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CNN on Pro Yakyu

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CNN on Pro Yakyu
CNN Money's Chris Isidore-san called up Jim Allen, Dan Latham, and I this past week to ask us about what we thought the impact of the influx of Japanese players to the Majors would have. The article is curently running here, bu will be archived here (look for the title: The latest Japanese import).

As most of you know, I don't really subscribe to the "doom and gloom" predictions that Japanese baseball is going to drop in quality with the loss of its superstars to the Majors (which is probably why I wasn't quoted in the main body of his article ). As I told Isidore-san, I'm happy for the players that go and wish them well. But my main focus is still on the local game here in Japan. Do I, as a Yokohama fan, miss Sasaki? Yes. No matter how effective Saitoh is as a closer, I just don't get that same "the game is over" feeling when he comes in as I did with the Daimajin. But that doesn't make me turn the TV off when Yokohama is playing.

However, I seem to be in the minority. Given, the number of Orix fans who switched focus to MLB with Ichiro can't be completely ignored. But what I have a hard time believing is:

1. TV ratings for Pro Yakyu are down due to MLB popularity.

2. The flood gates will open and all of Pro Yakyu's tallent will head across the Pacific.

As for TV ratings, Latham-san, in his interview, worded it well, stating that "prime time ratings for Yomiuri Giants games fell to their lowest numbers in several years" (emphisis added). Those are the only numbers I've heard about. However, people in Japan now have more of a choice when deciding what game to watch on TV. I generally start at TVK for BayStars' games, then check J-Sky Sports 1&2 to see who's playing. With cable, I get TV from Chiba, Saitama, and the Kansai area as well, all with baseball on them. I'm no longer forced to watch Giants' games, but can and do watch games of many other teams. Am I the only one turning away from NTV yet still watching Pro Yakyu? I don't think so.

Also, while MLB popularity may be rising, there are other social factors to consider. Today's youth has switched focus away from TV and to the screen of their pocket phones. Jon Katz, in a review of the Robert Putnam book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community brings up many socialogical aspects of life in the 21st century that also apply to baseball attendance. Over the past 10 years working for the same company I've seen a great many social changes that run parallel to Katz' and Putnam-san's arguements. When I first entered, my peer group did a lot of things together after work - bowling and going to baseball games being a couple of them. Now, though, everyone has families to go home to and we don't really meet much after hours any more. Married vs. single lifestyles aside, I don't see the younger generation doing that so much now. I remember the shortage of people going to beer gardens during the summer several years ago being blamed on the weather, but thinking that less people wanted to go out drinking after work was more likely the reason. Bowling and baseball also seem to be suffering from this social change.

As for the flood gate opening, I don't see that, either. That's what my comment on "being comfortable" in Japan was referring to - that some ball players will take the "high risk, high return" (to quote Nagashima-kantoku's use of Maru-chan in left) road to the Majors, most will be guaranteed a comfortable life with super-star status by staying in Japan.

Furthermore, there are players like Rhodes and Cabrera who had become disenchanted with the way things work in the Majors/Minors and feel that they have a higher status here. Also, while the Minors are filled with hundreds of players from South America and around the world, all struggling for a few spots on the top teams. This is where I think that Isidore-san hit the nail on the head:

While stars get less than they would from U.S. teams, Japanese teams traditionally have paid their lesser players more than they would see in lower levels of U.S. franchises.

A high school or college student can become instantly weathy and has a very good chance at stardom withing a few short years by signing with a Japanese team as opposed to joining trying their luck with the Minor League System. The down side, looking at it from a player's perspective, is that one is tied to the team for 9-10 years with little chance of being allowed to pursue one's dreams of the Majors until perhaps a year before becoming a free agent (8-9 years). To get around that, some day a kid is going to make part of his signing an agreement that he may be guaranteed to be posted at his request after 5 years - even if those 5 years are spent at 2-gun. He may have to give up some of his signing bonus for such a clause (which seems fair to me).

There was one thing about Isidore-san's article that made him one of the first main-stream U.S. writers to deserve my respect: the editor had cut a phrase down to calling Ichiro the "first player to [...] via the posting system," yet, after I pointed out that he was the first Japanese player to be posted, Isidore-san fixed that mistake very quickly. Other writers have seemed to take a "who are you to tell me I made a mistake?" attitude. Thank you , Isidore-san, for not being like that.

Comments
Re: CNN on Pro Yakyu
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Jan 25, 2002 1:57 PM ]

This was a good article. By which I mean that, unlike most others, it was refreshingly free of glaring errors and misinformation. I may disagree, like Westbay-san, with Isidore-san's premise, but I must salute his thoroughness and dedication to accuracy.

Here's my problem. In making the argument that the Japanese leagues are in trouble, much is made of the fall in TV ratings. But this argument is horribly flawed. No one ever talks about regular season ratings with regards to MLB. Post-season ratings, yes, but regular season? No. Why? I'm not sure, truthfully. I suspect it has to do with the fact that every team has a different kind of television contract. But trying to analyze the stat of pro yakyu via TV ratings is ludicrous. First of all, only the Giants have a network contract, and while some teams may get games shown locally (usually Giants games), not all teams do this. The drop in the Giants' ratings is always made much of, but no one mentions that the Giants went from a year where they won the championship after a four year drought to a year where they finished an ugly second place. Satellite and cable channels aren't even considered! How many Japanese people are watching baseball through alternative means like SkyPerfect or even NHK-BS? They talk about how Mariners games were broadcast in Japan, but they fail to mention that MLB games have been regularly broadcast in Japan since Nomo went over over. And even if you do account for Mariners' games affecting Pro Yakyu ratings, you have to account for the Mariners' season. They had a historic season, and Ichiro had a historic year while being the first Japanese position player. Of course interest in MLB was going to spike upwards, but will it sustain? I don't think so. At least not enough to kill MLB.

