What’s news in Japan

In a land where sports editors pretty much dictate that the top news of every game is who got the game-winning RBI, a lot of things fly under the radar and go unreported by the media.

The game-winning RBI “hero” is so ingrained here that a bad swing at a fat pitch is praised as “great hitting” if it gets the job done. Never mind that the guy swung and missed at Ball 4 on the previous pitch or that the runner on third had drawn a 10-pitch walk, stole second, and put himself in position to score by taking third on a flyout to medium-deep right field.

A quick scan through stories from Wednesday’s action found this gem of a headline:

“Shimauchi’s small ball philosophy ‘Batting .300 is not important’ a rejection of eternal No. 4 hitter tradition.”

It’s a hard one to translate because the Japanese verb “tsunagu” means to connect or preserve, and in baseball is typically a synonym for a “productive out” or doing the little things to improve a scoring opportunity rather than trying to drive the ball. It implies sacrificing, hitting behind the runner, focusing on making contact.

I’d guess that roughly a third of postgame on-field “hero interviews” involving hitters include the following exchange:

Interviewer: “That was some hit you had there. What were your thoughts there?”

Player: “I was focused on keeping the rally going (play small ball) but I got a good swing on the ball and got a good result.”

But in Japan, if a No. 4 hitter says he doesn’t care about batting .300, it’s kind of weird. Mind you, the Eagles’ got blown out so Shimauchi was giving his thoughts to reporters and not announcing his nonchalance in front of the fans.

The reporter thought it fit to repeat another iconoclastic remark when Shimauchi said he did a good job of hitting on a ball that caught for an out that didn’t contribute to the scoreline.

“Like (the home run I hit in) the first inning, the ball I hit (for an out) in the ninth was from a good at-bat,” Shimauchi said in an expression bordering on yakyu heresy.

“Batting .300 is unimportant. I’d rather have a .400 on-base percentage.”

The story concludes with the reporter adding that Shimauchi is third in the league in on-base percentage and with this “unabashed” philosophy is contributing to the team.

Mind you, the reporter was covering the losing team in a blowout, so there’s always that. But still, couldn’t he do it without the condescension?

Here’s the original report in the Nikkan Sports.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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