John Sipin shined for nine seasons of professional baseball in Japan. There, he was a giant, figuratively and literally.
Standing 6-foot-2, Sipin often bumped his head on the ceilings and beams in most dugouts and other low-hanging objects inside the stadium. To avoid injury, Sipin, a 1964 Watsonville High grad, opted to wear a plastic, ear-less batting helmet everywhere he went when he was at the ballpark.
...In the 1970s, Sipin became a well-known figure not just for his play, but also for his attire. He often wore jackets with wide lapels and bell-bottom pants. Mix that with a grove of facial hair and Sipin stood out.
“In the ‘70s, Japan was a black-and-blue country,” Sipin said. “Everyone had a black suit or a blue suit. And they all had clean-shaven heads. I came in there with longer hair and a short, but full, beard. ... Sometimes I had a handlebar mustache and that grew into the beard and sideburns.”
When he cut his hair, Taiyo officials told him they preferred his wild side and encouraged him to grow it back. When he did, he was given the nickname “Lion Maru” after the animated title character in the children’s television series “Kaiketsu Lion-Maru.”