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Westbay on Japanese Influence on MLB

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Westbay on Japanese Influence on MLB
I was recently "inteviewed" via e-mail by a high school student doing a report on how NPB and MLB have influenced each other. As it appears to be a very popular topic for students, I'm posting the questions and responses here.

- If Japanese baseball had never existed, would American baseball and American culture be any different than it is today?

Interesting question. And not one that can be answered very easily.

Looking at it from a broad perspective, Japanese baseball has had very little influence on MLB overall. But a few individuals who have made the jump have had huge impacts. Namely:

Nomo - in 1995, fans were upset about the players' strike. Yet Nomo brought fans, Japanese and Americans alike, out to the ball park with his "tornado" wind up. Nomo-mania swept the country and renewed interest in the sport.

Ichiro - It seems to me that the MLB has been steadilly heading toward power basebaseball for quite some time. The "art" of a lead-off hitter had pretty much vanished after Ricky Henderson. (There may have been others after him, but he's the last "true" lead-off hitter that I know of.) Ichiro has reminded people of what a lead-off hitter should do, and I think that "today's" MLB is a little different because of it.

Now, there is the philisophical question of whether or not these players would have existed without Japanese baseball. Certainly, they are products of Japanese baseball in training and attitude, so in that respect, Japanese baseball has served a role in changing MLB attitudes and culture. However, if these individuals hadn't come along, might not somebody from some other country come along and filled in in the roles that they took? Then you would be asking somebody from Puerto Rico this question, and perhaps she would be giving you the same answer. And around and around the circle goes.

If this kind of thing interests you, I'd strongly recommend reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilligy (later expanded into 6 books including a prequal). Personally, I hated reading until a Brazillian friend I'd met in Japan loaned me an Asimov book. I was hooked since.

- If American baseball had never existed, would Japanese baseball and Japanese culture be any different than it is today?

Well, considering that baseball was imported from the U.S., I'd say that it's pretty safe to say that Japanese baseball would be very different today. And baseball has played a large role in shaping Japanese society. (Please read Robert Whiting's "You Gotta Have Wa" if you haven't yet. As was pointed out on this thead: "I think those [March's and Whiting's books] would both be easier to cite than, as well..." He has a very good point.

- If American baseball ceased to exist, starting today, what would be the effect on Japanese baseball and Japanese culture?

I think that the biggest change would most likely be the import of more "big name" Major Leaguers to Japan. After all, they have to find work somewhere. That was essentially the effect the 1995 strike had. (Well, Kevin Mitchell was "the" big name big leaguer, but...)

Granted, MLB is more in the spotlight now than in 1995, so there may be some social attitude adjustments depending on how it self distructed. But mostly in how to prevent something like that from happening here in Japan rather than anything else.

- If Japanese baseball ceased to exist, starting today, what would be the effect on American baseball and American culture?

Well, with the crossing of so many quality players to the Majors who have gotten a great deal of good press, I think that it would actually make the mainstream news in North America, which it most likely wouldn't have eight years ago.

Otherwise, as with the previous question, I think that there will be a large number of players crossing the Pacific to continue to practice their trade - but with lower expectations. As it is now, most of the players crossing want guarantees to be on the top team in the U.S. Those who have been released from their Japanese contracts are more willing to accept AA or AAA contracts as opposed to those who are turning down multi-year, multi oku (100,000,000) yen deals to "chase their dreams."

- Do they pay Japanese players as well as American players? How do the Japanese players feel about this?

The highest paid player in Japan this year is Hideki Matsui. "Godzilla" signing a one year deal for 6.5-oku (650,000,000) yen. This is chicken feed to what some Major Leaguer earn. Here are the top 10 since 1996 (salarie in units of oku yen):

Hideki Matsui
Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro Suzuki
Kazuhiro Sasaki
Hideki Matsui
Norihiro Nakamura
Kazuhiro Kiyohara
Shane Mack
Hiromitsu Ochiai
Kazuhiro Kiyohara

I belive that Mitchell would have made this list as well, but my data is incomplete. (I haven't even finished entering 2002. Sorry. For that reason, I don't know how helpful this table will be for your paper as it is most likely inacurate.) But do you notice that of the data I have, there is only one foreigner in there, Shane Mack?

