Babe Ruth (1895-1948) is said to be the slugger who awakened U.S. baseball fans to the excitement of home runs. With a lifetime record of 714 homers, he fascinated fans with his exceptional ability to churn out big hits.
Ryuzo Uchida’s “Besuboru no Yume” (A baseball dream), published by Iwanami Shoten, says Ruth’s emergence turned home runs from being an unwonted product of chance to an essential part of the game.
Fans were intoxicated by “the magical return to home plate that instantly reduced every conceivable obstacle and resistance to nothing,” to quote a passage from the book. Inspired by Ruth’s outstanding play, other players also competed for big hits. As a result, baseball in the United States became a popular and thrilling sport, according to Uchida. That was around the early part of Showa Era (1926-1989) in Japan.
The home runs that make baseball games exciting are drastically decreasing in Japanese professional baseball. Observers say the situation is due to the use of “balls that do not fly,” the so-called unified balls that were introduced last year. Since the start of this year’s season, the average number of home runs per game is 0.8. That poor hitting has prompted some people to describe the current situation as “deflation baseball.”
Dynamic baseball often turns into prosaic play, and fans’ reactions to the current situation have been mixed. There is a very fine line between a game with poor batting and a pitching duel, but a world of difference for the spectator. One is boring, and while the other is filled with tension. The crack of bats in an exciting batting duel and a slugfest feasting on poor pitching are also two completely different things, although they may seem similar.
Either way, it would be foolish to simply change balls again. Even if batting scores went up, the credit would go to the balls and not the batters. I urge the players to overcome the current situation with technique and power like true professionals.
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), a baseball aficionado, is supposed to have described games with a score of 8 to 7 as the most exciting. Personally, I think games with a score of 6 to 5 or so are more tense and interesting. I wonder what others think.
Interleague games between the Central and Pacific leagues started on May 16. Instead of putting the blame for poor performance on the ball, I want players to do their best to hit and send it through May’s balmy breezes.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 17
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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