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Japan opts for slow and small

On Wednesday, Nippon Professional Baseball Commissioner Sadayuki Sakakibara said Japanese baseball is in no hurry to pursue its goal of more quickly played games if it means introducing a pitch timer.

For years, NPB has put up posters in every clubhouse and dugout urging teams to “Be Play Fasters!” And now when Major League Baseball has ostensibly come up with a solution in the form of the pitcher timer, demanding the batter and pitcher be ready to go for the next pitch in a hurry, NPB has no interest.

“Nothing has been decided, but I think the best thing is to play brisk games of baseball without a timer,” said Sakakibara, who added that he is in favor of requiring the next hitter to be in the box and ready to hit within 30 seconds.

This time last year, there was a ton of interest from Japan in the new rule from MLB, especially when the average time it took to play a nine-inning game dropped by 24 minutes in 2023.

You could hear the officials at the commissioner’s office drooling and preparing memos to the owners about this solution to their decades-long problem. Then after closer observation, the whole idea got tossed.

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What is going on in Japan?

This is the text of a speech I gave in March to the Japan American Society of Chicago, entitled: “What Japanese Baseball Brings to the World.”

Last winter’s record MLB contracts to Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto have brought fans of America’s two major leagues into contact with the idea that Japan’s two major leagues can produce some of the best baseball players in the world.

Although this is not a new idea, Ohtani’s $700 million deal, the most valuable contract in the history of team sports, and Yamamoto’s $325 million, the most valuable ever given to a pitcher, have validated the talk of Japanese players’ prowess in ways that even the World Baseball Classic and scouting reports haven’t.

In the language Americans understand, that of concrete dollars and cents, these contracts have spelled out how valuable players coming out of a radically different pro baseball context can be, and force people to ask, “what the heck is going on over there?”

That difference between Japan’s and America’s baseball worlds and the value it creates for baseball around the world is the focus of today’s talk, because if Japanese baseball did not exist, or if the relationship between MLB and Japan were different, there would be no Shohei Ohtani in the sense that we know him now as perhaps the best human to ever play the game.

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