The sacrifice as religion
When asking why Japanese baseball considers batting the pitcher eighth an egregious mistake, I was confronted with the fact that the practice was once very common before it became eradicated in the 1970s. This happened about the same time as the game’s most unique batting styles were pushed out and the sacrifice bunt became as much a ritual as tactic.
Robert Whiting said he didn’t recall when these changes occurred precisely but pushed back against my assertion that the Yomiuri Giants under manager Tetsuharu Kawakami didn’t bunt THAT much.
He replied in an e-mail:
“Kawakami may not have bunted as much as other managers but he still bunted a lot, 100 times. Leadoff hitter would get on, Shibata Doi would sacrifice him to second.”
My memory is worse than Bob’s even though he’s a few years older than me, but I cheat by having a database. Kawakami once bunted 100 times, in 1966, although that was one of his two best seasons, his team finishing 13 games in front in 1965 and ’66.
During the 5 years of box scores I have for Kawakami’s Giants (1961-1963, 1968 and 1969, his No. 2 hitter bunted in the first inning 22.5 percent of the time when the leadoff man was on first base. The rest of the CL did that 21.5 percent of the time. So he was pretty normal.
Anyway, the point I was making was not that Kawakami didn’t bunt, because he bunted about as often as his contemporaries, but rather that his disciples, Tatsuro Hirooka and Masaaki Mori, spread this lie that the Giants won BECAUSE they executed the sacrifice, and Japanese baseball listened.
In all the other box scores I have since then, since 1999, teams have bunted with the runner on first with no outs in the first inning about 50 percent more often than Kawakami did, and they don’t do it nearly as often as they were doing in the mid 1980s, when Hirooka, Mori and another of Kawakami’s players, Masaichi Kaneda, bunted far more than the league norm in the Pacific League.