No need for NPB to push back start times


As mentioned in this column last week, the July 25 Central League game between the Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama DeNA Baystars at Tokyo Dome had a starting time of 7 p.m., an hour later than usual for weekday night games in Japanese baseball. It was a “test” to see if fans would turn out for a game with a later starting — and ending —time during summer vacation.

The game was a sellout, with a crowd of 45,677 fans in attendance, but it should be noted it was the second of two half-price beer nights at the Big Egg this season, so the game might have sold out anyway because of the promotion.

Game times will not be changed this season, but some teams in Japanese baseball may be thinking to schedule some games with later starting times next year during July and August. Personally, I think the 6 p.m. start is best and hope it will not be changed.

Eleven of the 12 clubs adhere to the six o’clock “Play Ball” time. Only the Chiba Lotte Marines continue with a 6:15 p.m. start for “nighters” on Mondays through Fridays, allowing a little extra time for fans coming from Tokyo to get to QVC Marine Field in time for the games’ first pitch.

Actually, there was a time, back in the 1960s and ’70s when most Japanese night games began at 7 p.m. Over the years, the starting times were moved earlier, first to 6:50 p.m., then 6:30 and finally 6 p.m. for most teams on most weeknights.

It got me to wondering how they managed to get in the games when they started at 7 p.m. during those days so many years ago. I am also reminded of when I was a youngster, living in New Jersey back in the 1950s and ’60s, and they started night games of the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, New York Yankees and later the New York Mets, at 8 p.m.

If a twi-night doubleheader was scheduled in New York, the first game began at 6 p.m., and they usually finished both contests, including the 20-minute intermission between games, by midnight. That was when pitchers often threw complete games and there were not that many player changes.

These days, most MLB night games begin just after 7 p.m. local time, and now there is the possibility Japanese baseball may move toward starting at that hour. If they do make that change, they are going to have to intensify the “Speed Up” campaign and keep the action moving. Games in Japan still drag on too long.

I have a theory that might explain one reason why Japanese games take longer than in the majors. Ironically, it has to do with the time and inning limitations here and the fact there are none in MLB.

Before a Central or Pacific League game begins, the umpires, players, managers and coaches know they will not play more than 12 innings. Furthermore, with the special energy-conserving rule in place whereby no new extra inning may begin after the game has passed the three-and-a-half-hour mark, everyone realizes there will be a reasonable stopping point.

This concept is, I believe, subconsciously tucked away in the backs of the minds of all the participants, and there is no “hurry up” sense of keeping the action moving, so the games are played more leisurely and slowly.

In the majors, when a game begins, there is the thought (again subconsciously in the minds of everyone on the field) they might be there for 12 innings — or 15 or 18 or 20, and it might take five hours or longer to complete a game. Hence, there is a sense of “Let’s keep it moving in case we’re here for an extended period of time.”

Another big difference affecting game starting times is the fact most major league stadiums have huge parking lots for thousands of cars, so fans can get home even if they stay until the end of a long game. In Japan, probably 99 percent of the fans use public transportation (especially smart on half-price beer night) which stops running shortly after midnight.

The later the games start, the more chance spectators may not be able to stay until the end because they have to catch the last train or subway home. As I said, the 6 p.m. start should remain the norm, and that is my opinion, but here is what others had to say at Tokyo Dome on the night of the 7 p.m. start.

Giants outfielder Hisayoshi Chono said, “It’s kitsui (tough).”

Tokyo Dome senior managing director Hidekazu Kitada said, “I think it’s good for the salarymen who can get the ballpark later after work.”

Yomiuri player John Bowker said, “I like it. It reminds me of home.”

Teruaki Uchino, a 76-year-old fan from Chofu City in Tokyo, said, “I think it’s OK, but only if the games end quickly. I recall many years ago when the games began at 7 p.m., and the Giants closer, Yukinori Miyata, often took the mound at 8:30.” Miyata acquired the nickname “Hachi-ji-han no Otoko” or “8:30 Man.”

“Then there was the famous ‘Emperor Game’ when Shigeo Nagashima hit a sayonara home run at Korakuen Stadium to end it at 9:15. I was there. Today, we need quicker games such as that,” said Uchino. It was on June 25, 1959, when the Japanese emperor attended his first game.

* * *

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com