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Yakult Swallows pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii obviously didn’t know what to do.

His choices were: Play baseball in Japan or head for the major leagues.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Ishii figured that America was far too dangerous a place to live. So he decided to stay.

Obviously some people didn’t agree with his decision. Comedian Sanma Akashiya was one of them.

“You’ve got no balls,” the funny man told him — on air — adding for good measure: “You’re chicken, gutless.”

And it went on, as Sanma told Ishii that he was a small-minded, self-satisfied, inward-looking waste of space, or words to that effect.

You can’t entirely blame Ishii. He is, after all, Japanese, so why shouldn’t he play at home; he’s got a good gig with the Yakult Swallows; he would almost certainly earn more money if he stayed; he’s got a family to think of; and, let us not forget, the United States was a dangerous country even before Sept. 11.

Of course, if he has got any balls as a competitor, he would go to the major leagues — it’s the ultimate test of a baseball player. Ichiro’s done it, Hideo Nomo’s done it, even Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s done it.

The hard part about understanding Ishii’s indecision is figuring out just what he’s thinking and what kind of advice he’s getting.

Sept. 11 has made only a slight difference to the dangers of living in the U.S. and shouldn’t have affected his decision too much — perhaps by a margin of 1 or 2 percent.

Which means he should have made his decision ages ago. If he’d come out and said, “I think America sucks and wouldn’t even play there if you paid me the same as Barry Bonds,” we would have accepted and applauded his decision.

Unfortunately, Ishii is Japanese and therefore genetically incapable of making any decisions.

Which is a shame for those who’d like to see another Japanese player make it in the bigs. The likes of Ichiro and Shinjo are not only good ambassadors for Japanese baseball, they are fantastic ambassadors for Japan itself. When Ichiro or Shinjo is batting, the whole of Japan is watching and everyone gets a big buzz when they get a hit or make a spectacular catch.

But, more than this, the United States and the rest of the baseball world is watching, and they can see these fine Japanese athletes showing their stuff and demonstrating a good deal of modesty at the same time.

So, if this is such a big decision AND a big thing for Japan, you’d think that Ishii would be getting a little better advice than the rough opinions of Japan’s loudest comedian.

It makes you wonder if any of these athletes playing in a foreign country are getting any advice at all.

Sticking with baseball, do you remember Bill Madlock? Big Bill (in more ways than one) came over here to play for the Lotte Orions when they were still at Kawasaki Stadium.

He barely stuck out a season. Lotte was stuck with Bill’s million-dollar bill after the miserable American had a miserable experience in Japan (.263, 19 HRs, 61 RBIs) and left by blasting Japanese baseball with the conclusion that it “wasn’t real baseball.”

What did he expect? Even I, a wandering Brit, could have told him that things are different over here. I could have told him the strike zone varies in size for foreign ballplayers; I could have told him that Kawasaki Stadium was a crap-hole frequented by drunks; I could have told him Japanese food is disgusting; and I could have told him he would have a hard time adjusting to Japanese life and the Japanese mentality.

But it seems that no one told him anything.

Of course things are different over here. They are different everywhere. You would think that Bill — a dim bulb or not — would have been able to figure that out for himself. Was it former Yankee great Yogi Berra who said of Japan: “It’s like a foreign country over there”?

Randy Bass figured it out and became a star here; Boomer Wells figured it out and became a star here; Leon and Leron Lee figured it out and became stars over here. Bass and Wells were still here when Madlock arrived, the Lee brothers had just left. Surely they could all have given Madlock a bit of advice.

And surely someone could be giving better advice to soccer’s traveling stars.

What kind of idiot told Akinori Nishizawa to go to Bolton in England’s Premier League? Nishizawa, who failed to shine in Spain, became the fourth striker in Bolton’s squad and had little chance of breaking into the first team. To rub his nose further into the dirt, Bolton bought Rod Wallace from Rangers midseason to bolster its strike force.

Junichi Inamoto at Arsenal? Well, the former Gamba Osaka midfielder has just learned the same lesson as Nishizawa: You’re not good enough. Which means he is spending the entire season ahead of the World Cup on the bench or in the stands.

One agent told me that, following an unsuccessful spell in Spain, Shoji Jo was offered transfers to French and Belgian teams but turned them down on the basis that the level of play was beneath him. Jo, who apparently has a coterie of “hangers-on” advising him, will be with lowly J. League team Vissel Kobe next season.

A top British soccer agent told me just before Christmas that he no longer deals with Japanese players as they are too much trouble and dishonest in their dealings. He added that they are handled by people who don’t have the interests of the players at heart and therefore don’t give them honest advice.

And that’s the problem. The agents are invariably guided by the big bucks, while the player is often swayed by the same stuff or the big names (Bolton?).

What players like Ishii, Jo and others appear to be incapable of doing is making decisions for themselves, or at least making the right decisions based on having obtained good information.

The comedians, it appears, are in the ascendancy.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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