2004 baseball strike?

My hometown team, the Boston Red Sox, is doing great. But my “home” hometown team, the Chunichi Dragons, is doing even better. They are leading the league, four-and-half games ahead of the Japanese “evil empire,” Yomiuri Giants as of 9/6.

I check their stats and standings on the net every week. As I was doing my weekly browsing of websites today (The Internet was made for “remote” fans like me!), a headline caught my attention: “Players vow to strike.”

My first thought: Whoa, are the 2004 Dragons going to be the 1994 Montreal Expos? One of the biggest “what-if” baseball teams, the Expos had the best record in the Majors before the MLB went on strike that year.

I had to call my dad: “What will happen to our team if they go on strike?”

“Well, actually, they are only going to strike on weekends, so the chances get better for us,” my dad replied. Good news, the Dragons were going to face the Giants on the weekend of 9/18, so there is less chance of them gaining ground on us.

But is it really good news?

My dad and I talked about a bigger problem that the Japanese Professional Baseball league is facing – “If the league goes on strike, the fans are not going to like it,” he said. As it is, Japanese baseball fans are already losing interest. There are many reasons, but lack of fair competition is one. Another is that many of the star players are going to the major leagues in the United States, leaving their home league. Japan’s all-pro-players Athens Olympic “Dream team” also fell short of the gold, just another major upset to the fans.

There are two leagues in Japan, just like Major League Baseball, the Central League (CL) and the Pacific League (PL). What is different from MLB in the US is that the Central league attracts many more fans than the Pacific league.

Why?

Well, there is a team called the Yomiuri Giants that belongs to the Central league – the prestigious, rich, popular, Tokyo-based team that has tons of high-paid stars, and has won more championships than any other team (now you see why I call them the “evil empire”). Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui (now with the New York Yankees) played for them. And he was – and still is – a national hero.

The financially troubled Osaka-based Pacific League (PL) team called Kintetsu Buffaloes (Hideo Nomo, LA Dodgers, played for them) made a big announcement in June. They are going to merge with Orix BlueWave, (Ichiro’s and Shige Hasegawa’s – both now with the Seattle Mariners – former team).

When a six team league goes to five teams, there will be problems with scheduling. Because of this, the PL is said to be considering merging two more teams into one. Two less teams means about 140 registered players will lose jobs (including minor players). Players don’t want that.

If this strike happens, this will be the first ever strike in the Japanese baseball history.

If you own a Pacific league team, you can’t compete. Yomiuri owner, George-Steinbrenner-like Tsuneo Watanabe refused to have inter-league games. Though he is reported to have resigned last month, he just recently suggested moving the Giants to the PL, sending all CL team owners into a panic.

It is interesting that the association is demanding not only that the Orix-Kintetsu merger be reconsidered but also requesting to revamp the draft system and reassess the broadcasting revenue-sharing methods.

Well, my dad and I didn’t come up with a solution, but we agreed that something needs to change in Japanese baseball. When one team gets much more rich off the TV rights, attracting high-paid players and still gets good players with complicated, unclear draft rules, something is wrong. I hope there will be no strike, but they may not be able to avoid it.

Oh well, maybe my Dragons will win it all this year anyway.

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