NPB umps singing new tune

Osamu Ino
Osamu Ino, NPB’s umpiring technical committee chairman.

A few years ago, a senior NPB umpire told me video review was not necessary or practical in Japan because,

  • Umpires rarely made mistakes.
  • Umpires could see things video couldn’t.
  • Owners would never absorb the costs of installing enough cameras to make such a system work.

A few days before NPB unveiled the 2019 upgrade to its video challenge format, known as the “request system,” Osamu Ino, who chairs NPB’s umpiring technical committee, explained that 80 percent of the umpires were at first opposed to the new system.

They expected heckling and abuse, loss of face, you name it.

Having watched lengthy video reviews on the three plays umpires were allowed to check on their own, home runs, catches against the outfield wall and plays at the plate, a lot of NPB watchers expected games to get even slower. Actually 2017 had seen the fastest games since 2012.

That was the last of a two-year period of ultra-dead baseballs that caused offense to plummet and resulted in a coup de e’tat to ouster then commissioner Ryozo Kato.

Since then offense and game times had been on the rise. 2018 sawa more offense than 2017, with game times jumping from an average of 3:13 to 3:18. Not great but not the catastrophe many expected.

Instead, umpires, players and managers moved on with the game, fans watched the close plays replayed on the big screens, something that had been taboo in Japanese sports up to that point, and everyone liked it.

There were complaints about the quality of the equipment available to umpires and the number of cameras — indeed I heard at least two players say, “If you’re not going to have enough cameras in all the parks don’t do it at all.” That struck me as a dumb comment then and a dumb comment now — although owners have proven themselves too cheap to provide the umpires with decent monitors for their reviews.

According to Ino, the umps went from 80 percent disapproval when they first heard of the system at the end of 2017, to 50 percent before the start of the season, to 100 percent after the season.

You can find my related story in the Japan Times here.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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