Japanese pro baseball has stayed with the three-and-a-half-hour game time limit rule in 2012 and, while this may be helping to save energy and shorten the length of games, there are signs teams are abusing the rule, playing for a tie rather than a win. This is disappointing.
The rule was put into place last season following the events of March 11, 2011, as a power-conserving measure. It stipulates games will go nine innings regardless of time, but no new extra inning may start after the game time has passed 3 hours and 30 minutes.
Most of the stadiums have the game time running on the scoreboard, and the official scorer keeps track of the situation, holding up a card with a huge “X” written on it once the 3:30 mark is reached. This is to alert the umpires and players on the field the last inning is now being played, as if they did not already know.
Too often, though, teams higher in the league standings are content with games ending in a tie, or home teams want to get to the point where the visitors no longer have the possibility of victory. The action suddenly slows to a crawl when the game clock gets past the 3:15 mark.
Pitchers make several consecutive pickoff throws, step off the rubber, fiddle with the rosin bag and employ other delaying tactics until the game passes the 210-minute point.
Coaches or managers may visit the mound while the clock is ticking. Hitters step out of the box, go to the on-deck circle for more spray to put on their bats … and the spectators are kept waiting.
Tim Ireland, a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays, was at a recent game at Yokohama Stadium and said he was confused when two Yokohama BayStars batters left the field in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied, because “something was in their eye.”
When the second guy returned to the batter’s box as the game clock struck 3:30, Ireland realized they had just been stalling so as to cancel any possibility of a win by the visiting Hanshin Tigers.
Ireland said, “This is a disgrace not only to the fans, the country and the players but also to all sport. The entire Japanese baseball industry ought to get together and do a group bow to the fans as an apology. They should be embarrassed and ashamed. The fans root so hard and pay money to see their team win, and for teams to stall and play for a tie is despicable.”
Ireland concluded by saying, “They should point their fingers at the managers who allow this to occur. It is a joke.”
As he said, this kind of thing is not fair to the fans and is Japanese baseball’s version of the questionable strategies used in the recent London Olympics by some teams and athletes, including Nadeshiko Japan, who played for a draw — or even a loss — in order to obtain a more favorable opponent or seeding in the next round of competition.
Saving electrical power is commendable in light (no pun intended) of what happened last year, but maybe NPB should drop the three-and-a-half-hour rule next season, especially since so many games are resulting in ties.
Through games of Wednesday, the Chunichi Dragons had already played 13 draws, the Chiba Lotte Marines and Yomiuri Giants 12 each, and the Hanshin Tigers 11. It is likely 10 percent of the 144 games these teams will have played this season will result in neither victory nor defeat.
The chant is “Go, Fight, Win,” not “Go, Fight, Tie.”
Diamond Dust: When Yomiuri Giants pitcher D.J. Houlton homered deep into the left field stands at Tokyo Dome on Aug. 11, it marked his first homer as a professional and, as of Wednesday, was the only home run hit by a pitcher in either Japanese league this season. It was a blast, but Houlton said it was an accident. “The ball just happened to hit my bat,” he said modestly.
The Giants are making a big deal of it. They got the ball back from a fan in the visiting Yakult Swallows cheering section, had Houlton sign it, and they put it on display inside the main gate at Tokyo Dome where it will rest for a month. Then it will be returned to the player who said he will take it home to the United States and put it in his trophy case at the end of the season.
By beating Yakult that day, Houlton has now achieved a victory over every Central League team at least once in his Japan career. He has also defeated five teams in the Pacific League and needs only a win over his former teammates, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, to become the first foreign pitcher to have gotten a win over all 12 franchise teams.
That, of course, will have to wait until the 2013 interleague season rolls around again next May. In the meantime, he is hoping to face the Hawks in this year’s Japan Series but, if the Giants become Japan champions this season, regardless of the Pacific League opponent, he would also become the first American pitcher to have won a Japan Series with teams in both leagues, having celebrated with the Hawks in 2011.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com