Alex Ramirez waltzed into Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame and was joined by Randy Bass, as the hall’s voters ended a 29-year drought to induct its first import players since Wally Yonamine in 1994.
Ramirez put together a 13-year career in which he won two MVP awards and two Japan Series rings and reached Japan’s iconic 2,000-hit mark, while Bass had a seismic impact in just five-plus seasons, leading the once-mighty Hanshin Tigers to their first Japan Series in 21 years and their only Japan title since the two-league era began in 1950.
It took Ramirez less than 10 years between his last NPB game and his arrival at the Hall, while Bass waited 35 years. The difference in those figures is attributable not just to the length and quality of their careers but also to the horrid selection process that was used until the last decade or so, and the amount of controversy that stuck to the two.
Not only has Ramirez embraced the Japanese way like few others, he has mastered the accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. If you’ve been following my work for any length of time, you’ll know I’m convinced that avoiding negatives, or even the whiff of any suspicion of negatives, is a fundamental strategy for advancement in Japan.
Players can have historically brilliant careers here only to be ignored in the Hall of Fame voting if they are not popular enough with the electorate. Sure, there is a line where a player is so accomplished and historically significant that he can get in despite not sucking up to the media in the slightest, see Hideo Nomo, but for most great players, it’s important to appear humble to the point of being obsequious.
Something I’ve wanted to do since umpires began taking requests from managers who felt wronged by their judgements on the field was see whether some teams were more or less likely to have the initial calls go their way.
There has long been a perception in Japan of umpiring bias toward the Giants, but without hard evidence, there’s not much one can say about it.
When Tokyo Dome first opened, Nippon Television, which owns the rights to the home games and is owned by the Giants’ parent company, frequently showed video of pitches from a camera suspended below the dome ceiling — until too many of those shots were called strikes not close to being over the plate.
Like watching from the cheap seats
One problem with the “Request System” is that the umpires have to work from whatever crappy little monitor the home team’s owner provides for them. This once led to a disastrous decision against the Orix Buffaloes, when forced to review a long foul ball in the top of the 10th inning at Kyocera Dome. On the crappy little monitor provided by Orix, the umps saw the ball disappear from the screen as it crossed the line of the foul pole. They called the ball a home run, and the Hawks won in extra innings.
After the game, they looked at the call on a better monitor and were shocked to see the ball pass on the foul side of the pole. Orix, whose fault it was the umps didn’t have better equipment to work with, was outraged that such an awful mistake could have happened to them in their home park.
Osamu Ino, the head of NPB’s umpiring technical committee, said recently that things haven’t changed much since then, that the monitors available to the umps are often substandard.
Since the Nakamura call, however, the umps have resolved to only overturn calls on the field when there is clear evidence that it was wrong. They seem to deviate from that standard from time to time, but it’s probably right to assume that if you can’t see it on the monitor, then perhaps the person on the spot was in the best position to judge.
Bad luck Alex
I noticed today that the data I’d collected this season included a record of which teams reviewed calls and whether the calls on the field were overturned or upheld, so I ran them into a database and had to wonder if some umps were among those singing for Daisuke Miura to replace Alex Ramirez as DeNA BayStars managers.
I have a record of 480 video requests during the 2020 season. There may have been more, but these are the ones I have notes on. Of those reviewed calls 63 were overturned or 32 percent. The Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles and the Central League’s BayStars ranked 1, 2 in the number of challenges by their skippers, and for good reason, those two teams led their league in calls against them that were overturned.
In last year’s CL, there really were four teams in the middle with little separating them, but one could argue the BayStars were really the second-best team in the league behind the run-away champion Giants. Finishing second might not have helped Ramirez’s chances of staying on with a team that was looking for excuses to get rid of him, but it didn’t help that he had to do extra work to correct the umps.
Of the 21 calls in BayStars’ games that were overturned upon review, 18 had originally gone against DeNA. The Eagles were second percentage-wise with 63 percent of the overturned calls having first gone their opponents’ way.
Overturned against team
Overturned against opps
Hawks come up empty
I have only one year of data to work with but of the 243 requests by the batting teams, the SoftBank Hawks made just 15, the fewest in either league, and every one of those times, the umps’ call on the field was upheld.