The other day Japanese baseball officials admitted that they tinkered with it in order to “make the game more exciting” and increase offense. Today the Commissioner of the NPB apologized:
Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato held a meeting with representatives of the 12 teams and issued an apology for his handling of the situation.
“I’ve caused a lot of trouble for the fans, players and people connected to the game,” Kato said. “Baseball is very important in Japan’s sporting culture and I have to carefully reflect on my responsibility to the game.”
Offense has gone crazy in Japan this year thanks to the rabbit ball. There were 939 home runs in 2011 and 881 in 2012. This season’s tally stood at 512 as of Tuesday, on pace for a season total of 1,297.
In the United States this would lead to accusations of steroids and things because we have decided that that’s the only thing that increases offense, it seems. But the story from Japan shows how even the slightest of changes in the context in which the game is played, be it the baseball, the bats, the ballparks or what have you, can lead to dramatic changes in offense.
I hope you don’t have any plans tonight at around 10PM Eastern time, because that’s when we get a pitching matchup for the ages as Max Scherzer will take on Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium. When they meet tonight it will be the first time two pitchers with three or more Cy Young Awards have matched up since 2006. That year, and in 2005 and 2000, Roger Clemens faced Greg Maddux. In 2001 Clemens faced Pedro Martinez.
Kershaw won his hardware in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with an MVP award in 2014 to boot. Scherzer collected trophies in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Each has started the 2018 season in Cy Young form. Kershaw is 1-2, but that record is due to poor run support. He has a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 31 batters and has walked only three in 26 innings. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a whopping 38 strikeouts to only 4 walks in 27 innings.
This will be the third time that Kershaw and Scherzer faced each other if you include the playoffs. The first meeting was a decade ago when both were rookies. They most recently faced off in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS, way back when Scherzer only had one Cy Young Award to his credit. Kershaw beat Scherzer in that playoff game and the Dodgers beat Scherzer’s teams in the two regular season matchups, with neither guy setting the world on fire. As so often happens in baseball, the hype hasn’t been matched by reality.
Still, there’s always a chance it will. And even if, in the end, this turns into a slugfest, the first couple of innings should at least give us some hope of something good. I’ll be watching.