The Japanese title of this book is 眠れないほど面白い野球の見方 – How to watch baseball, so interesting you won’t be able to sleep. I bought it thinking that it would give some insights into what to watch while a baseball game is going on. Things outside of the usual pitching, hitting, base running. You know, maybe catcher’s eyes, defensive shifts, coaches’ signals, and so on. I thought it would be a strategy book of sorts.
What it turned out to be was a collection of interesting anecdotes, players, games, and trivia that the author picked up during his 30 years of broadcasting. Atsuo Kusu, who still works some Hanshin games, talks about life in the broadcasting booth, life in the dugout, and players’ lives off the field in a book that literally took me a few hours to power through.
Not that a short read is a bad read. As the regular season approaches, it is nice to look at something other than rosters, exhibition play, and frivolous headlines that really do not make for exciting news. (You’ll notice there have not been many updates on the website this month, and that is mostly because most of the speculation in the Japanese media is not worth translating, analyzing and reporting.)
Among this book’s highlights were:
- Mr. Kusu talking about the types of broadcasters there are, and the types of comments that make a commentator good (or bad). Just talking about the action will lead to a pretty dull game. Remembering what the player has done in previous at bats, how he has been hitting lately, what types of pitches he has seen earlier in the game and how he did on them… it’s a lot of hard work putting together a useful play-by-play.
- Some of the memorable lines that Yutaka Fukumoto (Sun-TV announcer) said on the air during broadcasts. The zeroes on the scoreboard during an extra innings game “looked like a bunch of takoyaki” he remarked. Then when a run went up, he said “a toothpick for the takoyaki.” In another long, drawn-out game, he commented on how “people west of Kakogawa won’t make the last train home.” Yet another time when asked what he thought of the last play, he said “I didn’t see it.” The list continues on, but is good for a few laughs.
- The occasional interesting on-field anecdote. One time a runner on first base was being heckled by a fan to put his batting gloves in his pocket instead of holding them in his hand. The stubborn runner kept them in his hands. A second jeer to put away his gloves was also ignored. But obviously the runner’s concentration was broken, because he got picked off. As he was walking back to the dugout, the same fan said, “See what happens when you don’t listen to me?”
Just the same, other than the saving grace that many of the anecdotes included Hanshin Tigers players and games, this book does not make the cut when it comes to must-read Japanese baseball literature. Got a long bullet train ride to kill? By all means, pick this one up. Want to learn more about the subtleties of the greatest sport on earth (other than hockey)? This won’t meet your needs. Pass ball.