Looking Back A Year After MLB's Ill-Conceived Series In Japan
Not Even Ichiro Suzuki Could Make The Japan Series Meaningful
Just think, by this date last year the Major League Baseball regular season already had two games in the books. Neither one had taken place anywhere near North American soil, since the series took place in the Tokyo Dome.
As is the case with most opening series, the games actually gave very little foresight into the 2019 season. Seattle, which would wind up in last place, swept the series from playoff bound Oakland.
One detail did serve as some sort of omen, regarding the Oakland starter. Seattle hitters treated right hander Mike Fiers very rudely, as exemplified by outfielder Domingo Santana's grand slam in the third inning.
Fiers soon thereafter parted with an earned run average of over 20.00 and, although he would go on to record a decent season, he set off a scandal that would taint baseball as well as to leading to several managers to get fired. It was Fiers of course who blew the whistle about the technological cheating of the Astros, the team he had pitched for in 2017.
Since the primary purpose of scheduling the series in Japan was to increase awareness of the sport on an international level, the series in the Tokyo Dome should be considered a failure. Baseball officials were so worried about the crowd response and ticket sales, that they amended traditional rules to let retired Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki to start for the Mariners.
As most players fresh out of retirement would do, Suzuki fizzled. He went hitless and looked to have little of the talent that had made him a future Hall of Famer, in spite of the ovations he received from the crowd.
Whether Suzuki had somehow gotten a triple or two, the series would still have done little to promote the sport on an international level. To put it simply, baseball is already hugely popular in Japan, so giving them one series in March was pointless.
We saw the same wasted effort put forth in May, when the Reds and Cardinals played a series in Mexico. The attendance for the Friday night game was in the range of thirty thousand, a disappointment when one considers that Cincinnati draws more than that when St. Louis visits Great American Ball Park on a Friday night.
Again, baseball cannot grow internationally by playing games in Mexico, where it is already immensely popular. A better idea was to take place a month later, when the sport was taken to Europe for the first time.
Yet not even matching up the most heated rivalry in history, the Red Sox versus the Yankees, could spark much interest in the the series in London. It did not help that Boston was in the midst of a disappointing season, nor that the time difference elicited apathy in baseball fans at home.
Speaking of that, perhaps baseball officials need to address the waning popularity of the sport at home, instead of spending millions of dollars to try to get other cultures to embrace it.