JIN-288 -- A Little Chin Music for Japan's Baseball Owners

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Issue No. 288
Thursday, September 9, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: A Little Chin Music for Japan's Baseball Owners

[Guest Editorial by Bruce Rutledge: http://www.chinmusicpress.com]

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@@ VIEWPOINT: A Little Chin Music for Japan's Baseball Owners

Over the years, writers have created a veritable mountain of misplaced
metaphors involving sports and society at large. We're quick to see the
connections, because they're easy: Ichiro goes for a single-season hit
record, inspiring standing ovations across the US; his old team Orix
fades into the dust of a proposed merger, sparking a possible labor
strike. The contrasts are too stark to ignore.

But Japanese baseball owners don't have a monopoly on mismanagement --
lack of vision ignores national boundaries. Just ask most American
sports fans about baseball commissioner Bud Selig's track record with
the national pastime: He's presided over a canceled World Series, an
All Star Game that ended in a tie, et cetera, et cetera.

Both American and Japanese baseball execs have made more than their
share of missteps. The Seattle Mariners have endured a series of errors
and half-steps by management, reducing the most profitable team in the
Major Leagues to one of the worst teams in North America.

But then there's Ichiro. Fans rise to their feet when he approaches the
plate. He had 226 hits through Tuesday -- the record for hits in a
season, set in 1920 by St. Louis Browns first baseman George Sisler, is

Ichiro is similar in size to Sisler. Both are listed at about 170 lbs.
Both bat lefty. And they both have career averages of about .340. But
Sisler was known as more of a power hitter. Whether this is because he
played only against other white players, we can only speculate (and,
oh, how sports fans love to speculate!). But what's clear is that
closed systems -- whether they're motivated by racism, xenophobia or
something else -- don't work in sports.

Those segregated days could never last, so Major League Baseball
eventually -- with much kicking and screaming -- changed. And it keeps
changing, despite the lack of vision on behalf of the owners. Even as
recently as 1992, the owners resisted Hiroshi Yamauchi's bid to buy
the Mariners, only to eventually acquiesce. Japanese baseball
owners should take note.

The current impasse in Japan is more about hubris than baseball. The
yakyu bosses and the union should agree to get rid of the rules
surrounding foreign players (each team is allowed only four on its
active roster) and let Japanese Internet company livedoor -- or any
other company making a legitimate offer -- buy the floundering
Kintetsu Buffaloes.

However misguided livedoor CEO Takafumi Horie may be in his bid to
buy the Buffaloes, the way Kintetsu rejected his offer without
comment screams of an industry that desperately needs diversity.

Horie certainly doesn't fit the stereotype of a baseball owner -- he's
a young entrepreneur, after all. It's hard to shake the feeling that
the other owners just didn't want this upstart in their staid little
club. But if they don't open up to Horie or someone else with fresh
ideas, they'll watch more of their best players head overseas.
Baseball can稚 be contained by national boundaries any more
than mismanagement can.

-- Bruce Rutledge

** Bruce Rutledge, former editor of JI, is the founder of Chin Music
Press Inc. in Seattle. The company's first book, KUHAKU & OTHER
ACCOUNTS FROM JAPAN, is now on sale at: http://www.chinmusicpress.com

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