Generally, when foreign players want more than the star Japanese players on a team, they get released. With the exception of home run sluggers like Rhodes, Cabrera, Obando, and in 1985 Bass, Japanese fans generally go to the games to cheer for Japanese stars. Yes, players like Rose, O'Malley, and Petagine get a lot of fan support, but the ball clubs generally make more money off of merchandising native players who are going to be on the team for longer terms. Some are starting to learn the folly of this practice, but that's a different story.

So, in general, Japanese players earn more than the foreign "suketto" ("helpers" or, as Warren Cromartie translated the term in his book "Slugging it out in Japan," "migrant workers"). Please notice that I don't say "American" as you did. That's ego-centric. There are foreign players from both North and South America playing in Japan, as well as from Korea and Taiwan. I don't consider any ball players from the U.S.A. to be any different than ball players from South America or Asia.

Did this answer the question?

- How does the management of the baseball teams in Japan and the league itself differ from that in America?

Hmm. Do you mean on or off the field?

On the field, Japanese teams tend to be micro-managed. Every pitch, every steal, every hit and run is called from the dugout. MLB players tend to be given more lea way in deciding things on their own. Now, I'm sure there are acceptions to this rule on both sides of the Pacific. Former BayStars' Manager Gondo, for example, hated the bunt and let players decide on their own when to run the base. This made him rather unpopular with much of the "establishment."

Nonetheless, this is one aspect that differs in general.

Off the field, the front offices of MLB teams seem to understand marketing better. There are several discussion on this topic in the forums here, so I won't go any further.

- How do the Japanese players and fans react to American players playing in Japan?

It all depends on how they perform and how they interact with their team mates. There are those players like Bobby Rose who are professional in every way and earn the trust and respect of their team mates.

Fans went out to watch Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera battling for not only the Home Run Crown last season, but for the Japanese home run record held by Sadaharu Oh (of Taiwanese decent) which Tuffy managed to tie. While Daiei (managed by Oh) didn't pitch to him (not of Oh's doing, but by the "loyalty" of his team), Tuffy did get pitches to hit, but seemed too distracted there at the end. And the crowd wanted to see the record broken! Fans were very supportive of Rhodes.

On the other side of the spectrum is those foreign players who sign huge contracts and don't produce. Kevin Mitchell started out with a bang - litterally. His first at bat of the 1995 season was a grand slam. He was the toast of the town. But a few weeks later he claimed to injur his leg. Even injurred players are expected to show support for their team - or be hospitalized. But Mitchell was seen out on the town drinking with old buddies of his while the team was across town playing. This was seen as very bad conduct by the team, the press, and the fans.

Just mention the name "Mike Greenwell" to a Hanshin Tiger fan and you'll be lucky to escape without a good beating. Greenwell was signed for 3.3-oku yen in 1997 and was hyped up as being a "true big leaguer." Well, he played a total of 7 games before pain and a message from God told him it was time to retire. I don't think he will ever be welcomed in Japan again, except maybe as a pro wrestler. Then I'm sure Hanshin fans would pay big to watch him battle Tiger Mask.

Again, though, I'm talking about foreign players from anywhere, not just the U.S.A. Cabrera, for example, is from Venezuela. In 2001 there were 3 from Brazil, 1 from mainland China, 3 from the Dominican Republic, 5 from Korea, 2 from Mexico, 1 from Canada, 1 from Panama, 2 from Puerto Rico, 1 from San Paulo (isn't that Brazil?), 3 from Taiwan, 4 from Venezuela, and 32 from the U.S.A. There were more foreign players signed after the beginning of the season, to which this data is based, so again, the data is incomplete but should give you an idea of the diversity.

- Do the Japanese believe that their version of baseball is superior to the American version, or do they believe it is just different? If so, how and why?

The thing that has been keeping most players from attempting to break into the Majors has been the belief by themselves that they aren't the top leage in the world. Many say that they dream of being a Major Leaguer because that is the best vs. the best.

The "Nichi-Bei" (Japan vs. America) All Star Series held every other year shows the Japanese that they are still not quite at the same level. Of course, that's all stars vs. all stars. I think it would be interesting to see a typical team vs. team series.

