Weekly Newsletter 6-21

The jballallen.com newsletter is a weekly perk for all free and paid subscribers to my site. Here’s this week’s newsletter, published on Monday. It was a little on the short side because of another commitment I had Sunday, but in case you want more, please subscribe.

The news from Japan

Another Olympic side effect

The coronavirus pandemic has given rise to endless “what if” scenarios. What if 2020 hadn’t been a presidential election year in the States? What if the Japanese government hadn’t decided to play Russian roulette for the sake of the Tokyo Olympics?

One of the things we’ve learned is that Japanese companies will trip over themselves to cash in on Olympic marketing opportunities and that politicians will sacrifice virtually everything of importance to their constituents to secure an Olympics. It’s not much of a stretch to think that if some nut-job politician had his enemies executed in front of the imperial palace, he might defend it by saying it was necessary for the Olympics to take place.

In January, Japan moved to block non-residents from entering Japan, but that left a lot of big sports teams without key players and coaches. The teams, already feeling the brunt of limited attendance, pleaded with the government to let those individuals in. What reason could there possibly be to let in non-residents in a pandemic?

“Wait! We’ve got it an Olympics! We can say these people who aren’t Japanese citizens and won’t compete for Japan, are somehow essential to Japan’s efforts to win gold medals.”

This logic-defying contrived explanation done, these players and coaches were allowed in for the sake of the Olympics in the same way Japan treats rescue and medical personnel in times of natural disaster. Of course, emergency personnel don’t typically bring their families to natural disasters, so these athletes and coaches were not expected to bring their families into Japan’s man-made Olympic disaster.

The teams got the athletes what they wanted, and I’m sure there was a dialog like this: 

Teams: “What about the families? These players are not emergency workers. They are human beings choosing to contribute to Japan by being good citizens and working hard, and they shouldn’t be separated from their families. Processes could be established to make it as safe as possible.”

Government: “What in the past 15 months makes you think we care the least about anybody’s well-being?”

The podcast is out

This week’s podcast with a tremendous interview by John with Lions pitcher Zach Neal is up. Please listen.

Baseball parallel universes

A lot of people hate the sacrifice bunt because it stunts what Japanese baseball might become, but MLB’s current love affair with launch angle is another side of the same baseball phenomenon: a dominant notion that gets a grip on the game and squeezes some of the life out of it.

I don’t mean this as a knock on analytics and the scientific understanding of mechanics, but when every team starts talking about ways things need to be done, young players aspiring to be pro ballplayers listen and pursue skills in line with the dominant theme of their era.

Sports’ beauty is in variety, execution, and unpredictability. The trouble becomes not with superior execution but with the hubris of many people believing they KNOW the ideal solution to all baseball’s puzzles. That’s when the game becomes boring until new ideas break through.

This week, I wrote an essay called “Beauty and the bunt” about the odd way in which Japanese baseball is the flip side of MLB, where a dominant idea gives the same game a different spin while also threatening it with monotony. The upshot of this is that Japan is better off because it has a counterexample it can learn from in MLB, while MLB has shown little interest in learning from things that happen elsewhere.

Interleague is over

Congratulations to the Central League for posting its second interleague winning record, finishing 49-48-11 while trailing in runs scored 475-443. The interleague MVP, which MUST be selected from the team with the best winning percentage, was Orix Buffaloes pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The other award winners, one from each league, were Dayan Viciedo of the Chunichi Dragons, and rookie Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Hiromi Ito.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *