Tag Archive > Japanese Baseball Primer

Inside the Industrial Leagues

» 02 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, sports business » 3 Comments

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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The Meikyukai

» 19 August 2009 » In nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

With Kaz Matsui becoming the latest player to enter the Meikyukai by surpassing a total of 2000 hits between NPB and MLB, it seems like a good time to address what the Meikyukai is and how players can enter the Golden Players Club.

The Meikyukai was first organized by Masaichi Kaneda in 1978 as a voluntary organization, but quickly became a corporate organization built by former players with Kaneda as the president and Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh as co-vice presidents. The Meikyukai was organized with the goals of giving back to disadvantaged in the community and contributing to build the grass roots of professional baseball. Main activities of the club includes teaching classes to the younger generations, promoting baseball and participating in volunteer activities throughout the communities.

In order to join the Meikyukai, there are some milestones players need to surpass. Pitchers are able to join after earning 200 or more wins or 250 saves. On the other hand, position players need to surpass the total of 2000 hits. The regulations changed in November 2003, such that the numbers can be a total combined from both NPB and the MLB. Three current players on MLB rosters have made it in to the Meikyukai; Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees, Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners, and now Kaz Matsui of the Houston Astros. The list of every player in the Meikyukai can be seen here.

The next pitcher in line to join the Meikyukai are Masahide Kobayashi, who is 17 saves shy. Tuffy Rhodes, were he eligible, would need 114 more hits (as of 8/16; thanks to commentor passerby for the clarification). A list of the other players nearing induction can be found on the Meikyukai’s website.

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The Baseball Hall of Fame and Musuem

» 24 July 2009 » In international baseball, npb » 4 Comments

Induction Weekend for the Hall of Fame is coming up at Cooperstown to honor the newest members. Associating the Hall of Fame with Cooperstown comes natural for baseball fans here in the States, but do people in Japan know where the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is in their country? I had the opportunity to visit Cooperstown sometime ago, but never had the chance  to visit the Hall in Japan. If some of our readers had the opportunity feel free to chime in.

The Baseball Hall of Fame and Musuem exists inside the Tokyo Dome where the Yomiuri Giants play. The Hall of Fame opened in June  of 1959 and was moved to the current location inside the Tokyo Dome in 1988. We will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum this season. Within the 50 year history, 168 baseball personnel have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, including the four new members elected this year.

The election process to the Baseball Hall of Fame is similar from the one at Cooperstown. I will go into details regarding the election regulation for the players (For others click here).

  • Players will be eligible five years after retirement and will be on the ballot for the following 15 years
  • About 300 writers with 15 or more years of experience will be eligible to vote
  • Players receiving 75 percent or more votes will be inducted into the Hall of Fame

In a recent news, the members of the American Collegiate National Team took their time to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum while participating in the USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Series. The award ceremony for the inductees of the 2009 season will take place at Game One of the All-Star Game in Sapporo Dome.

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Agents in Japanese Baseball

» 20 June 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 2 Comments

With the draft over in the United States, the next focus will be on teams negotiating with agents to reach agreements for the players starting their professional careers. Agents occassionally get the national spotlight for some negotiations and have become a big part of sports business and the baseball world, which has led to a paradigm shift in professional sports.

On the other hand, in NPB, player agents are still a fairly a new idea and agents are known as Dairinin (representative). One agent that comes to mind, having received national attention is Don Nomura (the son of  Sachiyo Nomura, and step-son Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura). He was involved in negotiating a minor-league deal for Mac Suzuki and was a big part of Hideo Nomo crossing the Pacific.

Although agents are starting to be recognized, NPB still has a closed culture toward accepting the role of the agents. An agent needs to be a licensed lawyer or certified as an agent by MLB, or pass the exam that the Players Association provides. They also need to register with NPB in order to take part in a player’s contract negotiation. In order to register as an agent, the candidate must read the rules and apply downloading the materials from this page.

The biggest difference in the role of agents between MLB and NPB is that an agent can only represent a single player. This restriction reduces the appeal to become a player  agent as not many people will be able to live off of the five percent commission from one player.

