Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Time for NPB to get its act together on regular-season schedule

by Wayne Graczyk

As we are into the Central and Pacific League Climax Series, with the Japan Series coming up later this month, a reader has a complaint we’ve heard many times before about the way Japanese baseball ends its the regular season.

Steve Johnson of Yokohama cites the exciting final game of the major league season, a playoff between the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers to decide the American League Central Division championship, as the way to conclude the regular schedule and thinks NPB should take note. Johnson writes:

“It is no wonder NPB loses fan interest when the regular season seems to drag on with a number of meaningless games until mid-October. Whoever is running the league should have to sit and watch endless repeats of the thrilling 163rd game between Minnesota and Detroit for a lesson in how to end a regular season.

“I suspect the real reason for the endless delay in starting the NPB playoffs is to try to make sure the Japan Series does not start until after the World Series is over, to try to get more interest from an increasingly disenchanted fan base.”

For the record, Steve, the 2009 World Series is set to begin in New York or Anaheim on Oct. 28, and the Japan Series will start in Sapporo, Sendai or Fukuoka on Oct. 31, so they will overlap, especially if the World Series goes the full seven games.

You are right, though, about the end of the Japanese regular season needing to be fixed. The NPB office is working on the 2010 Central and Pacific League schedules as you read this. Maybe the staff will read it too and consider the repair work.

The main problem stems from the system of making up rainouts at the end of the season rather than as the season goes along as is done in the majors where all teams end their schedule on the same day, a Sunday at the end of September or beginning of October.

In Japan, the schedule printed prior to the beginning of the season ran out this year for the Central League on Sept. 30 and for the Pacific League on Oct. 5. However, the last Pa League makeup game was played on Oct. 11 and the final CL encounter on Oct. 12. Then there was an agonizing five-day wait for both leagues until Stage 1 of their Climax Series.

Here are some suggestions for our friends at NPB as they put together the 2010 schedule:

Make up all rainouts as the season goes along.

They may say they cannot do this, but I’ll bet they could if they really wanted to.

Recall in October 2004 when team owners said it was impossible to establish an expansion team in time to play the 2005 season?

The Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes were merging, and the owners were looking to join together at least two more franchises, contracting to make an even-numbered 10-team league. But the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were founded on Nov. 2, 2004, and were ready to play in Sendai the following April.

See?

When there is a will, there is a way.

Make certain all 12 teams end their regular season, playing their 144th game, on the same day.

The recommendation here is to schedule six four-game series (Friday to Monday) for the weekend in October ending with the Sports Day national holiday (the second Monday).

If we are lucky, two teams facing each other would be tied or within two or three games in the standings going into that final weekend, making for sellout crowds and exciting games similar to the Colorado Rockies-Los Angeles Dodgers series that ended the National League season Oct. 2-4.

If two Climax Series-contending teams end the season tied, schedule a one-game playoff, similar to the Twins-Tigers tilt.

Play it on the Wednesday, two days after Sports Day, and make it count as the 145th game of the regular schedule.

As its stands now, the tiebreaker is the team that finished higher in the league standings the previous season. For example, if the Hanshin Tigers and Yakult Swallows or Hanshin and the Hiroshima Carp had tied for third place and the final CLCS slot this year, Hanshin would have gotten it because the Tigers finished third in 2008, while the Carp were fourth and the Swallows fifth.

Hiroshima player Scott McClain and coach Jeff Livesey expressed the opinion this is not fair, and they are right.

“It should have nothing to do with last year,” said McClain. “Some of the players were different, and the (Hanshin) manager was different,” he pointed out.

Livesey said, “We were two games behind the Tigers with five to play, but we were really three games behind, because they win if there is a tie.”

If Hanshin were to get an advantage, it should be as the home team in that 145th tiebreaker game. With the postseason on the line, you know they would get a capacity crowd of 45,000 at Koshien and, if the Tigers cannot win that game before the friendly fans, they would not deserve to move on.

Figuring the average cost of a ticket (we’ll use dollars instead of yen to cut down on the number of zeros), at $30, the gate for the tie-breaker game would take in about $1.35 million, so why not do it?

Begin both Climax Series, Stage 1, on the Friday after Sports Day; Stage 2 on Tuesday of the following week and the Japan Series on Wednesday, eight days later.

Taking the above steps, in my opinion, would go a long way toward increasing the possibility of an exciting finish to the Japanese baseball season.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com