Inside the Industrial Leagues

» 02 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, sports business »

With current Boston Red Sox prospect Junichi Tazawa making the jump from the Japanese Industrial Leagues to the Major Leagues, the attention toward Industrial Leagues is increasing as we speak. Also the 2009 Baseball World Cup is set to begin from September 9th and you may have noticed the Japan national team roster is composed of only Industrial League players.

The Industrial League, operated by the JABA (Japanese Amatuer Baseball Association), is explained as a minor league unaffiliated with the Nippon Professional Baseball in the NY Times article, Japanese Are Irked by U.S. Interest in Pitcher. Teams are fielded by company’s operating in Japan, and the Industrial Leagues are treated as amateur baseball with players not receiving salary as a baseball player, but as an employee with the company.

There are two types of team registered for the Industrial League: Corporate teams and Club teams. Every teams registered is listed on Wikipedia. Teams across the nation participate in tournaments and leagues year around. The one currently in the final stage is the 80th annual Intercity Baseball Tournament (Toshi Taikou Yakyu Taikai) and the finals will be played September 1st from 6pm at the Tokyo Dome (Japan time) between Toyota and Honda. Also the first round of the 36th Industrial League National Tournament  (Shakai-jin Yakyu Nihon Senshuken) has started its regionals. Other notable tournaments include the 34th All-Japan Club Tournament (Zen-nihon Club Yakyu Senshuken). The history among these tournaments are established and there are plenty of games for teams and players to participate in.

Many current stars in the NPB and some MLB players have taken the Industrial League route to professional baseball. Current Chicago Cub Kosuke Fukudome played as a member of the Nihon Semei (Osaka) and won the Rookie of the year title in the 67th Toshi Taikou Yakyuu Taikai tournament. Japanese MLB pioneer, Hideo Nomo, is a former industrial leagues player as well. NPB stars such as Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri Giants), Yasuyuki Kataoka (Seibu Lions), and Hitoki Iwase (Chunichi Dragons) are couple other players with Industrial League experience.

Even though the Industrial Leagues play a role in developing future NPB and possible MLB players, the existence of many teams have become an issue due to current business environment in Japan. If the parent company is struggling to make a profit, the existence of a baseball team for the company would always be a candidate for a budget cut. Industrial League powerhouse teams like Nissan had no choice, but to fold due after this season due to the parent company having financial problems.

In order for Industrial Leagues to survive and to reduce the financial responsibilities for some companies, talks are on-going to merge some of the tournaments and to reform the structure of the league. Sanspo recently published a lengthy article on the topic in Japanese. The recent change in Japanese political leadership could have an effect on the Industrial Leagues and its participating companies and this will be an issue we should all keep an eye on.

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