Did you enjoy watching Major League Baseball telecasts throughout the season live on Sky PerfecTV?
If you are a subscriber, you probably got a postcard with notice that SPTV will be dropping its coverage of MLB games after more than a decade.
I called the company’s Customer Service number to ask what was going on, and the operator said the SPTV-MLB contract will run out at the end of the season. The broadcaster has opted not to renew for 2009.
This is an extremely disappointing development. It is the latest setback from the company that began the cable-TV era in Japan in 1996. In its heyday, SPTV also aired live telecasts of five NFL games each Monday morning (Japan time) throughout the NFL season, plus Thanksgiving Day games, late-season Saturday (in the United States) contests and all the playoffs.
Sky dropped the NFL four years ago. Now MLB is going that same way.
Instead of getting better and more extensive, the SPTV program lineup has gotten worse and shrunk.
The young lady who answered my call said she would pass along my message to the higher-ups in the company, but I am not holding my breath waiting for a reversal of their decision.
Meanwhile, Jim Small, MLB’s managing director and vice president in Asia said, “It is our understanding that SkyPerfect has decided to change their business model to focus less on premium content such as MLB. While their decision is unfortunate, we wish them the best in their new focus.
“That being said, I am confident MLB fans in Japan will continue to be able to see their favorite teams on a variety of television outlets.”
The Baseball Bullet-In will keep you informed of any further developments. In the meantime, we can enjoy watching the 2008 World Series live on NHK BS-1 beginning Oct. 23, Japan time.
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I have been asked the question recently, “Who do you think will be the Most Valuable Players in the Central and Pacific Leagues this season?”
For me, the CL selection is a no-brainer. It’s got to be Alex Ramirez of the Yomiuri Giants.
Rami posted 2008 season stats of 45 homers (second to Yokohama Bay Stars slugger Shuichi Murata’s 46), a league-leading 125 RBIs and a seventh-best .319 batting average.
The 34-year-old, eight-year Japan veteran also carried the Giants most of the season. What’s more, he broke or tied a series of records and has passed a bunch of milestones during his stellar career with the Yakult Swallows and the Giants.
His 2008 home run and RBIs totals were personal bests, and the Yomiuri cleanup hitter achieved the following:
• Broke Wally Yonamine’s Central League foreign player career hits record of 1,337.
• Eclipsed the records for CL foreign player career home runs (216 by John Sipin) and RBIs (808 by Bobby Rose).
• Set a new Japan pro baseball record by accumulating 150 or more hits in seven straight seasons, topping the feat of former Giants great Shigeo Nagashima, who had six straight years with 150 or more.
• Broke the mark for home runs (41 by Hiroki Kokubo) and tied the standard for RBIs (125 by Nagashima) in a season by a right-handed batter on the Giants.
• Tied Sadaharu Oh’s Japanese baseball record of compiling 100 or more RBIs for six consecutive seasons.
Most of those may be attributed to Ramirez’s longevity of playing pro ball in Japan, but this year was undoubtedly his finest and, while he was putting his name in the record books, he was the catalyst in his team’s dramatic comeback from 13 games behind the Hanshin Tigers in July and ending with the Giants winning the Central League championship.
Asked which of his records he is most proud of, Ramirez said, “As the No. 4 hitter in the Giants lineup, it has to be the RBIs. That’s my biggest job and responsibility.
“One other is that I have played in something like 610 consecutive games, and that is very unusual and unprecedented for a foreign player in Japan, especially on the Giants.”
The durable Ramirez played in all 144 Yomiuri games this season and has not missed a game since the middle of the 2004 season with Yakult.
In the Pacific League, I look to Saitama Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 26-year-old right-handed hitter finished as the runnerup in the PL batting race to Rick Short of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, batting .331. Nakajima also slammed 21 homers, drove in 81 and led the Pa League with a .410 on-base percentage.
He stepped into the Lions starting lineup after Kazuo Matsui left Seibu for the New York Mets in 2004 and is now arguably as good a player as Matsui.
Lions third baseman Takeya Nakamura tied Murata for the NPB lead with 46 homers and will get some MVP votes, but the roly-poly slugger only hit .244 and barely cleared 100 RBIs.
The only other Pacific Leaguers who might deny Nakajima the best player prize would be Eagles pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who won league titles with a 21-4 record and 1.87 ERA, and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters mound ace Yu Darvish, runnerup in the league with 16 wins, a 1.88 ERA and 208 strikeouts.
Iwakuma’s problem is that his team finished fifth and did not qualify for the PL Climax Series; Darvish’s Fighters came in third, mostly thanks to him, and are still in the playoffs. However, the MVP voting was completed prior to the beginning of each league’s Climax Series.
The MVP winners will be announced at the conclusion of the Japan Series which will end on Sunday, Nov. 9, if it goes the full seven games.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com