Tag Archive > Ryozo Kato

Guest Post: Two and Two are not Five

» 22 September 2013 » In nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

If you’ve followed Japanese baseball in English for any period of time, chances are you’ve encountered Michael Westbay’s work. Westbay-san is the founder of JapaneseBaseball.com, a columnist for Baseball Magazine, a video podcaster, and a general leader of the English-speaking Pro Yakyu online community. Many of the English language NPB bloggers, including me, started out as members of the JapaneseBaseball.com forums.

Part of the reason I started NPB Tracker was to combat misinformation about Japanese baseball in the American media. The confluence of the “juiced ball” scandal, Wladimir Balentien’s home run record, and the Masahiro Tanaka rumor mill is more than I have time to adequately ponder, much less write about… so when I saw Westbay-san’s lengthy post about the ball issue, I asked him if he’d be willing to turn his commentary into a post here. 

There has been a rash of articles coming out on CNN, ESPN, and other sites which are mashing together several news items coming out of Japan and either putting 2 and 2 together to get 5, or leading their readers to reach such a conclusion. What these mashup articles lack is context.

Let’s take this ESPN article as a prime example. The most insidious thing about this post is that everything mentioned in it, taken by itself, is true.

  • It is true that commissioner Ryozo Kato announced his retirement.
  • It is true that the league kept the switch to a livelier baseball a secret until June.
  • It is true that there has been a dramatic increase in home runs.
  • It is true that Kato is stepping down due to the ball scandal.
  • It is true that Wladimir Balentien broke Sadaharu Oh’s 49 year old home run record.
  • It is true that the commissioner claims to have never been informed of the ball change.
  • It is true that the player’s union called for his resignation when the issue came to light.
  • It is true that a third party is investigating the issue.
  • It is true that Kato will quit after the end of the regular season (although I have seen reports that have his last day potentially just before the start of the Nippon Series toward the end of October rather than October 6).

Now, one of the truths above is not like the others. Can you guess which one?

Here’s a hint, one commenter, Thomas Brennan, wrote, “This just screams of Nationalism. It’s fine. It’s their league and they can do what they want with it.”

In what way, shape, or form does this “scream of Nationalism”?

Oh, he put 2 and 2 together to get 5. The commissioner retires under the scandal of a livelier ball with Oh’s 49 year old record being broken by a foreigner, therefore everybody in Japan must be up in arms and calling for the commissioner’s head for allowing this to happen!

Others put 2 and 2 together to get that an asterisk needs to go next to the record.

Except nobody is calling for Kato’s head over the record. Nobody is suggesting an asterisk is needed. If there is anybody who thinks the record is due to the “livelier ball,” then he’s being shunned by everybody else as an ignorant idiot. And such idiots are not making public spectacles of themselves as it appears their North American counterparts are.

I’m perhaps being too harsh on the commenters, though. Giving a mish-mash of facts taken out of context like this, and a general ignorance of Japanese baseball other than the sensationalist mis-information that’s been floating around North America about Tuffy Rhodes’ and Alex Cabrera’s runs at the home run record, it’s not surprising that so many reach such a conclusion.

Now, let’s look at some context that this and every similar news article is missing.

As stated above, the “livelier baseball” and “dramatic increase in home runs” are both facts. But in the context of compared to the last two years.

In 2010, the year before moving to the Unified Ball, the Yomiuri Giants alone hit over 200 home runs. In 2004 they hit over 250. No single team is even close to projecting anywhere near 200 this season. Yes, the ball is livelier than the past two years. But nobody is claiming that is the reason for Balentien’s success. (There were some posters, such as “daclyde,” on a CNN thread who correctly pointed out how much Balentien has improved as a hitter while in Japan. This shows that there are some intelligent, well informed readers despite the poor execution of North American Journalists.)

The reason Kato-Commissioner is stepping down is not due to the home run record. The player’s union called for Kato’s resignation after his long insistence that the ball had not changed right up to the revelations that it was on June 12. With a livelier ball, players’ contract incentives, especially those for pitchers, were in jeopardy, and they did not have the opportunity to factor in a new ball during their contract negotiations.

What did the home run race look like on June 12?

Yokohama’s Tony Blanco had looked like he was going to run away with the Home Run Crown with 23 home runs in 58 of Yokohama’s 59 games played. But Balentien was closing in with 20 after playing in just 47 games, getting a late start to the season due to an injury during the WBC.

The June 13th, 2013 edition of Nikkan Sports had a table showing how the pace of home runs had changed since the introduction of the unified ball in 2011.  It featured both Japanese and foreign players. Some players not known for hitting home runs, like the Lions’ Takumi Kuriyama quadrupling his home runs per at bat compared to 2012. Balentien, who was the Home Run Title winner the previous two years, showed a steady, linear increase year to year. Hiroshima’s Brad Eldred, at that point, was actually hitting home runs at a lower pace compared to 2012. Tony Blanco, who led both leagues at the time, was not even mentioned in the table.

