All posts by Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

Orix, Jones and Japan’s favorite game

Expect Adam Jones to be playing in Japan next year.

A day after Kyodo News reported in Japanese that the Orix Buffaloes had reached an agreement with the veteran big-league outfielder, the club’s GM, Junichi Fukura told reporters outside the winter meetings in San Diego that the two sides were “close and that talks were progressing well.”

But because it was not a complete and total rejection, Fukura’s non-denial denial amounts to a confirmation that the deal is done.

This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not. Rather, it’s proof that the Buffaloes are playing Japanese sports’ favorite game: waiting on the time that suits the team to actually admit what everybody knows — while pretending nothing happens until they say so.

Japanese clubs do things at their speed, almost as if the news doesn’t exist unless they themselves announce it. It was that way with the Yomiuri Giants and the posting of pitcher Shun Yamaguchi. Numerous news agency’s all “broke” the news at the same time. The truth was out there before but the Giants had their timetable. This is not to pick on the Giants. Japanese soccer and rugby teams are famous for doing the same.

The kotatsu league: Kansai buzz

Tuesday’s news in Japan centered on the Hanshin Tigers and the Orix Buffaloes.

Jefry Marte‘s greatest Hanshin hits from 2019

Marte back for 2020

The Hanshin Tigers provided the real news on Tuesday, by announcing that first baseman Jefry Marte would be back for 2020 after concluding a $1.3 million contract after a debut season in which he posted a .381 on-base percentage and a .444 slugging average.

Marte’s NPB page is HERE.

He was quoted by the team in a press release as vowing to build on his first season by going all out from camp to win the pennant.

Jones in talks with Buffaloes

The Orix Buffaloes have been in talks with veteran big-league outfielder Adam Jones on a multiyear contract according to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com. Although the Buffaloes and their predecessors, the Orix BlueWave and Hankyu Braves have a history of big performances by foreign players, none have ever come with the kind of experience Jones had prior to arriving in Japan.

The Nikkan Sports indicated one obvious advantage to playing in Japan, being able to compete in the 2020 Olympic baseball tournament, which the majors will “support fully” by preventing its top players from participating.

Rodriguez to Rangers

The Texas Rangers added to their reputation as NPB’s biggest trading partner by signing lefty middle reliever Joely Rodriguez to a two-year deal worth 5.5 million, the Dallas Morning News confirmed after an initial report by MLB Network.

Rodriguez’s English language NPB player page is HERE.

The 28-year-old led the CL in holds and hold points (holds plus relief wins) in 2019. He threw his changeup a lot more in Japan and got a higher percentage of swings and misses, which could be a good sign when he returns to MLB.

Chicago’s Fighters

The Chicago Cubs’ 2020 coaching staff for new manager David Ross via Yahoo Sports, includes former Nippon Ham Fighters Andy Green and Terrmel Sledge. The Cubs also have former Fighter Yu Darvish, and Jim Adduci — whose dad played for the Taiyo Whales in 1987.

Here’s Sledge talking about being an MLB coach and playing in Japan.

Maddon on Ohtani: Bring it on, please

Joe Maddon on Ohtani batting and pitching: “I love it.”

New Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon said Monday that he wants to see more of Shohei Ohtani batting and pitching and is keen to see him both in the same game — regardless of whether that means discarding the DH rule for his team.

“Just because it doesn’t happen all the time doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” Maddon said.

During his time with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani batted in the lineup as the starting pitcher 12 times. Not surprisingly, he brought decent offense — he slashed .286/.395./.400 in his tiny sample (43 plate appearances). But the experiment was a success because of his pitching.

StatusInningsBBSOERA
In batting order86 1/3261051.04
not batting452 2/31725152.82

In addition to the small sample size, the 86 2/3 innings when in the batting order mostly took place in his 2016 MVP season, but the numbers are fun.

Asked if he’d ditch the DH when Ohtani pitches for the Angels, Maddon said, “Why wouldn’t you? That’s 50 extra at-bats.”

