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Small: MLB won't be black ships

by Jim Allen (Dec 17, 2010)

Although success of Japan's baseball business is an important concern for America's own pro establishment, Major League Baseball has no intention of swooping in and taking over.

Jim Small, MLB's vice president for Asia, said the major leagues have no intention of forcing their way into Nippon Professional Baseball's market the way U.S. Commodore Perry did with his squadron of "black ships."

"The key for us is that we would not want to do anything that's going to injure Japanese baseball or [South] Korean baseball or Taiwanese baseball," Small said Thursday.

He was speaking on the status of the game on both sides of the Pacific along with big league slugger Prince Fielder and Japan's first major leaguer, Masanori Murakami.

"We're not going to be the black ships and we've been asked to be the black ships. I've had presidents of not one, but two NPB teams come and say, 'You guys have to be the black ships. You have to come in and force this change.'

"We don't think, at the end of the day, that's a good thing to do. We don't think it's going to be beneficial for Japanese baseball today or Major League Baseball to come and say, 'We're going to change the way that baseball is marketed here.'"

He said that while MLB is not aggressively pursuing the creation of its own teams in Asia, talks about realizing a clash between the champs of MLB and NPB were slowly moving forward.

"We've had three meetings with NPB to go through the idea of a real world series," Small said. "When you look at all the details, it's a difficult thing to see happening."

He said the biggest obstacle toward something approaching a true world series is when to play it, as the U.S. media market is saturated with rival sports when the champions have been decided in November.

The bottom line, Small said, is growing the baseball business.

"We care about Japanese baseball being strong, because we want to grow the pie," Small said. "We need to have a strong NPB because it keeps people focused on baseball."

Murakami, who pitched for the San Francisco Giants in 1964 and 1965 before resuming his career here, had much to say on the subject of making NPB strong.

Murakami, who criticized both the NPB commissioner's lack of authority and the selfishness of today's players, suggested Japan could really benefit if a pair of struggling Central League franchises picked up and moved to new markets.

"There is always talk of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Yokohama BayStars being sold or relocating. I think they should move," Murakami said. "They can't even sell out their games against the [Yomiuri] Giants.

"They should follow the example of Pacific League teams [and move] so they can prosper and Japanese baseball can grow. Where the Swallows play now is maybe 10 minutes by train from the Giants' park. How can they expect to build here in a place dominated by Giants fans?

"When I was with the Nippon Ham Fighters, they were then playing at Tokyo's Korakuen Stadium," Murakami said. "One day an executive informed me the team was losing 10 million yen a game.

"'Why don't we move to Hokkaido? We could build a new image there?' I said. "He said we couldn't leave Tokyo because it was Japan's biggest city.

"Since then, the Fighters have moved to Hokkaido [in 2004]. It used to be that you only saw people wearing Giants caps there. Now you go and you only see people wearing Fighters caps."

Murakami had a number of issues with the game here, which has long dreamed of catching up and even surpassing the game in the States.

"It doesn't look to me like we're getting closer to that dream," Murakami said. "Next year, we're going to adopt a new [less-lively] ball. Why? It's not the ball used in the majors or the ball used for international tournaments.

"In whatever area you compare our game with the majors' you see subtle differences. The first thing we need to do is study."


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