The Japanese Revolution
For all the apathy I have shown towards the World Baseball Classic this year (not commenting on it once on this blog until now), there is one thing that both installments of the tournament have clearly shown me: the Japanese style of baseball is the most effective at winning ballgames.
Now, of course I realize that if the United States team really did choose all our best players, and if guys like Johan Santana and David Ortiz wouldn’t bug off the Dominican Republic squad, the tournament may play out much differently. However, even if each team’s best possible squad was on the field every day, I think Japan could compete with any of them. Their small-ball, advance-the-runner style of play (plus, nearly every player can run the bases effectively) has really become the sought-after way to win games. I mean, how fitting was it that Ichiro Suzuki (the player who best personifies the Japanese game) got the game-winning hit against Korea?! I’ve never seen a batter where luck plays as big a role at getting him out. Since he never strikes out, retiring him requires the luck of the ball-in-play being hit right to a defender…that’s about it. Pitchers may have learned his tendencies a wee bit, but now he “just” hits .320 every year instead of .350, and has 220 hits instead of 257.
When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier back in the 1940s, it completely changed the way baseball looked, as it allowed black players to increase the quality of play. What’s interesting is that you can almost say that the same sort of thing happened to the Japanese market in 2001 when Ichiro hit the major leagues and brought his much more exciting brand of baseball to a game then bogged-down by steroid oafs. Now, Japan is continuing to get the recognition they deserve, and you can bet that many more single-hitting, base-stealing, wacky-delivery Japanese players will be popping up on rosters all over MLB.