Surveys have been taken by the Players Association in the past to look at what the players actually think about agents and if they would like to utilize an agent in the future (The Results from 2000). Players were still hesitant to embrace the idea of using agents, as only 2.2 % (14/633) of the players answering the surveys stated they would definitely like to use one.

However in recent years with agents being well-known for representing players negotiating for major league deals, the idea of agents is gaining ground with the players. A new development we’ve seen is established lawyers adding player representation to their resumes. “Lawyer Kitamura Joining the Baseball World” is one famous recent example.

Unless the rules change to allow agents to be a bigger part of the sport, it is hard to imagine an icon like Scott Boras appearing in the NPB world. However, as agents are becoming more trusted from the players, the opportunities for sports agencies should grow. Notably, Hisashi Iwakuma signed a deal with IMG in December, 2007.

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Inside the NPB Draft

» 10 June 2009 » In international baseball, npb, npb draft » 3 Comments

It’s officially Draft Week here in the United States, so it’s a great time to take a look inside the NPB Draft.

The NPB Draft occurs at the end of season in October and two different types of draft take place: the regular draft where teams select high school graduates, college graduates and industrial league players; and the ikusei player draft, for players for the Ikusei System.

Players eligible for the regular drafts are…

  • Graduating from a school in Japan the March after the draft
  • Graduating from a college the March after the draft (only seniors are eligible for the draft)
  • High School players who registered to enter the draft by notifying the Japan High School Baseball Federation
  • College players who registered to enter the draft by notifying the Japan University Baseball Federation
  • For industrial league players: If the player entered the league as a junior high or high school graduate, three years after entering they will be eligible for the NPB Draft. All other players are eligible two years after starting industrial league careers, unless the team is discontinued for financial reasons
  • For independent league players: Players will be treated equally to industrial league players unless the player declares intent for NPB, in which case they will be eligible anytime during their independent league career

There’s also a new regulation known as the Tazawa Rule…

  • Players who refuse to enter the NPB Draft and elect to play overseas will not be eligible for the draft for three years if going overseas after high school, two years for all others

How the draft works…

  • The first round is lottery-based, where every team may select the same player. In the event that more than one team selects the same player, the right to negotiate with that specific player will be determined by a drawing (Scene from 1989 Draft: Hideo Nomo) (Scene from 1992 Draft: Hideki Matsui)
  • After the first round, the draft continues in the waiver style, which is based on the final standings from the previous season. The last place teams will select first and so on. The last place team from the league which won the All-Star series will select first. If the All-Star series was a split by the two teams, who gets the first pick will be determined by the run difference in the two games.

The Draft is complete when 120 players total have been selected or if every team indicates they are finished selecting players. However foreign players and independent league players being drafted will not be included in the 120 players… So one team may end up with more players selected than another, usually depending on financial reasons or the strength of the draft class. Many changes are waiting to happen with the restrictions of the draft and we shall see what will really be the impact of Junichi Tazawa opting out of the NPB Draft in 2008.

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Independent Leagues in Japan

» 26 May 2009 » In international baseball, sports business » 4 Comments

Note: There’s a newer version of this article available here.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend minor league games in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio and was amazed of the quality of the ballparks. Affiliated Minor League Baseball barely exists from a business standpoint in Japan, but a new wave of independent league baseball has been developing in Japan. Even though NPB is the mainstream for baseball in Japan, a number of independent teams have been born over the past five years and it will be interesting to see what kind of role these leagues will play in Japanese baseball and sports business.

Started as the Shikoku Island League with four teams from the Shikoku region and expanded to six teams from the 2008 season. 17 players from the league has been selected in the NPB draft. If a player is chosen from an NPB team, the player contributes their contract money and a portion of their first year salary to the previous team. Terumasa Matsuo was signed to a minor-league deal by the Boston Red Sox and played a season with the 1A Greenville Drive.

Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine once mentioned purchasing a team from the Island League and operate it as their minor league system.

