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Slow pace of NPB games an ongoing problem

by Wayne Graczyk

In response to my column of March 17, a couple of readers have come in with suggestions on how to pick up the notoriously slow pace of Japanese baseball games. From the Bay Area, fan Mike Colegate sent the following e-mail.

I know that during (my) last year’s (group) trip (to Japan) there were several people commenting on how long the games took. I do have two suggestions as far as speeding up games:

First, if a player has to leave the field due to injury, and can’t return within five minutes, said player must be replaced. My opinion is if the player needs to leave the field for longer than five minutes, he has a higher risk of getting a more serious injury should he return.

Also, tie games would be completed at a later date. I follow the (Single-A) San Jose Giants, and if a game can’t be completed one night, they make the following night a pseudo-doubleheader-completing the first game, and then playing a seven-inning game for the nightcap. If that is not possible, the game would be completed later in the season, if it would make a difference in the playoff picture.

Good thoughts, Mike. In fact, several years ago, a foreign fan living in Tokyo had a novel idea on how to get rid of tie games in Japan. He proposed, at the end of each season, all 12 Japanese teams spend a day at one of the stadiums and play out all the tie games from the previous six months, one after the other.

For example, the Yomiuri Giants would meet the Yakult Swallows at 10 a.m. to pick up where they left off after 12 innings with a tie score in a game played in April. After that is decided, the Seibu Lions would play Nippon Ham Fighters to decide a tie game played in May, and so on. Fans would buy tickets and stay for the whole day if they wish.

Some details would have to be worked out, he acknowledged, such as how teams playing in the next game would practice and otherwise prepare, and it could be a statistical nightmare, but that was his idea. He sent it to the Central and Pacific Leagues but, of course, it never went anywhere.

Meanwhile, Japanese reader K.N. emailed with this:

Just to give my two cents on the topic you raised, I couldn’t agree more that something needs to be done about the glacial pace of the game. I would propose a ban on the “oendan.” Besides being a nuisance to other spectators, those cheer sections slow down the game by playing fanfare at the start of and during each at-bat, after each run… The din clearly disrupts the players’ concentration and the flow of the game.

At some ballparks they even play and sing tunes during pre-game introductions, causing the P.A. announcer to pause after each name and spend a ridiculous four-to-five minutes to name the starting nine, when it could be done in one.

At the very least, it behooves the league to ban the oendan for the sake of player safety; the noise drowns out the voices of players on the field, thereby increasing the risk of outfield collisions (anyone with an iota of playing experience or common sense would know how crucial those “I got its” are).

Well, K-san, while there are many others who share your opinion, you know that is not going to happen. The oendan is as much a part of Japanese baseball as beer girls and sacrifice bunts.

About 10 years ago, pitcher Masumi Kuwata, while still playing for the Yomiuri Giants, wanted to know how a Japanese game would be if the spectators were allowed to cheer using only their voices — no drums, trumpets, tambourines; not even a megaphone.

Kuwata asked the oendan chief to try it for one game and, while not happy, the cheering section leader reluctantly agreed. I have to tell you, it was weird seeing a Tokyo Dome game in such a relatively quiet atmosphere. The next night, the noise was back and, like it or not, the oendan remains a colorful and important part of Japanese baseball.

For its part, NPB has put up new green signs in the stadium dugouts and posters in clubhouses with the slogan, “We’re Play Fasters.”

Diamond Dust: Looking forward to seeing the movie “42″ about the life and times of Jackie Robinson and his travails while breaking the major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. It has opened to favorable reviews in the U.S. and is scheduled for debut in Japan this fall.

Author Robert Whiting tells us there is a new book out called “501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die.” Among them are five books on Japanese baseball: Whiting’s own “You Gotta Have Wa” and “Slugging It Out In Japan,” David Falkner’s “A Zen Way of Baseball With Sadaharu Oh,” Kerry Yo Nakagawa’s “Through a Diamond: 100 Years of Japanese Baseball” and “Sayonara Home Run! The Art of the Baseball Card” by John Gall and Gary Engel.

Finally this week, former Hanshin Tigers star Randy Bass was named the all-time No. 1 foreign player in Japanese baseball in this week’s edition of Baseball Magazine. Bass threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Koshien Stadium on Friday night prior to the Hanshin Tigers-Yakult Swallows game.

He is currently an Oklahoma state senator and also a businessman with his own line of food and beverage products.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com