Friday 30 March 2012

Take me out to the ball game

Today is the start of Japan’s professional baseball season. I don’t follow baseball that much, in all honesty. I’ll keep half an eye out for the local team’s results pretty much wherever I am though; I barracked for the Crows when hating Wayne Carey was practically mandatory. Almost any sporting event is good to watch live, but it’s hard to get too worked up about a sport which, in the UK at least, is the exclusive preserve of stroppy teenage girls. It’s always struck me a bit like cricket for people who’ve forgotten to take their Ritalin.

Darren Jarman's extra limbs were something
of an unfair advantage.

Still, baseball’s massive over here, and if you’ve got even a passing interest in sport then you really can’t avoid it. While the games themselves are all short static bursts, the season itself is this long, interminable grind, with each team playing a random but small number of other teams a random but huge number of times.

Basically, a team from one city goes to another city and they play a game against the team from that city in the evening. The next evening they’ll play another game against the same team, and the next and the next and the next until they’ve all had a good hard think about what they’ve done. Or they run out of food - one or the other. Sometimes the games are tied and they aren’t allowed to finish until a winner has been decided, in which case the first team to eat the kit-man is adjudged to have lost.

That’s just extra-time though. Normal play is actually deceptively simple. A man throws a ball and another man tries to hit it with a stick. Standing/loafing behind the ‘throwing the ball’ man (or ‘thrower’) are other men called ‘fielders’ whose jobs are to try to ‘catch’ the ball if the hitting man hits it. Standing/squatting behind the ‘hitting with stick’ man (or ‘sticker’) is a man called a ‘catcher’ whose job it is to try to ‘field’ the ball if the hitting man misses.

Occasionally the hitting man will do what is known as a ‘fly-ball’. Obviously enough, this is when the ball flies. Unlike all other occasions, when it rolls timidly along the ground. Standing around the edges of the diamond are members of the hitting man’s team, who are responsible for shouting at the ball in an effort to make it roll less timidly. Points are awarded for volume and quality of invective.

Sometimes the hitting man will do a very good hit indeed, and this is known as a ‘homer’. It’s called this because the ball rolls with such conviction that it resembles a ‘homing’ missile, unerringly tracking in on its target before dropping down the chimney of a factory in a hot and dusty country. Also because of the pigeons.

Rashafrashafrasha he he he...

When things get really nerve-wracking, ‘Bunt’ will occur. I won’t pain you with too detailed a description here. Suffice to say that this is when the ball-shouters really come into their own. Geeing up the hitting with stick man and the entire stadium into a state of baying, inchoate frenzy.

‘BUNT!’ The crowd crow, ‘BUNT! BUNT! BUNT!’ Over and over, their voices hoarse and rasping from the exertion.

‘BUNT! BUNT!’ The shouters shout, their faces puce, spittle jetting from their lips in a nigh-on biblical deluge of saliva and bile.


You’ve not lived until you’ve been part of a mob of tens of thousands of people all screaming ‘BUNT!’ at a single individual. It’s one of the rawest, most primal experiences I think I’ve ever been party to.

Bunt like a motherfucker

Once ‘Bunt’ has been done, all else could a bit of a let-down, to be honest. But the inventors of baseball – the ancient Greeks – included several innovative strategies in the rules to counter this possible anti-climax.

The aforementioned ‘diamond’ is one such. Clearly it’s not a real diamond, that’s just a figure of speech. Perhaps the best way to describe it is with a thought experiment, if it’s good enough Austrian gatophobes it’s good enough for me.

Imagine yourself situated in 2-dimensional space upon a perfect plain. To your right extends a single 1-dimensional projection, or ‘line’ if you will. Maybe visualizing this ‘line’ as scribed in white paint or chalk would help. Some 27.43m along that ‘line’ exists a small white mound, very similar in appearance to a dead cat. Perpendicular to this line, forward from your point of view, and also at a distance 27.43m from the first mound/dead cat exists another mound/dead cat. A final mound/dead cat exists another 27.43m directly in front of you, bisecting another ‘line’ emanating from your feet. Clear?

It's easier in your head, trust me

In the parlance of the game this is known as ‘The Big Square’ and the quiet and respectful contemplation of its geometric form is one of the main attractions of the sport.

The many and varied nuances of Euclidian geometry form the backbone of the game, but its inventors saw fit to include so much more than this. The rules are complex, and as you can imagine disputes often arise. There are a number of umpires employed to arbitrate on these disputes and ensure fair and honest play, and all have clearly defined areas of responsibility. One is specifically employed to stand behind the hitting with stick man and decide if the throwing the ball man has thrown a ball or not.