Started with four teams as the Hokushinestu Baseball Challenge League and expanded to six teams for the 2008 season. Every team does not have a home stadium and travels around their home state to play in different stadiums, calling them all their “Home” stadiums. Four players have been selected in the NPB draft from this league and Kensuke Uchimura of the Rakuten Golden Eagles has been the first player to play in an NPB game.

Started this March by creating a buzz with the 17-year old female knuckleballer in Eri Yoshida who drew over 11,000 fans to the opening game. However recently the operating company Stella withdrew from the operation and the current four teams and an expected expansion team from 2010, Mie, agreed to operate the league with the strength of the five teams by building its own corporation.

The purpose for the development of the independent leagues roots from the 2004 Orix Blue Wave-Kintetsu Buffaloes merger. There were signs of new teams developing due to the possibility of other NPB teams disappearing, but the merger and subsequent entry of the Rakuten Golden Eagles put the idea on hold. Although new expansion teams entering the NPB did not occur, former player and manager Hiromichi Ishige stood at the forefront of the development of the then Shikoku Island League and currently is the commissioner of the Kansai Dokuritsu League.

New teams entering the NPB might be unrealistic in the near future, but creating more opportunities around Japan for not only players, but coaches, front office personnel, and umpries should benefit Japanese baseball. The independent leagues are under the philiosophy of creating local fans and opportunities for more people to be able to pursue their dream as a baseball player. As every league is expanding yearly and developing new relationships with each other (such as interleague play), there are no limits to the possibilities.

Operating the leagues is not an easy matter and will take years for teams to have their own beautiful ballparks like many of the minor league teams here in the United States, but as long as more players and coaches along with the people who want to be in sports get involved, and are able to receieve support from sponsoring companies, the development should continue. More opportunities and the expansion of baseball around the country should keep baseball one of the most popular sports in Japan for a very long time.

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Ikusei (Training) Player System

» 13 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 3 Comments

I touched on the ikusei (training) system at the end of my 2009 NPB Team Payroll Ranking piece, but how exactly does that system work?

The number of contracted players each NPB team is allowed to carry on its roster is 70. Previously, if teams wanted to carry more than 70 players, they invited players as practice players (players who could not participate in regular season games, but were allowed to practice with the team). However the system came to an end when teams were using the system to their benefit and inviting as many promising players as possible.

After the the system was discontinued, NPB teams were in need of another development system, with the number of amateur teams and industrial league teams diminishing and players losing opportunities to play.  That is how the ikusei player system was born. So let me touch on how the ikusei player system works…

  • Teams with more than 65 players on the books are allowed to utilize the system
  • Ikusei players are only allowed to participate in a Ni-gun(Minor League) game and only five players per team are allowed to play
  • Ikusei players may change status to a contracted player by end of July, but foreign players over the age of 26 are only allowed to transfer by the end of March
  • Ikusei players will wear a three-digit number and if the status changes, the player also needs to change its number to a one or two-digit number
  • Ikusei players may be included in trades until the end of July

Since the establishment of the ikusei system there have been couple success stories…

  • The first ikusei player to play in a NPB game was Michitaka Nishiyama of the Softbank Hawks
  • Tetsuya Yamaguchi (Pitched for Japan in WBC 2009) of the Yomiuri Giants earned the first victory as a player coming from the ikusei player system
  • Former Major Leaguer Norihiro Nakamura signed with the Chunichi Dragons as a ikusei player in 2007 and finished the season as the MVP of the Japan Championship Series
  • 29 year-old Yuuki Tanaka, who signed as an ikusei player with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows was promoted on May 11. The winner of 23 career NPB games will be attempting his comeback after being released by the Orix Buffaloes in 2008
  • Hayato Doue, who had signed with the Red Sox prior to 2008 but couldn’t get a work visa, is currently with the SoftBank Hawks after being promoted from an ikusei player at the start of the 2009 season. Doue was taken with the last pick of 2008 ikusei draft

Currently there are 49 total ikusei players on the 12 NPB teams, with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants having 12 under contract (As of May 12, 2009).

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