However, after Shinjo's (not Ichiro's) performance last year, many more are starting to think that the difference is closing. I say that it was Shinjo who made the difference because, well, Ichiro was the best of the best. If he couldn't make it, no one could. But with Shinjo's success, well, there are a lot of players better than Shinjo.

- On average, are the attendance records for Japanese baseball games higher or lower than the attendance records in American baseball? Is there a reason for this?

I don't know what attendance records are for MLB games. Attendance records for 2001 were posted here.

- Are the baseball fans in Japan as enthusiastic about the sport as the fans in America are?

Ah, you've never seen a Japanese game, have you? The "average fan" on either side of the Pacific is there with some friends to have some company, talk business, and have some entertainment. Kind of like the "lurkers" on this forum.

The rabid fans in Japan sit (or stand) in the outfield bleachers with trumpets, drums, and huge flags. These are the "oen-dan" or "cheering sections." Every player who comes to bat has his own song that they sing to him through his at bat. You can't hear the crack of the bat over the intense noise of the oen-dan.

On the other hand, there are many oen-dan members who are there for the cheering more so than to watch the game. They play the horns, pound the drums, wave the flags, and sing the songs. But in doing so, often miss a fine play in their concentration on playing music.

Of course, I'm sure that as many in Japan as in North America catch many plays for the first time when they're shown the replay on the big screen. In that scense, I'd say they're pretty even.

- Is the amount of baseball advertising and baseball merchandise sold in Japan proportional to the amount sold in America?

No. For example, only the Yomiuri Giants can get big sponsors for their TV broadcasts. Other teams seem to only be able to sell commercial time to beer manufacturers and yakuza run loan companies.

And as for merchandising, again, I've covered that a lot on various topics ad nausium. Things like T-shirts sell quickly and easilly when they focus on some aspect. Like Nippon Ham's "Big Bang Offense" a few years ago. They made 150 T-shirts and were sold out in 5 minutes. Did that prompt them to make more? Did they get the hint that low cost T-shirts with a special theme can sell? No and no. They had a huge chance to market something that was in high demand, but didn't want to take a risk of making too many. (Soon after that, their Big Bang Offense lost its pop, so perhaps it was for the best that they stopped while they were ahead - however so little ahead than they could have been.)

- Thank you.

No. Thank you for the interesting questions. It's been a pleasure.

Re: Westbay on Japanese Influence on MLB
[ Author: CFiJ | Posted: Mar 1, 2002 12:06 PM ]

> - If Japanese baseball had never existed, would
> American baseball and American culture be any
> different than it is today?

> Interesting question. And not one that can be
> answered very easily.

You know, I don't know for sure, but Japanese baseball may have had an influence on the amount of conditioning MLB players undergo. In the 60s and 70s, MLB players generally didn't work out very hard in the off-season. Spring training was for getting in shape. Some guys lifted weights, but I don't think there was much in the way of consistent, off-season conditioning. But it's possible that some managers who had played in Japan, Davey Johnson for example, began encouraging players (or rather, the organization) to condition themselves in the off-season, much like the Japanese players do. Of course, MLB was much more amenable to finding the most efficient conditioning methods, unlike Japanese organizations. I don't think Japanese baseball was the sole influence in this respect, but I do think it may have been one of many...

> Ichiro - It seems to me that the MLB has been
> steadilly heading toward power basebaseball for quite
> some time. The "art" of a lead-off hitter had pretty
> much vanished after Ricky Henderson. (There may have
> been others after him, but he's the last "true"
> lead-off hitter that I know of.) Ichiro has reminded
> people of what a lead-off hitter should do, and I
> think that "today's" MLB is a little different
> because of it.

Judging from the position players making the jump (Ichiro, Shinjo and Taguchi), it would appear that the Japanese leagues are doing the same thing the Negro Leagues did in the 50s: bringing speed back the Major League game. Still, while Ichiro was great in the lead-off spot for the Mariners last year, I don't think he really practiced the "art" of the lead-off man. He didn't draw many walks, and his BA when leading off an inning was only .222. Perhaps he's still used to hitting in the 3 and 4 spot. Personally, I think he'd be best hitting in the 3 slot for the M's.

