Until 2004, the term “postseason play” in Japanese baseball simply meant the Japan Series.
The winners of the Central and Pacific League pennants went on to play in the local version of the Fall Classic and, if a team had a double-digit lead in games in the middle of September, the race was all but over and excitement was non-existent until the Japan Series began.
Then the Pa League began postseason playoffs four years ago, with the three top teams qualifying.
The second-and third-place teams played a best-of-three Stage 1 series, with the winner going on to meet the first-place club in the best-of-five Stage 2 for the right to play the CL champion in the finals.
The higher ranked team enjoyed a home-field advantage for all games, but there was no one-game benefit awarded. However, in 2006, the single-game “technical” victory was installed for the Chiba Lotte Marines-Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ Stage 2 round.
In 2007, the Central League agreed to join its PL cousin, implementing an identical playoff system, with both leagues adopting the supposedly thrilling title of Climax Series. The one-game advantage rule for Stage 2 was shelved.
Speculation said the Yomiuri Giants voted to approve the CLCS concept because the Giants had not finished first during the regular year since 2002. Putting half the league teams into the postseason would increase the Kyojin’s chances of winning the Japan Series, so they went for it, but the concept backfired on them.
The Giants won the regular season CL pennant last year and again this season. Under the old system, they would be making their second consecutive JS appearance but, playing without the one-game hit in October of 2007, Yomiuri was swept three straight and eliminated from Japan Series contention by the second-place Chunichi Dragons.
This week, the Giants found themselves in another Stage 2 showdown with the Dragons, who finished the 2008 campaign in third place, 12 games behind Yomiuri and only three games above the .500 mark.
This time, manager Tatsunori Hara’s club got the one-game favor but, do they deserve it?
Is it fair?
Reader and Japanese baseball follower Claudio Rodriguez in Toronto is not a fan of the one-game advantage and wrote the following in an e-mail:
“What do you think about that rule of giving the first place team a one-game advantage in the second stage of the Climax Series? It not only looks weird to me, but I also believe it is unfair.
“The Seibu Lions (also given the one-game edge in their Stage 2 PLCS against the Nippon Ham Fighters) and the Giants deserve some reward for finishing in first place, but I think the home-game advantage for the entire series is more than enough.
“This is like giving the Giants a one-game advantage every time they go to the Japan Series just because they’re the Giants; or having the third-place team in each league start the Climax Series one game down, just because they came in third.
“In the NBA, for instance, the first-place team in each conference starts its playoff against the eighth qualified team. That is fair enough; they have an advantage for finishing first, but nobody gives them a win for free. They have to get them for themselves. I could not disagree more with this one-game advantage policy.”
I asked four foreign players on the Giants and Dragons what they think of the one-game automatic win rule.
Yomiuri slugger and CL MVP candidate Alex Ramirez said, “We deserve that advantage. The Dragons played just as many games as we did (during the regular season), and we finished 12 games ahead of them.”
Teammate Marc Kroon, despite playing for the side with the phantom victory, said, “The rule is messed up. Baseball games should always be decided on the field.”
Chunichi first baseman and cleanup hitter Tyrone Woods and utility infielder Tomas De La Rosa also said the one-game edge has no place in baseball or professional sports.
“That rule is bull,” said Woods who claimed his club had enough of a disadvantage having to play as the visitor in the home parks of the Hanshin Tigers in Stage 1 and the Giants in Stage 2 and putting up with the boisterous fans of both those popular teams.
“It is a bad rule,” said De La Rosa, and both made their comments prior to the opening game of the Stage 2 series on Oct. 22. The Dragons won that 4-3 and wiped out the Giants’ one-game advantage with the victory.
I have to agree the one-game advantage should be eliminated, and it seems clear the league officials who installed it are not completely sold on it, either, as they keep flip-flopping every year.
Keep the Climax Series but eliminate the advantage. That is what I think.
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Finally this week, Rob Fitts has come up with the information on a Tokyo book signing with Wally Yonamine.
Rob says, “Please join Wally and me at the Tokyo American Club on Sunday, Nov. 9, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a book reading and signing of my new book, ‘Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball.’ All are welcome. It will be a great chance to meet Wally, ask him questions and talk baseball with a member of the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame.”
For more information and directions, please go to www.WallyYonamine.com.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com