Changing the rules to make it easier for a thrilling extra-inning game to reach a conclusion: Is this a trend of the times?
The Japan High School Baseball Federation has decided to introduce a tiebreaking system for extra-inning games, starting with next spring’s annual National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament. The system is also likely to be adopted in the National High School Baseball Championship, another annual tournament held in the summer.
The tiebreaking system is a special rule requiring extra-inning offensive play to be started in a situation where a run can be scored easily. If a game is tied at the start of the 13th inning, according to a proposal under consideration, the first player will come to bat with runners already on first and second base. After three outs, the opposing team would be given the same advantage.
The federation, known as Nihon Koyaren, cites the need to “protect the physical condition of high school students, who are still growing,” as the primary reason for the introduction of the system.
In this spring’s invitational tournament, six games continued into extra innings, and two ended in the 15th inning with the score still tied, followed by rematches. One pitcher made more than 300 throws in two games, including the rematch.
Pitchers will be even more exhausted in games fought in the summer high school baseball championship, as that tournament is held in the intense heat. The tiebreaking system will be effective, to a certain extent, in preventing injuries to pitchers.
The system is already used in various tournaments, including the Intercity Baseball Tournament, a championship for company-sponsored nonprofessional teams of working adults. It is also used in the Japan National Collegiate Baseball Championship, the World Baseball Classic and the U-18 Baseball World Cup. There is said to be a growing need for high school baseball players and their coaches to become accustomed to the system in preparation for international competitions.
During the past 10 years, however, only 10 games have lasted into the 13th inning or beyond in the spring and summer high school baseball championships, both of which are held in Koshien Stadium. Extra-inning games cannot necessarily be described as the primary cause of the excessive burden on high school baseball players.
The system likely would be more convenient to sponsors of the championships, such as Koyaren, which attach importance to steady progress through the schedule of games.
Extra-inning games and rematches following ties in Koshien Stadium have produced many historic dramas.
They include the game between Matsuyama Commercial High School and Misawa High School in the summer of 1969, which ended scoreless in the 18th inning, resulting in a rematch. This story is still told today.
Another unforgettable game was between Yokohama High School and PL Gakuen in the summer of 1998, in which Daisuke Matsuzaka of Yokohama, who went on to play professionally in the U.S., fought it out until the 17th inning with 250 throws.
Many baseball fans may feel a tinge of sadness about the adoption of the tiebreak system, which arranges for games to be concluded with ease.
Some teenage players want to fight out a game until the winner is decided purely through the score in the grand Koshien setting.
Needless to say, it is important to take measures to prevent high school baseball players from suffering harm.
To prevent pitchers from playing in consecutive games, it is crucial to set up unhurried game schedules by giving participating teams more days to rest, for example. Inventive efforts need to be made in this respect, such as reducing the number of training days at Koshien Stadium prior to the opening of the national tournaments.
To enable high school players to compete in ideal condition, we hope Nihon Koyaren will continue to discuss necessary measures from various points of view, not just introducing the tiebreak system.