> The "Nichi-Bei" (Japan vs. America) All Star Series
> held every other year shows the Japanese that they
> are still not quite at the same level. Of course,
> that's all stars vs. all stars. I think it would be
> interesting to see a typical team vs. team series.

I have a theory about this. I don't think the Nichi-Bei series is necessarily the best benchmark to gauge the talent. The MLB All-Stars draw their players from many different countries, including Japan. The Japanese All-Stars are only Japanese players. This puts them at a disadvantage. I think if you pitted an American All-Star team against a team made up of American, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Canadian, and Venezuelan players, the American All-Star team would lose the series. I think if the Japanese allowed some of their foreign stars like Tuffy or Cabrera to play in the series, it would even the playing field a bit. But I doubt it would happen.

Japanese Baseball and why their fans act the way they do?
[ Author: Guest: Angela Wiggins | Posted: Apr 23, 2002 4:16 AM ]

I was just wondering why the baseball fans act the way they do. What are some of the ways they act? Also, how often is baseball played in Japan?
Re: Japanese Baseball and why their fans act the way they do?
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Apr 23, 2002 9:13 AM | YBS Fan ]

Hmm. These might make a good set of Introductory Pro Yakyu course questions. Let's take them in reverse order, though:

- How often is baseball played in Japan?

The season is now 140 games per season, but it was 130 just a few years ago. There is a proposal for a 146 game season, allowing for 2 games against each team in the other league (interleague play), but there isn't much backing for it from the Central League owners.

The regular season schedule starts at the end of March/beginning of April and is actually longer than the MLB after make up games are filled in for most of the first half of October. I'd really like to see make up games made up either the first scheduled off day (near where the game was to be played) or with a double header the next weekend series that's played. But the "powers that be" don't have my vision. (Although I seem to recall Lotte having a double header in recent years.)

Nonetheless, the number of make up games is on the decrease as more domed stadiums are being built. That was a major factor in bumping the season up from 130 to 135 and then 140 games over the past several years.

Except when major national holidays come along (like Golden Week next week), the Pacific League generally takes Thursdays off and the Central League takes Mondays off. Until last year, both leagues took Mondays off, leaving a void to us commuters on the first day of the work week. I've been very happy with "Monday Night Pa."

- What are some of the ways [the fans] act?

Well, there's the oendan (cheering section) who beat on drums, blow on horns, and wave giant banners when their team is at bat. Each player usually has his own song that the oendan will sing during his at bat, often ending in "Katto basse! (insert player name year - preferrably three syllables)!" A large portion of the fans will clap along with plastic megaphones, many singing along as well.

Because of this huge participitory cheering by the fans, spectaters often divide themselves up with the home team on the right side of the stadium and visitors on the left. The outfield seats are pretty much totally one color (except in Hiroshima where the Carp fans flood over to take up all but one or two sections).

Well, that's all I have time for right now. More later.
[ Author: Kiyoshi | Posted: Feb 22, 2003 1:04 AM | HAN Fan ]

Japanese baseball's influence on equipment is often overlooked. Lou Brock was one of the first players to bring the dimpled end baseball bat to America after the St. Louis Cardinal's visit to Japan. Now, 1/4 of MLB players use the dimple ended bat.

Japanese technology also influenced gloves. Mitsubishi gave us Diamondvision.

Many MLB managers and coaches used Japanese techniqes after playing or coaching in Japan including: Bobby Valentine, Jim Marshall, Jim Lefebre, Roger Hansen, Clete Boyer, Jim Colburn, Ken Macha, Sam Perlozzo, Charlie Manuel, Dave Johnson, Clarence Jones, Don Zimmmer.
Re: Clarence W. Jones
[ Author: Guest: Pamela Andrews | Posted: Feb 17, 2005 1:21 PM ]

Can you tell me if Clarence Jones is now managing or coaching any baseball team in the U.S.? And if so, what team?
Re: Westbay on Japanese Influence on MLB
[ Author: The Punisher | Posted: May 13, 2005 1:08 AM ]


I know how to get in touch with former Marines player Brent Brede if you want to do an interview or get some info. Let me know.

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.

It is my sincere hope that once you learn a bit about what we're about here that you will join the community of contributors.

Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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