Archive > 17 June 2008

On Japanese Stars Moving to MLB

» 17 June 2008 » In nichibei » Comments Off

Wayyyyyyyy more people read my article on Kyuji Fujikawa than I ever imagined would (thanks mlbtraderumors.com!), but I have to admit that I felt a little conflicted in writing it. I’m fan of Japanese baseball and a big fan of Kyuji’s team, the Hanshin Tigers. As such I’m not crazy about the idea of him leaving, and I’m certainly no fan of the perception that Japanese baseball is dying because some of it’s stars have moved to MLB.

A lot has been written about the perceived fall of the Japanese leagues since star players began migrating to MLB — here’s a recent piece from Bloomberg.com. This piece is the typical stuff about how the exodus of established Japanese stars is drawing attention away from NPB and hurting the game in Japan. This particular article makes some good points and is generally worth reading, but I don’t quite agree with the conclusion it draws.

Overall, I think the trend of top Japanese players moving to MLB is a positive one. Japanese players proving that they can compete at the MLB level validates the quality of NPB. There’s almost an expectation amont the fans that the top guys will try their hand at NPB at some point. Daisuke Matsuzaka, for example, forgoing a chance to play in America would have been a big letdown for the fans.

This Bloomberg.com report that I link to above cites a big drop in interest in the Yomiuri Giants following the departure of Hideki Matsui. What the writer leaves out is that this was actually good for competitive parity. Yomiuri rivals the Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons have both been winning and popular with fans over the last five years or so. I can’t quantify that with profit, attendance or TV numbers, but it feels like things balance out.

Baseball is still a tremendously popular sport in Japan. The MLB stars obviously get tons of media coverage,  NPB games are pretty well attended, and the Koshien National High School Tournament is a hugely popular event. NPB management still has issues with how it markets itself and it operates as a business, but I fully expect it to live on and thrive. Japan has a great league with great rivalries, drama, and competition. If the loss of some star players forces NPB to act on implementing reforms, then it will be even more positive for the fans.

Speaking as a fan, I think it’s inevitable that Kyuji Fujikawa will take a shot at playing in MLB. I’ll be sad to see him leave Hanshin, but I’d rather see him go for it than shy away, and I’d rather see him pitch in America than join another team in Japan.

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Interesting Q&A with Trey Hillman

» 17 June 2008 » In nichibei, npb » Comments Off

Baseball Prospectus has posted an interview with Royals manager (and former Nippon Ham manager) Trey Hillman in their free section. Here’s a link.

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