Neftali Soto’s place
With his 100th career home run on Saturday in his 1,202nd at-bat in Japan, Neftali Soto became the 81st imported player to reach 100 home runs here.
The all-time leader is Tuffy Rhodes, with 464, while Soto’s manager with the DeNA BayStars, Alex Ramirez, hit 380 for second place on the list.
Of those 81, Soto is the 12th to win more than one home run title. Again, Rhodes leads that race as the only imported player with four, where he is the only Hall of Fame eligible player in Japanese pro baseball history to lead his league in home runs, who has not been voted into the Hall of Popularity — I mean the Hall of Fame.
Soto’s two titles puts him ahead of Alex Cabrera, LeRon Lee and Boomer Wells, each of whom hit 200-plus in Japan but only led their league one time.
Ten Hall of Fame eligible players have led their league exactly three times. Of those, five are in the Hall of Fame (Hideki Matsui, Fumio Fujimura, Hiromitsu Kadota, Tetsuharu Kawakami and Hiroshi Oshita), two are likely to get in (Masayuki Kakefu and Atsushi Nagaike). The other three are not. Those guys are Orestes Destrade, Ralph Bryant and Tyrone Woods.
Frequent fliers — top 10 imports in HR rate
|AB per HR
Japan’s big attendance crash
From June 19 until July 9, no fans were allowed to attend games in Japanese pro ball to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. And while infections began jumping again about the time the start of the season was announced in May, no infections were reported at ballparks among fans.
It struck me today that this is the second time attendance at NPB took a huge hit.
Prior to the 2005 season, in perhaps the weirdest turn of events, the Yomiuri Giants led a kind of truth commission in which the teams agreed to begin announcing “realistic” attendance figures.
This baseball glasnost was caused not by a virus but by a sense that the fans were tired of the bullshit teams had been spouting the year before.
In addition to telling the fans and players to shut the “F” up and do what they are told in response to the owners’ decision to put the Pacific League’s Kintetsu Buffaloes out of business, the ball had become an issue.
It had been fairly obvious for nearly a decade that the dominant baseball manufacturer in NPB, Mizuno, had captured much of the market by selling teams hyper-lively balls. Nobody was talking about it, but the numbers were undeniable.
During the summer of 2004, the Chunichi Dragons, a team with virtually no power who play in central Japan’s version of the mammoth caves, decided that having a lively ball that allowed opponents to hit home runs there was counterproductive.
And then they broke the first rule of the juiced baseball code: Don’t talk about juiced baseballs. The Dragons held a press conference to announce that cheap home runs were a problem, and the teams, already dealing with the PR fallout from their hardball stance against the players that resulted in NPB’s only work stoppage, took another hit.
If that wasn’t enough, it was learned that a number of teams had — in their effort to lure marquee amateur pitcher Yasuhiro Ichiba to their clubs — been handing him cash payments under a variety of guises.
This caused owners to step down in disgrace, including the most pernicious, backward-thinking and influential of them all, Yomiuri Shimbun president Tsuneo Watanabe, As an employee of the Yomiuri Shimbun at that time, I can confirm that the news was taken within the head office in the same manner the residents of Munchkin Land greeted the sudden demise of the wicked witch.
So in 2005, the Giants, who had announced every game at Tokyo Dome as a 55,000-capacity sellout, decided to act. It was as Donald Trump came out one day and didn’t exactly say he’s a liar and a scoundrel but did say that to avoid confusion he would no longer make shit up at press conferences.
The Giants’ official reasoning was this: “We’re not ALWAYS sold out, and because people think we are, they don’t try and buy tickets.” This, of course, ignored the fact that anyone watching on TV could see large blocks of empty seats at many games as the announcers touted “another sell-out crowd.”
And the media, who knew the old figures were lies from Day 1 now went on to report the new figures as if they hadn’t been lying to the public for years. We don’t have a Republican Party in Japan, but if we did, a lot of people in the media would feel right at home.
Anyway, here is how average attendances shifted in Japan from 2004 to 2005. There are only 10 teams listed since the Buffaloes went out of business and the Rakuten Eagles began operating.