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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #339: March 23, 2006

Japanese Ecstatic Over Baseball Classic Title

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japanese Ecstatic Over Baseball Classic Title
(Toshi Maeda, Reuters) Washingtonpost


The vernal equinox is an event when the sun crosses the equator from South to North (in the Northern Hemisphere) making night and day equal in length. The day the vernal equinox occurs, called Shunbun-no-hi, is a national holiday in Japan. This is the season when cherry blossoms, arguably Japanese people's favorite, begin to come out.

This year the vernal equinox fell on March 20 at 18:26 UTC, which is in the early morning of 21st in Japan. It turned out be a very spring-like day in Tokyo and many visited their family graves according to a long tradition, cleaning them and offering flowers and incense to console ancestral spirits.

But this year, for many it was a day to watch TV. The final game of the World Baseball Classic was to be televised live from San Diego with the match starting at 6pm on 20th, which was 11am on 21st in Japan. According to Video Research Ltd., viewership of the WBC final hit a high of 56.0% in Eastern Japan, including Tokyo, with the average of 43.4%, which is the highest for any program aired so far this year.

The game was very well played by both Japanese and Cuban delegates. Japan had lost the gold-medal game to Cuba in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta Summer and dropped a semifinal contest to Cuba in 2000 in Sydney. In 2004 in Athens, neither Japan nor Cuba made to compete for a medal, but Japan beat Cuba during pool play, and Matsuzaka pitched into the ninth inning and won. Matsuzaka in WBC was the starting pitcher for the final game, which brought victory for Japan and himself winning the MVP award.

Everyone in Japan seemed to be smiling and cheering for the Japanese to win the championship, from the prime minister to schoolchildren. But it was obviously the fact that the Japanese team became the champion which wiped out most of the distrust and discomfort mounted among the Japanese earlier in the event.

If one incident was to be chosen which made the Japanese people either furious or lose interest in the WBC - and even the game of baseball itself - was the (seemingly) deliberate misjudge by the American plate umpire in the Japan vs. U.S. match. The umpire overruled the call by a base umpire, negating a sacrifice fly that would have snapped a 3-3 tie.

In fact, the same umpire was in charge of the first base in the U.S. vs. Mexico match, when a Mexican batter's fly ball hit the right field foul pole at least 10 feet off the ground and bounced back onto the field. It was supposed to be a homer according to the rules. However, this first base umpire did not see it that way, and the Mexican player wound up at second.

Even the official site of the WBC recognizes this strange - in a way too obvious - mishaps. It lists, among other notable items, "Biggest controversy - Two questionable calls, by the same American umpire, that went in favor of the U.S. in two critical games."

"Anything you do for the first time is not going to be perfect," Commissioner Bud Selig said before the final match. True, a lot of things - the format, the rules, the officiating, the timing and the logistics of the tournament - needs to be thoroughly reviewed if they - and even "they" not need to be the MLB - want to do it again in 2009, and every four years after that. And the utmost priority is to earn credibility of the tournament, through a fair and open process in scheduling, and capable officials, including umpires, in running each game.

In the mean time, the Japanese people enjoy, along with the cherry blossoms, the state described in the old saying, "All is well that ends well."

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