Baseball is resuming in Japan, delayed a few weeks by the earthquake and tsunami. Everyone in a position of authority is noting how baseball coming back will restore a sense of normalcy to life. But as Robert Whiting — the author of the fabulous book about baseball in Japan, You Gotta Have Wa — notes, practically speaking, it’s not that simple:
There is not enough electric power to enable the normal schedule of night games to proceed, and given the power outages, many people, especially those in the affected areas, won’t be able to watch the games on TV, assuming they still have a functioning TV set.
“Watching baseball is not the first thing on anyone’s mind in Tokyo either,” said Kozo Abe, a sports reporter with the Fuji-Sankei media group. “The Japanese feeling at the moment is that they are not ready to root for the revival of Japanese baseball from the bottom of their heart.”
But they’re doing it anyway. And some in the game — notably, Yomuri Giants’ President Takuo Takihana — are sniffing at the many game time and duration restrictions designed to conserve electricity. Others, while noting the need for the restrictions and doubting whether the country is emotionally prepared for the normalcy being imposed by NPB, acknowledge that it will be difficult to achieve it given the absence of the usual trappings of Japanese baseball such as bright lights, loud music, and “cute girls in miniskirts selling draft beer and octopus snacks.”
I would hope by now that I no longer have to preface All-Star talk with my usual “none of this matters” disclaimers, but please keep all of that in mind when I mention that Nick Markakis is leading all National League outfielders in All-Star voting.
Markakis, with 1,173,653 votes, has surpassed the slumping Bryce Harper in that category. Harper has 1,002,696 votes. The third place outfielder is Matt Kemp of the Dodgers with 925,697. Fourth place — Charlie Blackmon of the Dodgers — is like 300,000 votes back of Kemp.Yes, Markakis, Harper and Kemp may be the starting NL outfield. Brandon Nimmo — not on the ballot — should be grumpy, but he’ll get his chance I’m sure.
The thing about it: Markakis, for as unexpected as his appearance may be on this list, deserves to at least be in the top three. He’s second in WAR among National League outfielders behind Lorenzo Cain. He’s slowed down a good bit in June and he’s coming off of a 2017 season in which he had a 96 OPS+ and 0.7 WAR, but he’s having quite an outstanding season. I write that mostly so that there is a record of it come October and we’ve all forgotten it.
Seriously, though, good for Markakis, who has never made an All-Star Game. Good for Kemp too for that matter, who most people assumed was a walking — well, limping — corpse heading into this season. Good for Harper because anything that can keep up the guise of him having a good year when, in reality, he’s really not, will help his confidence as he heads into free agency.
Finally, good for the American League, who will likely get to face a far, far inferior National League team next month in Washington.
The rest of the voting: