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THE HOT CORNER: Postseason deserves better

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THE HOT CORNER: Postseason deserves better

by Jim Allen (Aug 19, 2010)

As we enter the regular season's final weeks with both league titles completely up for grabs, excitement is building. With nine teams in the running for six playoff spots, the final seedings for the Climax Series may not be known until the season's final out.

The last Central League game on the calendar is scheduled for Sept. 23, with the Pacific League ostensibly ending on the 26th. Then what?

That's what the Saitama Seibu Lions' Jose Fernandez asked Tuesday.

The answer is, nothing.

The furious final days of the regular season, with interest and anticipation at a peak, will be followed by silence. The PL's playoffs won't begin until Oct. 9, with the CL's Climax Series starting a week later.

What does that mean for the teams?

"If we win [the PL], we're going to Miyazaki to practice for three weeks," Fernandez told The Hot Corner. "But that's not the same as playing games. After I have two days off, I need to play. It's hard to stay sharp. How come they don't understand that?"

Hopefully, no one in baseball thinks practice is a substitute for game time. The blank days on the schedule are there to allow teams to make up rainouts.

Major League Baseball has mastered this problem, because there is a commitment to doing so. MLB's playoffs start immediately after the regular season and its misnamed championship series begins soon after. No time wasted.

If MLB drags its feet, its premier event loses fans to its chief autumn rival, American football.

Nippon Professional Baseball's owners seem in no hurry to complete the regular season, since it never ends on schedule.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

In the majors, every regular-season off day is a potential makeup for a rainout. When open days aren't available, teams play doubleheaders. Big league clubs can be flexible because they fly between 24-hour airports on charter flights, they are obliged to have their stadiums available for makeups and their players' union hasn't vetoed doubleheaders the way NPB's players have.

Japan's transportation system is hyper-efficient, but making last-minute hotel and train reservations for a group of 60-plus people is a monumental task. Parks, too, are not always available on the spur of the moment. But saying it cannot be done is nonsense.

"In Japan, 'impossible' often simply means no one has tried to do something before," Hawks chairman Sadaharu Oh once told The Hot Corner when asked about Japan's annual scheduling failures.

Double headers are doable, but that would require NPB's leaders to seek help from the players' union. This is something owners have been unwilling to do in the past. It would be expensive, but teams could be required to make their stadiums available when they renew their leases and prepare travel arrangements for make up games on the spur of the moment.

What is lacking is a joint commitment by Japan's 12 owners.

Because each owner is focused on the best interests of his team, the action needed to make Japan's postseason a much bigger event is very hard to muster.

Teams spend seven months building up their brands in camp, on the field of play and in the daily sports news. Once that buildup is complete with the end of the pennant races, teams should go smack into the playoffs.

In the interest of creating a better product, Japan's owners should consider creating an advance media sales arm, as MLB has. NPB could then auction the playoffs and Japan Series' advance rights to a single broadcaster. That network would have a huge interest in building up the events' brands--to NPB's long-term benefit.

Because teams approve broadcasters for their own postseason home games, this can't happen now.

The playoffs are an imbalanced mess with the PL's finishing 11 days before the Japan Series. By the time the Series does start on Oct. 30, memories of September's excitement have begun to fade and fans get postseason potluck on TV: a different broadcaster each night plugging its own product and analysts.

The Japan Series is a huge competition. Wouldn't it be great if NPB could somehow find the will to market it as such?

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