I know this sounds spurious, but on occasion the thrower is permitted to throw other objects, including but not limited to: water-slides, loose change, and deodorized shoe insoles. Those occurrences notwithstanding, it is the umpire’s job to decide the extent to which the ball is actually a ball.

Pauses in play of several hours are not uncommon as the umpire considers the platonic ideal of a sphere, how the sphere must exist in three dimensions or whether it can manifest in more, or indeed fewer, whether being spherical is the only necessary condition pertaining to being a ball or if there are other factors which must contribute towards its state of being in order to fulfill the essential nature of balliness.


Other umpires are employed to rule on separate matters, such as if, given Zeno’s paradox and the essentially infinite nature of the infinitesimal, it is ever really possible for the hitting with stick man to actually hit the ball (if, indeed, ball it is) with his stick (it is a stick).

It is a little recognized fact that Baseball Umpire is one of the few viable career paths available to philosophy graduates. Alain de Botton spent two fruitful years as a first-base umpire in the Carolina High-A League following his graduation from Cambridge.

This intellectual and conceptual rigour extends to the league tables, which to the lay-person are a dizzying mass of numbers and figures bearing only the vaguest connection to anything you or I would recognize as ‘real life’. In this respect they’re much like women’s clothes sizes.

‘Matsui is having another stellar season, batting at an average of a size 8.’ or ‘That bitch thinks she’s all that just because she’s dieted down to a .45 RBI.’  

You get the idea. A fairly recent innovation is that of Sabermetrics, which allows baseball managers to understand their players' performances in even greater depth, focusing as it does on previously overlooked statistical indicators, including BMI, PDA, and VPL. This last is of special interest due to the performance enhancing cut of a typical baseball uniform’s trousers.

Occasionally a Japanese star will break out and try his luck in a major American league. Here they will be welcomed as the important marketing opportunity they represent, and, in common with other Asian and Asian-American sports stars, will be given a racially and culturally sensitive nickname such as, ‘Godzilla’, ‘Chink’, or ‘Number 34 With Egg-fried Rice, Please’.

I should include at least one
picture of actual baseball

Those are my observations on baseball in Japan. I hope you found them useful and informative if you are thinking of visiting.

Batter is up!

Addendum: In case you're wondering why this is labelled as 'biting satire', two days after I posted this The Observer ran this article. See what I'm saying?


  1. Dead cats as bases and stuff made it available to the masses for consumption...brilliant :)

    After the Japanese prevented a foreigner from breaking their Home run record for the 3rd time while 2 of those clubs were managed by the man who held that record...I gave up. They even admitted pitching around batters because the didn't want a foreigner to take the record.

    They must hate the foreigner dominated sport of Sumo?

    1. It's driving the Sumo guys nuts. No Japanese yokozuna for a decade or so now. Given the hazing and shit kids have to go through it's no wonder Japanese kids can't be bothered. It's a bizzaro world version of hoop-dreams.

  2. Kamo, you come from a place that takes cricket seriously. I thought Doulas Adams had the last word on that.,_the_Universe_and_Everything

    1. To be fair, Douglas Adams had the last word on pretty much everything. You should have posted this comment two minutes earlier ;)

  3. This is almost as good as George Carlin's take on pro sports...


    1. "Almost as good as George Carlin"

      I'll definitely take that. Thanks man, glad you liked it.

  4. go the crows!

    I have a theory that you can either understand cricket or baseball but not both!

    1. I was in Adelaide the year they won back-to-back grand finals. Hard not to get caught up in it all.

      I was looking for pictures of Jarman to illustrate this post. God he got old. Scary to realise how long ago that was now :(

    2. I have to admit, my motivation for supporting the Crows was Tony Modra. Would hate to see photos of him now.

  5. Once upon a time, I sat through a day of what Robin Williams so diplomatically described as 'baseball on Quaaludes' ('baseball on Methaqualone' is just too much of a mouthful). Copious amounts of alcohol are what must be saving that sport, it's fans, and athletes. Thinking about it... other than where the debauchery takes place, cricket is not so different from baseball.


    1. I could go on about the tactics and technique, the subtle interplay of intellect and physicality, the way a test match will flex and strain over the five days with the captains overseeing the cut and thrust like generals on a battlefield.

      But yeah, it's manly about the booze.

    2. Mainly. With an I. 'It's mainly about the booze.'

      I mean it's manly as well, but that's not what I meant to say.