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Michael Westbay

Bayside West Yokohama with Michael Westbay

Pacific Rim League

by Michael Westbay (Aug 2003)

Note: This article was originally written for an essay contest about what one would do as Commissioner of Baseball in Mudville Magazine. The rules didn't explicitly state which commissioner to be, so I took on the role of NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) Commissioner, a role I pretend to have at japanesebaseball.com. The essay took the runner up award.

NPB is facing a crisis. A crisis of stagnation. It's felt mostly in the Pacific League whose stars are either crossing the Pacific to play in Major League Baseball, or moving steadily to the more popular Central League. New stadiums, exciting pennant races, and powerful home run hitters have had positive short term effects, yet 35,000 seat stadiums stand with too many empty seats. Fans want something more, some variety. The time has come for inter-league play.

Now, now. I see the five non-Giant Central League owners starting to object. Fear not, I don't plan on removing you from Emperor Watanabe's[1] care. What I would like to do is give the Pacific League inter-league play, but not with the Central League. I'm proposing that the Pacific League join forces with KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) and CPBL (Chinese Professional Baseball League - Taiwan).

I know, there have been voices raised that if we can't beat 'em (MLB), join 'em. The logistics of becoming an MLB division are just too great. We need something a little closer to home. A flight to either Korea or Taiwan is comparable to taking the Shinkansen[2] from Tokyo to Fukuoka. This is internationalization without the baggage of jet lag.

With six Pacific League teams, eight teams in KBO, and six in CPBL, by playing each team in these other two leagues just four times apiece, two home, two away, that would make half (plus/minus a few depending on league) of a team's games against an opponent they don't see over 20 times a season (currently 28 times for Pacific League teams). For 48 to 56 games, teams will have to rely on adaptability more than thorough knowledge of their opponents. This will bring more excitement to the game, and to the fans.

Central League owners, there is one thing I need your feedback on. What will become of the Nihon Series? Will it be best to decide a Pacific Rim champion and have the winner of that play you? Or keep tradition and combat with the Pacific League alone? What we decide here could act as an example for a Pacific Rim - North American "real" World Series in the future - something I'd rather see than yet another pro-am all star series/tournament.

I expect a number of problems the first year with things from lost equipment to crowd control. Furthermore, there will be a big gap in skill level between some of the teams. Logistics and skills will all improve with the passage of time, so I don't see these as show stoppers.

The time of internationalization of baseball is upon us. It is still impractical to have inter-league play with MLB in North America. But with cooperation between Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, international professional level baseball can be a reality today."

Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.

[1] Tsuneo Watanabe is the current owner of the Yomiuri Giants, "the Yankees of Japan." And he's as outspoken as George Steinbrenner, if not more so. Many people consider Watanabe-owner to be more powerful than the Commissioner himself.

[2] The Shinkansen is the bullet train, which is the chief means of transportation within Japan for the ball clubs.


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