Jim Allen is the chief baseball writer for The Daily Yomiuri, which has published his column, the Hot Corner, since February 1999. He also contributes articles on Asian baseball to ESPN.com. Jim is the author of "Ichiro Magic" and four analytical guides to Japanese baseball in the mid-1990s. Articles of his have been published in Shukan Bunshun and Nikkan Sports. Jim has been studying Japanese baseball since arriving in Japan as an English teacher in 1984, and began writing about it in 1993.
Born and raised in Redwood City, CA, Jim was the youngest of three brothers raised by a single mother. He started playing ball around the age of 7. The first time someone threw him a baseball, he realized too late that the glove in his hand had a purpose. Instead of catching the ball, the ball caught him, square in the forehead.
While studying history and Japanese at the University of California Santa Cruz, he discovered Bill James' baseball abstracts. James' blend of humor, common sense, and rational way of cutting through the game's conventional bullshit was an inspiration.
Upon graduating, a lack of jobs for history majors and a long desire to live in a foreign country brought Jim to Japan to teach English. Working in Toyama Prefecture, where he was unable to follow the San Francisco Giants' fortunes in English, Jim turned to the Japanese-language sports papers.
While these provided a meager amount of information about the day's MLB results, they provided a flood of information on Japanese ball. The graphic score sheets of every day's game -- and high school games for the two big national tournaments -- were delivered to the door every morning.
The information windfall enabled a slew of small studies on how games worked: Do outfielders have better range on turf than on grass? (In 1991, the Hanshin Tigers' older outfielders were better on grass, the young, faster ones better on carpet.) How do high pitch counts affect subsequent starts? (They don't.) What happens when the bunt-mad Seibu Lions sacrificed at the top of the order? (The Lions got vastly more big innings than one would expect because defenses overreacted to the threat of a single run and the Lions' big hitters drove more balls over the heads of outfielders playing too shallow.)
Collecting the annual record books for a few years and clipping the score sheets from the Nikkan Sports helped provide some answers and generate more questions.
Asking students and friends about different players and teams brought another flood of anecdotes about ordinary fans' thoughts of the game and the players. Who was overrated, who cheated, who was a mercenary. One student in Hamamatsu had been at dental school in Tokyo when the Swallows won the Japan Series and infected Jim with an interest in this peculiar club, their iconic cheer leader Mr. Okada.
In 1991, Jim began working as the English teacher for Pepsi Cola Japan, where a number of former Yakult people would cut out of work as early as possible to head to Jingu -- especially for the sold-out games against the Giants. With a rapidly growing pile of anecdotal and objective evidence, he became the office's pro baseball know it all. Further inspired by the work of Robert Whiting, Jim began thinking about an analytical, Bill James-style look at Japanese ball.
In 1992, a coworker asked who the best second baseman in the Pacific League was. Although he didn't have a clue, the question sparked a research study and the realization that there were lots of questions regarding the Japanese game that nobody in the Japanese media was talking about. How do the parks shape the game? What are the effects of the monumental pitch counts routinely rung up by Japan's starting pitchers. Do Japanese players really run out of steam at the end of the season?
This was the genesis of "Jim Allen's Guide to Japanese Baseball," first published in as "The Baseball Japan Guide" in 1994. From collecting daily data from each game and starting pitcher and pouring through record books to past players and managers as well as the way in which each team's home park shaped its batting and pitching stats, the Guide was born.
Copies of the first book were mailed to the English Language sports editors and baseball columnists in Tokyo. Only columnist Marty Kuenhert and Gene Saltzgaver, the sports editor of the Asahi Evening News bothered to write. Saltzgaver offered to proofread subsequent editions. One small ad in his paper got a few responses and a request for more information from Pacific Stars and Stripes sports writer Harry Thompson, who published a review that drew more requests for the book, including one from then Pacific League official Hiroshi Yoshimura.
Yoshimura, who was also familiar with Bill James' work, was more than encouraging. He helped get articles published and introduced other people in Japanese baseball who could be of use. Rather than lash out at the Guides' frequent criticisms of the game, various league officials became allies in the search for objective knowledge about their game.
In 1995, Ira Stevens, became a partner and the Guides became slicker. Jim Allen and Ira Stevens also collaborated on writing pre-season baseball information for The Japan Times. And through Ira Stevens, Jim began an association with Robert Whiting, which in turn led to other writing jobs.
In 1998, Jim's English teaching career took a right turn when he was "restructured" in the wake of Suntory Foods' acquisition of Pepsi. Within a year, Jim was working as a page editor on The Daily Yomiuri sports desk, which eventually would leed to his own baseball column, The Hot Corner, in 1999.