Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Long overdue interleague action playing to good reviews

by Wayne Graczyk

The concept of the koryu-sen (interleague play) in Japanese baseball is getting great reviews so far from players, fans and media members. Typical comments from participants are, “We should have been doing this 10 years ago” and “It’s great to see some different ballparks and towns for a change.”

Some exciting games have been played, with more to come.

Ironically, the Yomiuri Giants whose erstwhile chairman Tsuneo Watanabe was the one most vehemently against the interleague format for so long, benefited the most from the first two interleague series. The Giants were 4-1-1 in games against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Orix Buffaloes and made up 3 1/2 games of a 10-game deficit behind the Central League-leading Chunichi Dragons, who went 1-5 against Orix and the Seibu Lions.

The Dragons are playing lousy without slugging first baseman Tyrone Woods, serving a 10-game suspension for having punched out Yakult Swallows pitcher Shugo Fujii on May 5.

Highlights of the inter-league clashes so far have included the home run hit by Orix pitcher Jeremy Powell at Tokyo Dome against the Giants on May 11 and the near no-hitter tossed by Seibu right-hander Fumiya Nishiguchi on May 13 vs. Yomiuri.

Because of the designated hitter rule in the Pacific League, pitchers from that division who rarely or never bat are not supposed to get hits, let alone belt homers, but Powell creamed a serve from Yomiuri pitcher Tetsuya Utsumi over the right-center field fence, to the astonishment of all.

Nishguchi, for the second time in his career, took a no-hit, no-run game to the 26th out but could not get the last man in the ninth. This time, Giants leadoff man Takayuki Shimizu homered to spoil Nishiguchi’s potential gem.

We’ve also had our share of one-run games, sayonara victories, grand slam home runs and throw-back and special uniforms worn by some teams.

Yep, should have done this 10 years ago.

During the first weekend of the Central-vs.-Pacific games May 6-8, it was the Buffaloes who drew the biggest crowd among the six games played that Saturday. Orix hosted the Dragons at Skymark Airlines Stadium in Kobe before a crowd of 30,218 on May 7. We still have a month of interleague games to go.


More about Marty: Another comment on the Marty Kuehnert situation with the Rakuten Eagles: A fan in Tokyo with the initials RGR said, “I was livid at the treatment and such bad press that was given by the Eagles to the various media. It’s the same old story; if you have a gaijin working for you in a key position (Japanese company) and something goes wrong — hey, what better person to blame than the gaijin, in this case Marty.

“Maybe Marty did have problems internally, but to do it the way they did, to me it’s so bad and terrible. Marty deserves better than that. Keep the fires burning for Marty.”

In response, I would have to say we should not forget that some of the Eagles Japanese staff members, most notably head coach Daisuke Yamashita and first-team batting instructor Norihiro Komada, were also demoted or re-shuffled by owner Hiroshi Mikitani, so it was not just a “blame-the-gaijin” thing.

By the way, it will be interesting to see how Rakuten will fare during the remainder of the season, as so far the changes have not produced better results. When the announcement was made on April 30 that Kuehnert was being stripped of the general manager’s title, Rakuten was 6-22 with a winning percentage of .214.

Through the Friday, May 13, game, the Eagles were 8-31, playing .205 ball for the season and only .182 since Marty was reassigned.

As I mentioned last week, the Eagles will win sooner or later, though right now it appears it’s going to be later. A lot later.


In country: Arizona Diamondbacks scout Jim Marshall, 72, an annual visitor to Japan who played for the Chunichi Dragons from 1963 to 1965, then coached with the Nagoya Central League club from 1981 to 1983.

In between, he managed in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics in the 1970s.

During the ’90s, Marshall worked with the Orix BlueWave and Nippon Ham Fighters before taking a job with the expansion Arizona club in 1996.

On this trip, Jim touched base with the Fighters (the D-Backs’ Japanese sister team), and exchanged pleasantries with managers Kazuhiko Ushijima of the Yokohama BayStars and Akira Ogi of the Orix Buffaloes.

Ushijima was a young forkballing relief pitcher with the Dragons during Marshall’s coaching stint 22-24 years ago, and Ogi was the manager of the great BlueWave teams of 1995-1996, when he had Ichiro (Suzuki) leading off, and Marshall was on the Orix payroll.

Marshall also checked out Fullcast Stadium in Sendai to watch the Eagles, and he knows full well the growing pains through which expansion teams go. He was a first baseman-outfielder with the 1962 New York Mets.


Speed to burn: While Yokohama BayStars American fireballing closer Marc Kroon set the record of throwing the fastest pitch in the history of Japanese baseball on May 11, it was not his personal best.

Kroon’s heater was clocked at 159 kph (99.4 mph) during a game against the Rakuten Eagles in Sendai but, 10 years ago, as a 22-year-old with Memphis, then the Double-A farm team of the San Diego Padres, Marc’s max was 161 kph (101 mph).


Canine card: Finally this week, if you have not heard, Micky, the dog who brings fresh baseballs to the home plate umpire at Hiroshima Carp games, will be featured on a Calbee Potato Chips baseball card next month. He will be the first non-player or non-manager to appear on a card, and his royalty payment will consist of a six-month supply of dog food. Gambatte, Micky!

The card is sure to become a valuable collector’s item, especially if Micky

Gets elected to the Hall of Fame after his “career” ends.