It seems to me like everyone misinterprets Japanese interest in MLB. It's like when everyone assumed that the Japanese were voting for Mariners 3B David Bell for the All-Star Game, simply because Mariners games were televised on satellite in Japan. But the Japanese aren't watching the MLB, or even the Mariners. They're watching their native sons. How many times did the Mariners make the front page of the sports dailies? None. It was always Ichiro. If the Mariners won but Ichiro went 1-4 with no runs or RBI, then it was regulated to Page 3.

Westbay-san made a good point in the article. The majority of Japanese prospects are going to sign with Japanese teams because they'll get better pay than they would coming up in the minors. Once a player signs with a Japanese team, he'll be with a team for at least 8 years before he'd be posted, and 9 years before he'd get free agency. So they'll always be an influx of stars like the Matsuis and Nori and Matsuzaka to keep pro yakyu interesting. And if they leave and go to MLB, Japan will root for them while enjoying the new stars that come up. In the meantime, I suspect NPB will make some changes, and the drain to MLB won't be as bad as many think. I think that many star players will stay in Japan, and what you'll see is a lot of average players like Taguchi and Shinjo go over.
Re: CNN on Pro Yakyu
[ Author: Guest | Posted: Jan 26, 2002 5:48 PM ]

I have to agree with Mr. Westbaystars and Mr. CFiJ about the supposed "demise" of Japanese baseball. It'll always be fun to watch because new stars always replace departed stars. That happens in every sport and in every walk of life. However, I must say that Japanese baseball is real lucky that there it has no major competition to it's dominance. Sumo's ratings and attendace are down, the J-League is in trouble, and no one cares about other sports like basketball and American football.

The Major Leagues are just a sideshow for die-hard Japanese fans. Hard-core Hanshin fans won't stop rooting for the Tigers just because a player like Shinjo goes to America. I can guarantee you one thing: If Ichiro and the other 11 Japanese players ever left MLB all at once, no one in Japan would watch MLB. Japanese fans are pretty darn fickle. A case in point-the NFL lost almost all their Japanse fans when Joe Montana retired. In Japan, Montana WAS the NFL just like Ichiro and the others ARE Major League Baseball in the eyes of the fans here in Japan.

Although Japanese baseball will remain strong in the long run, the people in charge must figure out a way to make the playing field even. The draft system is a joke and so is the free agent system. Right now the system is just allowing the Giants to get stronger and stronger. There has got to be some reform in the way things are done so that the small-market teams have a decent chance of competing.

I think that MLB is in serious trouble. They are losing fans by the minute. Japanese baseball cannot allow itself to follow in the footsteps of MLB. A level playing field has helped the NFL and, for the most part, the NBA to keep their fans while gaining new fans.
Re: CNN on Pro Yakyu
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Jan 27, 2002 6:04 AM ]

> Although Japanese baseball will remain strong in the
> long run, the people in charge must figure out a way
> to make the playing field even. The draft system is
> a joke and so is the free agent system. Right now
> the system is just allowing the Giants to get
> stronger and stronger. There has got to be some
> reform in the way things are done so that the
> small-market teams have a decent chance of
> competing.
>
> I think that MLB is in serious trouble. They are
> losing fans by the minute. Japanese baseball cannot
> allow itself to follow in the footsteps of MLB. A
> level playing field has helped the NFL and, for the
> most part, the NBA to keep their fans while gaining
> new fans.

In terms of revenue and competitive balance, I'd have to say that pro yakyu is even worse condition than MLB. In MLB you have large-market teams and small-market teams, but in Japan you have the Giants...and then everyone else. No other team in Japan can even come close to competing with the Giants in a bidding war. And frankly, although I like and respect Nagashima-san, if the Giants had been managed these past few years by someone like Tom Kelly, no one would have beat them. It'd have been V9 all over again.

The problem is, it's a problem not so easily fixed in Japan. If MLB teams are in as bad a financial shape as they say they are (and I don't believe them), then revenue sharing will help strengthen MLB as a whole. But Yomiuri is never going to agree to revenue sharing in Japan because he knows that those corporations that own baseball teams are just going to take that money and stick it in profits. The draft needs to be fixed, but more importantly, somehow national coverage of teams needs to be evened out. Right now it's a self-perpetuating cycle: the Giants are popular, so press coverage focuses on the Giants, so more kids grow up watching the Giants, so the Giants are popular, etc, etc. Free agents and draft picks end up going to the Giants because they want to play there, rather than because they can get the best deal. Not even the Yankees have it this good.
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This is a site about Pro Yakyu (Japanese Baseball), not about who the next player to go over to MLB is. It's a community of Pro Yakyu fans who have come together to share their knowledge and opinions with the world. It's a place to follow teams and individuals playing baseball in Japan (and Asia), and to learn about Japanese (and Asian) culture through baseball.

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(aka westbaystars)
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