Here’s a brief glossary of Japanese baseball terms that might not mean what you think they do.
“Amai” has a number of different meanings. “Sweet” comes to mind when talking about fat pitches, but in the baseball usage it seems more closely related to the idea of being “careless.” Other related nuances suggest “mediocre,” “lenient” or “forgiving.”
It is most commonly used to suggest something that makes a pitch fat, either the “course” (location) is amai or the pitch lacks proper execution and then the ball itself is amai.
When a player makes a careless mistake or fails to give sufficient effort, the broadcast analyst will often remind his audience that baseball is not so forgiving.
In Japanese this sounds like “end run” and is not a football play but rather an abbreviation of “hit and run.” Recently “run and hit” has become quite common but one doesn’t hear “and hit.”
Origin unknown. A slash bunt. Technically a swing by a batter after faking a bunt. It was a favorite tactic of Hall of Fame manager Katsuya Nomura during his time in the 1990s with the Central League’s Yakult Swallows to attack infields playing in for the ubiquitous sacrifice bunt. It is often accompanied by the runner moving, and thus becomes a “buster and run” — not to be confused by a run of the mill “and run.”
This is not to be confused with a stoppage of action, which in Japanese is known as “ball dead,” but rather a hit batsman. This was once explained to me that a “dead ball” is one which strikes a batter because the ball itself has lost consciousness and thus has no control of its movement.
It is doubtful anyone believes batters are hit by pitches because of insentient baseballs, since pitchers are expected to apologize by tipping their cap. Tuffy Rhodes famously bowled over Lions pitcher Hayato Aoki, and had his suspension reduced on the grounds that Aoki failed to tip his cap after the ball hit Rhodes’ Kintetsu Buffaloes teammate, Norihiro Nakamura.
This is definitely something you won’t learn about on baseball broadcasts or in postgame interviews. After teams win, someone will distribute cash to individuals based on their contribution to the win.
I don’t have a good sense for how much the star of a game can receive, but am told it varies a lot depending on how big the team is. Why it is a top secret is also something of a mystery.
When the Lotte Marines were trying to get Bobby Valentine to complain to the media in 2009 as a way of voiding his contract and saving millions of dollars, they terminated the fight money on the grounds that the money was needed to pay for an indoor practice facility — something that was eventually built about three years later much to my surprise.
The problem in the clubhouse was that Valentine used the fight money as a way to supplement not only the players’ incomes but also the team support staff, the video analysts and batting practice pitchers. Valentine said he made cash payments out of his own pocket to those guys so they could make ends meet, which I later confirmed.
jiriki V–literally “victory under one’s own power”
This, known in Japanese as “自力V,” is one of those things Japan uses to track an individual team’s progress through the season. When it vanishes, (消滅– shometsu) a team can no longer clinch the pennant by running the table and winning all its games.
This goes hand in hand with Japan’s Rube Goldberg calculations for determining when teams have a magic number and when their magic numbers vanish.
Like the appearance and disappearance of magic numbers and players amassing the necessary service time to file for free agency, beat reporters, without fail, will ask questions when this happens. In this case, the manager will most typically respond with, “We’ve got other things on our plate to deal with besides that nonsense.”
This is not your American baseball magic number but a complex variation of the number of wins by a contender and losses by a chasing team that will ensure a pennant. In Japan, it has acquired the additional condition of assuming that the trailing team wins all its remaining games with the leading team.
In MLB, ostensibly every team begins a normal season with a magic number to clinch of 163, but not so in Japan. Teams have magic numbers when they fulfill the condition of being able to win the pennant despite losing every remaining game against its closest pennant challenger.
Should that condition no longer apply, the magic number disappears. Its appearance and disappearance is the inspiration for an endless stream of stories each season, most of them with little or no substance.
When a pennant contender’s magic number appears, it is said to have “lit up.” and stories will be written about any trivia related to it: “It was the THIRD soonest in the history of the Central League!” and such.
Modasho–literally ‘burning hit award’
Three hits in a game, a stat that became official in 1949.
The Japan record for three-hit games in a season is 27, by Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2010 Lotte) and Shogo Akiyama (2015 Seibu). Nishioka broke Ichiro Suzuki’s 14-year-old record of 24.
The Central League record is shared by Alex Ramirez (2007 Yakult) and Matt Murton (Hanshin 2010).
No hitters–and ones that are but don’t count
For reasons unknown, Japan has a higher standard for a no-hitter than the major leagues. No-hitters here are referred to as “no-hit, no-run” events,
This means they aren’t included in NPB’s record pantheon unless they are also complete-game shutouts. Thus, Minoru Murayama’s 3-2 win over the Yomiuri Giants on May 21, 1959 was a no-hitter, but no one in Japan cares, because the Hall of Fame right-hander allowed two unearned runs that day at Koshien Stadium.
Tsunagu has several nuances but primarily it refers to contributing to the team by not trying to do too much at the plate: sacrificing, making contact instead of striking out, hitting behind the runner, hitting the opposite way, being a link in the process between having runners on base and their coming home in some fashion.
Batters who don’t routinely homer and many who do, will often say about home runs with runners on that they weren’t trying to drive the ball but were instead just trying to make contact and be that link instead of being a hero.
It can be translated as advancing the runner or making a productive out or “doing one’s part.