In Japan, baseball fans may soon get a way to tell a struggling pitcher to hit the showers that is far more effective than yelling at the TV.
Devotees of the Fukuoka Hawks could soon decide whether to dump a pitcher through an online voting system that would display results on a stadium’s center screen.
And the Rakuten Golden Eagles ” which debut this year as the first new team to join Japan’s pro leagues since 1954 ” may allow viewers to watch players off-field in the dugout, the bullpen, or the locker room, simply through a click of the mouse as part of plans to Webcast games live.
Such gimmicks may appear to be a minor diversion from the serious business of pro ball. But these attempts to make the game more appealing are bold bids by a new class of team owners to reverse a sharp decline in Japan’s national pastime.
The idea of online voting to replace pitchers comes from Masayoshi Son, the president of Softbank, which bought the Hawks in December. He made waves in baseball circles recently by saying that while coaches ought to get the final say in selecting which players to use, they should also consider the fans’ wishes, which could be conveyed by online polls shown on computers in dugouts.
Whether such a system will be introduced remains uncertain, but the suggestion has created a buzz in the conservative world of Japanese baseball. Shinya Sasaki, a TV baseball commentator and former pro player, scoffs at the plan. “That idea is nonsense,” he says.
But he doesn’t deny that Japanese baseball has slipped from the lofty mantle it occupied when he was on the field in the 1950s. “Young people are leaving baseball because the actual games played at stadiums have lost excitement,” he says. “The tempo of games somehow needs to be sped up.”
Indeed, some fans point out that online voting would only slow things down more. Diehard fan Yoko Tsuji says the idea is a weak marketing ploy that wouldn’t make the game more interesting.
“In the end, coaches wouldn’t listen to what the fans want anyway,” she says.
I’m praying that no one at Fox gets wind of this. If the public is already has the right to overule Simon Cowell, surely there’s nothing sacrosanct about Dusty Baker’s opinions.