Kato’s resignation and Balentien’s home run record are not related. It’s poorly written articles like this, that mash together a bunch of facts as though there is some sort of causality, that really do a disservice to the baseball community.

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“Japanese baseball is not an American minor league”

» 10 January 2012 » In npb » 22 Comments

Last week, speaking to Sponichi, NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato made a few interesting comments.

On players like Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma moving on to MLB…

“It’s a natural thing for talented players.”


“It’s important that Japanese baseball has some appeal, so we can develop new talent.”


I find this to be a sensible response to the situation. Kato seems to recognize that top players are going to want to test themselves against MLB competition much less grudgingly than some of the NPB old guard. I’ve long desired that NPB places more of an emphasis on developing young players, and it’s started to happen over the last few years.

On the potential of an international MLB draft…

“Japanese baseball is not an American minor league. We have to be tough about things to be tough about.”


I’m right with Kato on this one too. MLB may be superior in many ways, but NPB’s objective is not to develop talent for other leagues. NPB teams want to win games and cultivate fan bases just like any other competitive sports league.

More relevant to the international draft context of this quote, veteran NPB players have a well-established tradition of being recognized as veterans in MLB negotiations (notably free agency) and there’s no reason to change that.

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The 15-Second Rule

» 11 February 2009 » In mlb » 6 Comments

In an effort to get the average time of games down under three hours, NPB has decided to introduce a new rule requiring pitchers to deliver each pitch within 15 seconds. This is part of NPB’s Green Baseball Project, in which the league is trying to do it’s part for the environment by cutting down on energy expenditures associated with playing games. A noble goal with a laughable logo.

This rule change hasn’t gone over well with the players:

Nippon Ham ace Yu Darvish: “That’s not baseball”.

2008 Sawamura Award winner Hisashi Iwakuma: “Darvish is correct. Even now our time is pressed. If the time is going to be compressed, they should be thorough and widen the strike zone. This is how we make our living”.

Rakuten manager Katsuya Nomura: “to have a rule for that is nonsense. Baseball has always been a sport without a time limit. The fans pay a lot of money to come to the ballpark, so we should be in the park as much as possible”.

Darvish again: “I’m not going to take any kind of action. I’ll ignore it.”

Commissioner Ryozo Kato: “you’re pros so get used to it”.

Kyuji Fujikawa was the first take a hit from the new rule, taking three balls in his first spring training practice game appearance. Gotta take the players’ side on this one. I hope this rule doesn’t make it out of spring training.

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An Open Letter to NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato

» 01 July 2008 » In npb » 2 Comments

Incoming NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato assumed his new post on Tuesday, succeeding Yasuchika Negoro.The former Ambassador to the United States started by announcing his hope to collaborate with MLB for the benefit of both leagues. I think this is a great objective, and I would love to see more exchange and cooperation between the two leagues. However, I also think that more can be done to help ensure the long-term sustainability of NPB. So, Kato-commisioner, if you’re reading this, here are my thoughts:

Negotiate an agreement for NPB teams to receive compensation when MLB teams sign NPB free agents.
NPB teams compensate each other with money and players when signing free agents. MLB teams compensate each other with draft picks. There is no compensation (that I know of) for NPB teams when they lose players via free agency to NPB. Some level of compensation might force MLB teams to be a little more strategic in acquiring Japanese players, and it might soften the blow just slightly to the NPB teams. I’m not sure what the best form of compensation would be, probably cash or commercial considerations.

Don’t count international players signed as amateurs against the foreign player limit.
The Giants have signed a couple of kids out of high schools in Taiwan over the last couple of years, but if they’re going to play at the top level in Japan they’ll have to be good. The current foreign player limit will force them to compete with much more experienced foreign players for roster spots and playing time, which will likely hinder their development. Removing the limit for international amateurs would give teams more flexibility in giving these types of players time to develop and ease into the top level.

NPB needs to broaden the pool of talent it draws from, and one way to do that is to create new opportunities for international amateurs.

Pump up the NPB’s web presence.
Japan has some of the world’s best technology companies and one of the world’s high broadband penetration rates. Let’s see an NPB equivalent of www.mlb.com, with video highlights, stats, and text content. I think making video highlights available online outside of Japan would be a good investment as well.

Partner with the professional leagues in Taiwan and Korea.
The Konami Cup is good, but more can be done. Maybe NPB teams could hold spring training jointly with Korean and Taiwanese teams. Maybe their could be a little more of an open exchange of players and coaches between the leagues. I think there are a lot of opportunities for the three leagues to cooperate, and I hope they will be explored.

On that last point, Kato-commissioner seems to be thinking in that direction already. Quote taken from Sanspo:

“It’s not just Japan-America; baseball is spreading in Asia and I think Japan should take leadership in that”

With new leadership comes hope. Japan has produced a lot of world-class baseball players and has an exciting league. Hopefully the future will see NPB overcome some of the challenges it faces and find new ways to thrive.

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