Japan’s deep still waters

Tuffy Rhodes‘ failure to win election to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame for the fourth straight year sparked no outrage or surprise at all on Jan. 15, when this year’s voting results were announced. Several stories on this site and the Japan Times were published but barely made a ripple in the nation’s baseball consciousness.

For the past two seasons, I’ve been posting my postseason award ballots on Twitter, and they’ve received a huge amount of feedback. When I got the right to vote in Japan’s Hall of Fame for the first time in December, I thought this would get a killer response. The silence was deafening. Nobody cared.

When Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was elected, the Japanese language internet was filled with high-fiving supporters on social media and in the comments sections of news stories. Didn’t see one about Rhodes, who was easily the most qualified player on the ballot.

The table below shows the 2019 Hall of Fame votes for position players on this year’s ballot who failed to gain admission. It is sorted using career totals of Bill James‘ win shares. The “offensive categories led” column is for the big ones, runs, doubles, triples, homers, RBIs, stolen bases, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging average. No NPB player whose led his league in more than 17 categories has not been elected to the hall — until Tuffy.

Hall of fame graphic
Position players with 25 percent of vote in 2019 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame voting, sorted by career totals of Bill James’ win shares.

Enter the foreign media and NBC Sports’ story on Rhodes peculiar voting results. Within a few days, Japanese website Full-Count picked up on Craig Calcaterra’s story and that got 300-plus comments. You can read some of those here.

If it hadn’t been for Craig’s story, one would have thought nobody in Japan gave a hoot about the Hall of Fame, but let an overseas media outlet light a spark and the flames were visible.

I asked a fellow voter at my office, one of the guys who runs the Japanese pro baseball desk in the main (Japanese language) sports section of Kyodo News in Tokyo. He said Japanese dislike negative stories, preferring to celebrate the winners and forget about the losers.

He said he’s voted for Rhodes every year he’s been on the ballot and couldn’t figure out why he didn’t have more support, since his overall numbers place him smack in the middle of all the current Hall of Fame outfielders.

The only similar outfielder not in the hall is Masahiro Doi, who was victimized by changes to eligibility. It used to be that no who had been in uniform for five years was eligible. A few years ago the ballot was split into a players division for those who had been inactive for five to 20 years, and an experts division for anyone who has been out of uniform for six months or more.

Doi became a coach before he was eligible under the old rules. When the new rules were instituted, his career had been over for more than 20 years so he couldn’t enter the players division. He told me last year he has retired, so he’ll be on next year’s experts division ballot.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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