According to an AP story, Selig and his Japanese counterpart Ryozo Kato are discussing the idea of a World Series champs vs. Japan Series champs series to determine who wins it all. From the article:
MLB commissioner Bud Selig proposed that the Japanese and U.S. champions play each other, the Nikkansports newspaper reported Thursday.
"I was surprised, Mr. Selig said he wants to realize the plan before his tenure ends," Kato told the Nikkansports.
I figured it'd be fun to share my initial thoughts here for community dissection. Given that most of my "advanced" knowledge of baseball (pale though it still does and likely always will in comparison to many of you) was gleaned in large part from this site, I'm curious to see whether or not I was able to accurately regurgitate the wisdom of the masses.
In any event, after the jump is the email I sent to a friend who asked for my reaction. I think it captures most of what I expect to be the most common themes of discussion, should this become reality (and even if it's not going to, I still find it an interesting discussion in hypotheticals).The timing is right because the Japan Series and World Series traditionally are played at the same time (end of October/beginning of November). It also would be a big draw for both sides given the increased interest in Japanese players over the past decade, Japan’s success in the World Baseball Classic, and the heightened number of Japanese heroes playing in MLB.
The biggest challenge in implementing this concept would be the logistical nightmare of organizing a series between the two continents. The time zone gap is 8-11 hours, so jet lag would be a major factor and the traditional 2-3-2 format would likely be very difficult to arrange. It would likely be split in half, and possibly shortened as well, if not done in a there-one-year, back-the-next-year format. There are also challenges that stem from shortening the offseason by another two weeks (or more) for the WS winners, potentially pushing back offseason milestones such as the winter meetings, free agency and arbitration deadlines, rule v draft, etc. You couldn’t hold it in the spring because players change teams and retire, so it wouldn’t be the same team that had just won the WS. Oh, and mid-November weather isn't exactly pleasant in a lot of the cities they would be looking at playing in.
Nevertheless, it’s plausible. The financial incentive is there for both teams and players (teams get extra ticket and broadcast revenue, while players get increased exposure to other markets, boosting the number of potential suitors bidding for their services). Given that it would also help grow baseball as a global sport (even with the WBC it’s rarely thought of in this fashion), there are a lot of strong cases to be made for why it’s a sound business decision that’s good for the health of the sport.
This is all to say nothing about the task of convincing the general baseball-watching public. The biggest complaint I have on a personal level is that it won’t tell us anything. Baseball is not, nor will it ever be, a sport that lends itself to short playoff series as a true representation of talent. When the difference between the best players in baseball and guys who may not have a job next month is one hit in ten at bats (.330 to .230), the sample size of a 5-7 game series simply isn’t statistically significant to show who the better team really is. In a seven game series, the Washington Nationals could beat the New York Yankees. Probably at least 15% of the time.
That’s the fun of why they play the games, but to stick any kind of substantial bragging rights (or more) on the outcome of one series is like betting on craps. The odds are best that a 7 will roll, but it still only amounts to something like less than 20% of all potential outcomes. When most fans, and even average sportswriters and radio talk show hosts, don’t quite grasp this – either by willful ignorance out of respect for the romance of the game, or simply because it’s over their head – there will be substantially more stock put into the importance of the outcome than such a victory would deserve.
The fun would be in watching the teams play. NPB and MLB are different styles of play. Not just on the level of NL vs. AL and interleague play, either. I have a lot of respect for NPB, and would enjoy seeing it gain relevance within traditional MLB markets. I also think there are a lot of victories to be won in expanding the reach of baseball internationally – opening up new talent pools and increasing the level of play around the world. As long as that’s the expectation everyone walks away with from the beginning.