Japan's 1st big leaguer makes pitch for charity leadership

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TOKYO, Feb. 2 (13:19) Kyodo

Masanori Murakami, Japan's first major leaguer, is now the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees' first athlete to act as
a goodwill ambassador.

It is not that Japanese players do not support charities, but
rather that they tend to do so quietly. Murakami said the subtle
action of Japanese players is related to traditional aversions to
standing out in a crowd.

"If someone takes a leadership role, there are still people who
will feel envious and be critical," Murakami told Kyodo News on
Saturday. "But that's an old way of thinking. Times have changed."

Murakami cites Major League Baseball's annual Clemente Award as
a way of encouraging social contribution Japan lacks.

The award, first given in 1971 and called the Commissioner's
Award, is meant to honor the player who best exemplifies the game of
baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's
contribution to his team.

In 1973, the commissioner changed the award's name to honor
Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while
transporting emergency supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua.

Murakami, now 68, pitched for the San Francisco Giants in 1964
and 1965 before resuming a career in Japan that saw him win 103
games. He has hosted a charity golf tournament since 1995.

"It's important for sportsmen and people in the entertainment
business to stand out as much as possible," he said. "That way, more
people, such as company employees would contribute and participate
within their means. Even if it's just a little, it's a positive."

"Japan has improved in this respect, but compared to other
countries, it seems we are lagging behind. You can't compare us,
let's say with America, even considering how wealthy a country as
this is."

"Currently within pro baseball, teams have been acting,
conducting charity auctions, and the situation indeed has improved a
great deal. But in the baseball world, among the elite, we need more
leaders, acting more quickly."

"Do that and young people will rush in. It doesn't have to be 10
million yen, it would be 10,000 yen or whatever. Put it together and
it's a lot. I think that kind of thing is necessary."

The UNHCR was established in 1950 to lead and coordinate
international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems

"Japan is really blessed," he said. "We have homeless people of
course, but it is a tiny percentage. We can help those who are less
well off, people who have had to flee for their lives. A contribution
of 3,000 yen could buy seven blankets. These things are necessary. We
have to do something as human beings. If you can make a living, you
are well off."

"People who have had to flee their homes are not going to find
work. They want to return home as soon as they can, but they can't.
How are these people living? If you think about how we live our
lives, you realize how blessed we are."

Murakami's term as a goodwill athlete for refugees began last
December and will run through November 2014.

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