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If you’re familiar with Japan’s style of baseball, and thought its World Baseball Classic team was something of a departure, you are correct. As the tournament wore on, manager Hideki Kuriyama spoke of how his team might provide a boost to baseball in Japan. Of course, how that plays out is anyone’s guess.
Robert Whiting expressed some valid takes in his recent Substack post “WBC title is great for Japan, but NPB needs to concentrate on enhancing its product going forward.”
His points, as I understand them, were:
- The lively individualistic approach exhibited by Japan in the WBC will not loosen Japan’s embrace of paint-by-numbers solutions to baseball situations.
- The WBC is fun, but it’s just an exhibition and doesn’t prove which team is the best.
- Japanese pro baseball could be so much better than it is, and that should be its focus to be better at marketing and building its product.
In my first post of this series, I addressed his principle argument that Nippon Professional Baseball must capitalize on the WBC title by remaking its business, while last time I examined whether anyone can objectively call this wonderful tournament “an exhibition.”
This time around I want to discuss the cultural structure of Japan’s game and whether the WBC, might put a dent in what often seems an impregnable monolith of orthodoxy.
There is no playing in yakyu
“Once the regular season starts we will be back to 3-2 counts on every batter and a succession of sacrifice bunts and grim countenances all around.”–Robert Whiting on Substack, March 22, 2023
That’s an exaggerated view of Japanese baseball, although one with a grain of truth to it. Japan’s game has never been static, despite the efforts of managers Tatsuro Hirooka and Masaaki Mori to turn the pro baseball entertainment business into an industrial quality control infomercial.
Nothing alive stays the same long, but cultures are obstinate things.
Whiting’s comments about this Samurai Japan team’s style being different were dead on. When the team practiced in Osaka on March 5, it was nothing like watching an NPB workout. Instead of players exerting themselves in unison under coaches’ supervision, individuals and pairs went about their business while coaches were around to lend a hand when needed.
Continue reading Let the boys play