh's the guiding force of Japan's title

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SAN DIEGO -- He began the night humbly celebrating his place in professional baseball history. He ended it by making more baseball history, this time celebrating as the manager of a history-making club in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

Sadaharu Oh, the most legendary and storied player in the history of Japanese baseball, guided his Japan club to victory over a scrappy Cuban team in the Classic finals Monday night, 10-6. Afterward, Oh accepted the sparkling Classic trophy from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, on behalf of the players, and quite likely, the entire country of Japan.

"My players showed me a fantastic performance tonight," Oh said. "I know we are doing it for Japan.

"They've been supporting us so much, that's why we were able to accomplish this, so we'd like to share this great moment with all those fans back home in Japan and also here."

Oh is not unaccustomed to the spotlight, even when it reaches an international level. The 65-year-old manager is a legend, owning the distinction of being the most prolific home run hitter in professional baseball history.

Prior to the start of the game, Oh walked arm-in-arm with another home run hitting legend, Major League Baseball record holder Henry Aaron. At the third-base line, Oh stopped, presented Aaron with a ball, and Aaron walked to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Aaron and Oh's names have been linked for nearly 30 years, ever since Oh passed Aaron with his 756th homer on Sept. 3, 1977, to set the mark for the most homers in all of professional baseball. Oh ended his 22-year career with the Yomiuri Giants in 1980, with 868 home runs.

Winning is also nothing new to Oh. As a player, he helped lead the Giants to nine straight Japan series titles from 1965-73. As a manager, he won Nippon Professional Baseball championships in 1999 and 2003 with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, whom he's skippered since 1995.

Cooperstown Bound
A host of items celebrating the first World Baseball Classic, won by Japan, will now enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Role in finals
SpikesWorn by manager Sadaharu Oh
Team Japan jerseyWorn by MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka
Baseball capWorn by slugger Nobuhiko Matsunaka
Batting helmetWorn by Ichiro Suzuki
Warm-up jacketWorn by pitcher Koji Uehara

But winning the inaugural World Baseball Classic has to rank up near or at the top of his accomplishments. This tournament pitted the best in the world against more of the best in the world. Japan prevailed in decisive fashion, jumping on what was, until Monday, one of the most impressive pitching staffs in the Classic.

In Japan's clubhouse following the game, Oh gave one last message to his team, tipped his hat to the players, and only then did the champagne party begin.

Although the players decided this tournament, it was only fitting that Oh was in the middle of all of the postgame jubilation -- as were the spikes he wore in this championship game. They're headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, joining a jersey from Oh's playing days that already lives in the hallowed Hall.

Said Players Association chief Don Fehr to Oh during the on-field presentation of the trophy: "To a man who's meant so much to baseball in his country and fans all around the world."

Added Selig: "It is with great pleasure that we present the championship trophy in this inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic. Congratulations. You are the champions."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.