It is time for Japanese baseball to revoke — or at least amend — the rule on automatic ejection of the pitcher when a batter is hit in the head by a pitch. According to the in-Japan-only regulation, an umpire must toss out of the game any pitcher who throws one into a batter’s helmet, intentionally or not, and regardless of the situation and type of pitch.
As far as I know, Japan is the only baseball-playing country in the world that includes this in its rule book.
Even if a hitter’s hard hat is slightly grazed by a slow curveball or low-speed change-up, the hurler gets the heave-ho by the plate umpire for having thrown a “dangerous pitch.” Two guys in Japanese baseball were hit on the head on the same day, Aug. 7.
Yomiuri Giants infielder Yasuyuki Kataoka was plunked by Hiroshima Carp closer Shota Nakazaki, and Chiba Lotte Marines outfielder Ikuhiro Kiyota took one on the noodle from the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks’ Dutch pitcher Rick Vandenhurk. Nakazaki and Vandenhurk were immediately pointed off the field by the home plate umpires as the hitters lay in the batter’s box waiting for the bells to stop ringing.
Neither incident occurred in a situation where intent might have been suspected. They were clearly accidental.
The NPB rule extends to Japan’s independent leagues as well. A day earlier on Aug. 6, former Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa was the starting pitcher for the Kochi Fighting Dogs in a Shikoku Island League game. He was tossed out after hitting the leadoff batter for the Tokushima Indigo Socks in the head on the fifth pitch of the game at Kochi Stadium. Obviously, that was also not intentional.
That same week in the major leagues, San Francisco Giants outfielder Norichika Aoki was hit in the head by a cut fastball thrown by Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, who was not ejected. Arrieta was quoted as saying later it was not intentional, and he was just trying to throw inside to Aoki, whose stance is a plate-crowder.
As in the majors, Japan league umpires should have the option of deciding when a pitcher should be ejected.
In 2003, not long after the automatic ejection rule was established, an American left-handed pitcher by the name of Gary Rath started a game for the Yomiuri Giants. His parents, having come to visit from the U.S., were in the stands at Tokyo Dome and, since they were only going to be in Japan for a week, it was to be the only time they would get to see their boy pitch while in the country.
In the second inning, Rath threw a slow curveball that ran in on the batter and plunked his helmet softly. No harm; the hitter was not injured and trotted toward first base. It was so obviously unintentional, but Rath was shocked when the home plate umpire waved him off the field for throwing that “dangerous” pitch.
The pitcher later said his interpreter had neglected to tell him about the rule and, of course, mom and dad were equally confused and disappointed they only got to see son Gary throw for an inning and a third.
Current Giants reliever Scott Mathieson said he thinks the pitcher should only be ejected, after hitting a guy in the head, if the batter also has to leave the game. “If the hitter stays in the game, the pitcher should also be allowed to remain,” said Mathieson.
That makes sense. When Kataoka was decked by Nakazaki, there were some anxious moments as the Giants player, hit square on the side of the helmet with a fastball thrown at a speed faster than 150 kph, lay motionless at home plate while Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara and coaches looked on with concern, and stadium personnel brought a stretcher to the field.
They carried off Kataoka to be examined, as an equally worried Nakazaki headed for the Carp locker room. Fortunately, the Giants second baseman was OK and participated in pre-game batting practice the following day, though he did not play in the game on Aug. 8.
While Kataoka was taking soft-toss prior to entering the batting cage, Nakazaki made an obligatory appearance on the field, approached his opponent, removed his cap, bowed sincerely and apologized. Kataoka assured Nakazaki he was OK. They shook hands, and the previous day’s episode was put in the past.
I think the rule should be changed, and I like Mathieson’s opinion which also does not require an umpire to render a decision. It is made for him. If the batter can stay in the game, so can the pitcher. If the hitter is injured enough to leave, the pitcher would be ejected. It seems simple enough, no?
Diamond Dust: Great news that Los Angeles Dodgers legendary play-by-play announcer Vin Scully plans to return to the broadcast booth in 2016 for an incredible 67th season at age 88, though it will probably be his final year.
In Japan, there are no Vin Scullys, as the TV and radio announcers work for the networks and not the teams. The mikemen take turns calling games on a rotating basis until they reach retirement age (usually 60 but sometimes as young as 55). Then they are finished, although many retired staff announcers have picked up part-time gigs doing play-by-play of NPB games on the various cable and satellite TV channels in recent years.
Scully’s career is even more amazing when you realize he broke in while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, television was still in its infancy in the U.S. and TV broadcasting was just getting started in post-World War II Japan.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.