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This Japanese Little League Team is the dominant sporting force of the millennium

August 19, 2019


Last year, I wrote about the ethical implications of being a 36-year-old man who enjoys watching children compete against each other in the Little League World Series and the Spelling Bee. The upshot is that after careful consideration, I completely ignored those implications. This year, I'm not even bothering to pretend—one of my psychopath friends proposed a LLWS pool so we could gamble on the action in Williamsport, I agreed before he could finish the sentence, and now I'm just relishing a very entertaining sports spectacle guilt-free. Screw morals! What I want to talk about this year, instead, is a force so dominant, so unstoppable, that I consider them the foremost juggernaut since our new century turned. I want to talk about Team Japan.

First, a very brief history of Little League: For years and years, starting in 1969, the Taiwanese had a near-monopoly on the World Series. Between '69 and 1996, they won 17 of 28 LLWS titles, with another two finals thrown in for good measure. One year, in 1973, they won without giving up a single hit in any game. Because they they represented the "Far East" region, for most of that span a Japanese team didn't even come to Williamsport. Then, in 1997, Japan caught Taiwan cheating—they were "skirting residency rules" by ensuring that the best players on the entire island made the team that traveled to Williamsport, which many suspected they'd been doing for years. Rather than conform to Little League's bylaws, Taiwan dropped out from 1997 to 2002, and when they returned, they played by the rules and were never as good.

Which opened the door for Japan, which has won eight of the last 22 installments—not quite as gaudy as the original Taiwanese run, but by far the best of any nation in that span except America, which has 10 titles (an American team is guaranteed to be in the final each year). For the last nine years, the international division has been represented in the final by either Japan or Korea (another team that benefitted greatly from the stricter enforcement against Taiwan).

In short, Japan is always good. This year, they're even better than normal. In the course of my research, I discovered that the kids from Chofu, a suburb-city of Tokyo, put up the following scores in the Japanese regional tournament: 12-1, 11-0, 6-0, 8-0. That's a cumulative 47-1 score against the very best teams from the best baseball country outside of America! Before that, they must have beaten the very best Tokyo had to offer. Clearly, this team could hit, but more importantly, they had some studs on the mound.

Then the LLWS started, and in the first game, Japan beat the team from Italy, which was not at all unexpected. What was unexpected was the score: 20-0, in just five innings, with only two hits allowed by three pitchers. They followed that up by beating a very-good-but-still-impossibly-outmatched Mexico team by the score of 5-0, proving that they simply don't allow runs, and that they have a classic Giant Dinger Kid in Yuto Kakeba.

Japan's journey is far from over. They have to beat a very good South Korea team, possibly twice due to the weird format, and then top the best America has to offer (Virginia or Hawaii, probably). But nothing, not even the Golf Digest jinx, changes the fact that this Chofu club might be the best LLWS team we've ever seen. If you can ignore the fact that we're talking about 12-year-olds here, I'd stack them up juggernaut vs. juggernaut against any team, in any sport, that we've seen so far this millennium. That's more than a hot take: That's a RISING SUN take.

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