Now that I’ve had a couple days to reflect on the World Baseball Classic, I think overall it was a success. Sure the USA team treated the tournament more like spring training than a world championship, but for the most part it was a thrilling experience. You could tell that most of the countries took an enormous amount of pride in wearing their counties colors.
The first round entailed me waking up at 1:30 in the morning to watch the Asian countries play and that was quite a treat. The style of Asian baseball is really quite different than the American and Latino style and was extremely noticeable. Hardly any one is over 200 pounds with the exception of the Korean team and the emphasis is put on defense and small ball. They literally have three Ichiro’s in the outfield and in the rare opportunity that they do not catch the ball, someone’s ass is gonna get thrown out.
The Asian pitching is also much different. With the exception of the elite, not that many people throw blazing heat. For that matter curve balls and sliders are not as predominant as they are in America. It’s all about change ups and fork balls. Every pitcher throws a fork ball or a splitter and they are usually pretty nasty. I found a Kenji quote that sums it up pretty good.
“Japan’s greatest asset is its pitching,” he said. “Can they throw harder than America’s pitchers? No. But when you consider how they react to a bunt situation, the running game, the quality of their slide step, they’re first class. They’re able to compete with subtleties like adjusting their timing with runners on base, executing superb control, throwing pitches with sharp breaks, and so on. The catcher’s got to step it up so he doesn’t kill their game. The American game is more of a power game. They’re [American pitchers] not likely to throw a breaking pitch at 2-0. Japanese pitchers can throw their breaking pitches for strikes.”
Which brings me to the point of all this. Which style is right? Is the Japanese style better? If you are going off the WBC it seems like it. Japan clobbered the US in the semi final 9-4. I think the sample size is a bit small to make any drastic conclusions in that department, but here is what I think.
There was a situation in the Final of the WBC in the 7th inning that had my dad and I in a mass debate.
Top of the 7th, the teams are tied at 1 a piece. A runner is on first and Ichiro is up to bat with no outs. Ichiro takes a couple pitches which clears the way for the base runner to steal second which he does with ease. Then Ichiro lays down which might have been the most beautiful bunt I have ever seen leaving the Korean defense to do nothing but trip over themselves foolishly. Now the situation is first and third with nobody out. The next batter Hiroyuki Nakajima consicely hits a single to left field driving in the go ahead run and moving Ichiro to second base.
Now here is where the argument comes in. My Dad thinks of the situation this way:
You have a runner in scoring position and up to bat is one of if not the greatest hitter of all time. With no outs, the American thing to do is let him swing away. With the base runners speed he could easily score on an outfield single.
You may have one of the greatest hitters of all time up to bat, but even the greatest fail 7 out of 10 times. You have to let Ichiro take control of the situation. That bunt that we witnessed is why Ichiro is the Michael Jordan of Japan. He excecutes fundemental baseball to the utmost perfection. The chances that he can successfully lay down a bunt single, moving the runner over to third, and reaching first safely himself are much greater than him pushing a ball to the outfield. Now you have more base runners on with the heart of your lineup coming up and still no outs. Even if the next batter strikes out you have your 3rd and 4th hitters coming up. And with the infield in he has a greater chance to push the ball to the outfield like he did.
As much as I make my argument seem better because I am writing it, this is the beautiful thing about baseball. It is so intellectual. It is a game of strategy, it is a game of tactics and much like chess there are multiple correct moves. There are definately wrong moves that will expose your team and leave you hanging out to dry, but there is more than one way to become victorious.
Neither way is right and when I hear the local papers saying that Ichiro does not play the game “the right way” it is very unfair to Ichiro and all other players that have grown up in a different style of the game. Having a narrow dogmatic view of baseball is not good for anybody and I think what the World Baseball Classic does for us as fans, writers, and people inside the game, is open our minds. You can’t convince me that the American way is better if they lost to the Japanese. But you can’t convince me the Japanese way is better because one game in baseball does not mean anything. That’s why they play 162 games. But there are more options and there are more than one way to play this great game.