Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Baseball has always been a game of tradition and “unwritten rules,” and in Japan, they are followed very closely. If you decided not to follow these traditions and "unwritten rules" you run the risk of being seen as disrespectful or an embarrassment to the game, just ask Jack Elliot from the film Mr. Baseball. Many people are frustrated with Shinnosuke Shigenobu for breaking one of Japan’s largest unwritten rules, not striking out on purpose. Allow me to explain.
Just last week, Kyuji Fujikawa, of the Yomiuri Giants was in the midst of his final appearance of his career. In Japan, there is a strong tradition of pitchers being allowed to strike out the last hitter of their career. This means that the hitter actually steps up to the plate with a goal of striking out; this is considered a form of respect for everything the pitcher was able to do throughout his career. Fujikawa was able to navigate through the first two-thirds of his inning with ease, striking out both hitters. Finally, the last player that Kyuji Fujikawa would face, stepped up to the plate. Shigenobu took the first pitch but, then, proceeded to hit a fly ball into right field that was caught and led to the end of the inning (you can see the whole play here). Of course, considering the Japanese tradition, Shigenobu was sure to receive criticism. The announcers actually thought it was an accident to hit the ball. Legendary commentator, Masayuki Kakefu exclaimed, “Oh, he was so close too, I guess Shigenobu didn’t know.” This quote wonderfully spotlights the culture in Japan and the respect they have for each other.
There was an outcry over social media the night of 10 November when this all took place, but the truth is that we will never know if this was truly an accident or someone just trying to do their job regardless of the Japanese customs. Many people called Shigenobu out for being disrespectful to the game, pitcher, and Japanese culture. However, there is an abundance of people sticking up for the hitter saying that it's a game and you should play it 100% until the time you walk off the field. My guess would be that most of these people are Americans familiar with the beloved MLB.
I encourage you to take a dive into Japanese baseball and learn about the different traditions that they have compared to the United States; it's an interesting investigation to be sure. However, it seems as if the concept of the "unwritten rule" is inescapable no matter in what country you are playing baseball. Whether it is bunting to end a perfect game, stealing when leading by a wide margin, or not purposely striking out, you can be confident in one thing, there are sure to be unwritten rules.
This piece was written by Cade Carlson, a common contributor for Globally Ballin with an emphasis on international baseball.