MLB in Japan
Posted by simon c on 2008 June 2日 Monday
This is not news, since the ESPN Jim Caple story was posted a few days ago (following his great piece on Yu Darvish), EWC covered it, and Michael Westbay of Japanese Baseball had a conversation about it a few weeks ago with Jim Allen and Robert Whiting, both extremely knowledgeable veterans covering Japanese baseball (would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall there).
All the ideas that are bandied about are still pure speculation, but it’s interesting that the ideas of MLB putting team(s) in Japan or MLB absorbing NPB have gained more traction with the coming of the new NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato who is a former diplomat to the US, and absolutely loves MLB. The thought of him being a great improvement over bumbling Negoro was my initial reaction, but Kato’s US ties does bring up interesting MLB possibilities.
Caple’s comparisons with the Dodgers and Giants moving to the west coast is interesting. Having Yomiuri (who, let by grumpy old former “owner” Watanabe, threaten to leave NPB to form their own league from time to time) and Hanshin (the 2 reliably profitable NPB teams with some financial clout), and maybe 1-2 teams from Korea and Taiwan who are similarly financially stable form the “Asia Division” of MLB might be an interesting and possibly feasible idea that hasn’t been mentioned yet. Yomiuri Newspaper did sponsor the MLB season opener which clashed with the Pacific League season which had already opened, so there’s another jab.
Then again, neither the owners or players in the States will ever let something like this happen. Jet travel has become more accessible than back when the teams relocated to SF and LA, but it hasn’t shrunken travel time across the Pacific enough to seriously merit this idea… until a new generation of supersonic airliners are developed :P Even then, the time difference and jet lag will be balked at, as TV money is key in the States, and major leaguers are more delicate than normal human beings who regularly cross the Pacific and go to work the next day.
Another pie in the sky scenario that I’ve always envisioned is the Asian Baseball League. We can include all existing NPB, KBO, and CPBL teams here, that’ll be 12, 8, and 6 for a total of 26 teams. Not bad. The problem here is that NPB (and KBO and CPBL) depend on gate receipts, and the country is small enough that teams usually count on visiting fans to boost attendance (especially in the more geographically compact Central League). Then again, up in Hokkaido and down in Fukuoka, the Fighters and Hawks seem to do pretty well drawing fans despite their geographic isolation from the Japanese mainland of Honshu, but overall the economic situation of NPB teams are much unhealthier than their MLB counterparts where they work together to promote MLB as a whole instead of NPB where the owners bicker with each other and only look after their own team’s interests, but NPB teams tend to be advertising arms of corporations so being in red ink isn’t seen as being too much of a big deal (though obviously it would be better to be a profitable entity on its own, like the Giants and Tigers).
Incidentally, I thought the more progressive Pacific League forming an Asian League with KBO and CPBL while leaving the staunch Central League in the dust would’ve been interesting, this popped up a few years ago before CL relented to interleague play. But this still faces the same attendance problem. Asia League Ice Hockey (4 teams in Japan, 2 in Korea, 1 in China) games have much lower attendance figures for international matches than domestic matches, again because of fans of the visiting teams tend not to travel overseas (even though it’s now affordable in this region). And another thought that crossed my mind was that if Yomiuri and Hanshin tried to join MLB on their own, that move sort of mirrors the Rangers and Celtic trying to join the English Premiership from their Scottish Premier League, leaving aside obvious geographical differences, this is the big fish in small pond thing, at least financially.
Now I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop here. Nothing will change in the short term, but the increased mainstream media attention and the new NPB commissioner does bring an interesting twist to this MLB in Japan story that reanimates itself every now and then. But for Asian baseball development, an expanded Konami Cup/Asia Series or some interlocking scheduling between NPB, KBO, and CPBL would be more beneficial than MLB rolling in as an 800 pound gorilla.