To the players, the rivalries aren’t that big of a deal for their own sake

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Following up on that stuff about fraternization from yesterday: I wasn’t aware of it until a reader told me yesterday, but there is a rule against players making nice before games. It’s Rule 3.09:

Players in uniform shall not address or mingle with spectators, nor sit in the stands before, during, or after a game. No manager, coach or player shall address any spectator before or during a game. Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.

Well, good for Rule 3.09. It’s still stupid, even if it’s in the rule book.  I spoke this morning to Joe Sheehan — who will be our guest on HBT Daily later today — and he said that the rule is an old one, borne of a fear that players will conspire to fix games, which was not uncommon back in eighteen-dickety-seven through 1919.  Not so much of a concern these days, and certainly divorced from the notion of pretending that baseball players on opposing teams are blood rivals.

Which, according to Lance Berkman, who got a glimpse of the Red Sox-Yankees thing last year and is now heading into Chicago for the first time as a Cardinal, is certainly not the case:

“The fans and the media are the ones that really get that fired up about it,” Berkman said. “I mean for us, obviously we want to win, they’re a tough team. But it’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a blood match.'”

I think that, to the extent you see animosity among rivals it’s a personal thing. There were some Red Sox players who really didn’t care for Alex Rodriguez a few years ago. There are likely some Cardinals who don’t like Carlos Zambrano at all.  But “Red Sox vs. Yankees” and “Cubs vs. Cardinals” is more of an abstract concept.  Sure, the competition is fierce, because all competition at the professional level is fierce. And yes, if there are serious stakes in play, the competition can be ratcheted up a notch.

But the tribalism if “Cubs bad, Cardinals good!” just isn’t the kind of thing that resonates in big league ballplayers.  And I’m fine with that.

The Japanese playoffs are super unfair

Hiroshima Carp
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I know a little about Japanese baseball. Not a lot, mind you. Like, I couldn’t hold my own with people who actually watch it or report on it or whatever, but I could explain some of the broad differences and similarities between the NPB and the U.S. majors.  I can say a few things about how the two leagues compare competitively speaking. I can name some stars and (I think) all the clubs. But there’s, quite obviously, a ton I don’t know.

A thing I did not know until today: the NPB playoffs are really messed up.

The NPB is divided into two leagues, the Central and the Pacific, with the winner of each league facing off in the Japan Series. Like the U.S. majors, they have preliminary playoff rounds in each league. Each league has three playoff teams, with the second and third seed teams playing a series first, and the winner of that series playing the top seed — the team with the best record in the league — in what is called the Climax Series.

Here’s the weird part: the higher-seeded team in the Climax Series — the team which won the league in the regular season — gets every single playoff game at home. What’s more, that team begins the Climax Series with an automatic 1-0 advantage. So, yes, it’s a seven-game series on paper, but one of the teams only has to win three games to advance to the Japan Series.

Oh, in Japan, they also have no problems ending a playoff game early if it rains. That’s what happened in the Central League Climax Series last night, where the lower-seeded Yokohama BayStars took on the league champ Hiroshima Carp. Here’s the report from Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times:

The rainy conditions in Hiroshima caused the umpires to stop play for over 30 minutes and ultimately call the game after five innings, minutes after the Carp put three runs on the board. Just like that, it was over. The Carp won 3-0, with Yokohama robbed of the four innings (at least) it would’ve had to try and rally.

Even better: as Coskrey notes, there are five days in between the end of the Climax Series and the beginning of the Japan Series, so there is no reason they could not suspend a game and resume it the next day. They just choose not to. The upshot: the Carp were staked to a 2-0 series lead despite the fact that they had only played five innings of baseball. UPDATE: they played a full game today, the BayStars won, so now it’s 2-1 Hiroshima.

Imagine if that happened in the NLCS. Imagine if the Dodgers began the series with a 1-0 lead over the Cubs and played all of their games in Los Angeles. Imagine there was a freak L.A. storm and it ended one of the game in the fifth inning, right after Justin Turner hit a homer. I’m pretty sure people would riot.

Kinda makes our complaints about the replay system seem rather quaint, eh?