Close but no cigar

We make ourselves slaves to words.

Take Roki Sasaki’s perfect games, for example.

Seven days after everything fell into place for 20-year-old Roki Sasaki in his 19-strikeout April 10 perfect game, it happened again. No, he didn’t strike out 19, and no he didn’t throw another no-hitter.

This time, he only struck out 14 and retired 24 straight. In baseball terms, it was just another game, because he was pulled before he could get to 27 outs, and only 27 counts because we have decided it to be so.

It’s like the introduction of the save rule. Simply defining a save did absolutely nothing to change what constituted a win or a loss. It did not alter the physical realities of baseball. But it changed behavior because a defined save rule meant pitchers could get the “glory” of the “save” counting stat.

Merely giving a name to a class of relief appearance did not change the existing value of using a good pitcher in a high leverage situation, but the scoring rule made “save situations” a thing. Where before the only thing that mattered was winning or losing, the save rule meant introducing new considerations.

Some people, I hear, were upset that Sasaki was denied the chance to throw another no-hitter, simply because it meant that rare achievement was within his grasp, and not because it would change the way their team won or lost the game.

I love that Sasaki recorded 24 outs this week nearly as much as the 27 he got the week before. They are not substantially different except in the words we use to describe them. But because we make ourselves slaves to words, they are – to many people – night and day.

When I posted on Twitter about last week’s game, one person said, “Wait till he does it in MLB, then we’ll talk, because to that person only the majors are real. But what about the majors?

What about the majors

On Saturday, new Tigers pitcher Aaron Wilkerson said what a lot of people say about playing ball in Japan after careers spent mostly in the minors. I so often hear, or at least used to when I was able to speak to players, players talk of experiencing regular playing time in meaningful games in front of big crowds for the first time in their careers.

“I’ve always dreamed of throwing in front of this many people,” he said.

Those players who’ve been up and down between MLB and Triple-A get the full major league adrenaline rush in Japan. They learn how to make adjustments in critical games. When those guys do go to the States and go MLB, they’ve already been through that ringer playing in Japan’s majors.

Some people are irked when I call the Central and Pacific leagues major leagues, because to those people, only North America’s top leagues are major while every other league is – if not minor, not major either.


Major leagues are not synonymous with MLB. The word originally described the relation between leagues in what used to be a constellation of independent competing circuits across North America. The majors weren’t minors, period.

All that changed when the National and American leagues began colonizing North America’s minor leagues and turning them into corporate baseball farm leagues. About that time, the AL and NL decided they alone were major and no one else was and began calling themselves Major League Baseball, like the word belonged exclusively to them and described only them. MLB then did a good job selling that propaganda to the American public.

But MLB hasn’t colonized Japanese ball or baseball in South Korea or Taiwan. I suppose the people who get offended when I call other countries’ leagues major simply can’t think outside of the MLB bullshit they’ve been fed all their lives.

Elite baseball outside the U.S. is vibrant and entertaining. The games are meaningful. In one sense, they are like America’s minor leagues before they became farm leagues. Their players played for fans and cared about getting better, not so they would get promoted to the majors, but so that they could win games, and championships and get a better salary.

In those days, some of America’s best pros played for minor league teams because their owners wanted to win games and make money. Back in the day, there were always a few great players who were happy being minor league stars, who didn’t need to be in the AL or NL to fulfill their dreams of competing in meaningful games in front of cheering crowds.

Japan’s like that. There are guys here who have the physical talent to compete in MLB, but like what they have here, who are unconcerned with what major snobs think.

The baseball is what it is. The games are important, the fans care. The players strive to get better to win those games, not win promotion to a higher league. What other definition counts?

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