Akiyama, Tsutsugo talk warming up

Sports Nippon has reported that outfielder Shogo Akiyama is now in the United States to meet with his agent as major league teams hunker down in San Diego for the baseball winter meetings.

Outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is also nearby according to a Sankei Sports report, working out in Los Angeles. He will need to sign a contract this week or return to the DeNA BayStars for 2020.

Williams excited about Korean chance

Nothing to do with Japanese baseball, but happy to meet former Nationals manager Matt Williams and ask him about his upcoming gig as manager of KBO’s Kia Tigers.

Asked about the reason for going, Williams put it down to the rapport he had the club’s executives from the get-go when he was surprised to learn he had competed against one of them as a member of the U.S. national university team in a tour of South Korea.

“The organization has told me they want to learn, they want to progress, they want to do different things, and I want to help them do that,” Williams said. “I’m so excited because it’s a chance to do something different. You can go through life and be a coach or whatever and never get to do something like this. So I jumped at the chance.”

Marvin Miller’s legacy and Japan

Labor organizer Marvin Miller, who energized major league baseball players into seizing a huge amount of control over their labor from the owners, was voted into National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. According to his son Peter, it wasn’t something he aspired to or wished to acknowledge.

His election has sparked some thoughts about how Japan’s baseball labor situation differs from that in the majors and why the two games are so different. Typically, we talk about the differences in how the game is played, but labor relations, too, are somewhat different.

In MLB, Miller’s acumen and leadership skills galvanized the players into taking action that eventually revealed the owners’ flawed basis for dictatorial control over players’ rights. His actions brought arbitration and then free agency. Because these changes removed the ability of owners to pay pennies on the dollar for labor, baseball executives at the time predicted they usher in the destruction of Major League Baseball.

They meant that like destroying Major League Baseball was a bad thing. Of course, it didn’t. Instead of destroying baseball, it forced teams to revolutionize their business models in order to be able to afford to buy players on a more free market. That change revitalized the business of baseball.

Before Miller MLB was not plantation slavery but a form of wage slavery. Players were bound to serve their owners or find other employment that did not reward their most marketable skills. After Miller, the MLB labor market became a kind of indentured servitude, where players handed owners control over their work for a fixed period of time.

Whenever MLB wants to defend itself, it talks about the owners as caretakers of American tradition. Talk like that has zero connection with the truth when owners defend their heinous policies as “normal business practices.” In that sense, MLB is a caretaker of American tradition, the 19th-century kind, when business owners relied on detectives and police to help “settle” labor disputes, by busting heads and breaking bones.

Japan’s “model” society

The best thing about Japanese baseball is that while the game is influenced by developments in the majors, it is ordered by different beliefs about how and why it is played. Japanese teams and owners can be just as stupid or innovative or ignorant as their MLB counterparts, but their behavior is modified by Japan’s social norms.

Just as in MLB, Japan’s owners have long assumed they deserved the power to exercise total over the game and the players. Japan’s version has rarely been so harsh as the bitter anti-labor ownership in America. Not because baseball team owners in Japan are kinder, but because society expects them to occasionally demonstrate ritual acts of kindness.

A Japanese company will work its laborers to death but is expected to organize a free employees trip every year,

Thus while MLB teams routinely manipulate players’ service time to maximize control over prospects at the cost of wins in the short term, Most Japanese teams will listen to requests of players wishing to leave and go to the majors and many of those requests are granted — at great cost to the team giving up the player.

Japanese teams aren’t pro-labor and do in fact exploit their players, but they also observe social expectations about pay raises. Rookies who have outstanding seasons can earn salaries many times the minimum. Japan’s owners are under no real obligation to reward the players — other than the social one.

Any analogy of pre-arbitration MLB as slavery is clearly wrong — because players could opt-out at great personal cost and not be pursued as runaway athletes. But for the sake of comparison, let’s assume MLB was a form of slavery. If so, MLB was the slavery exposed by Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where the mere existence of pernicious abuse was a threat to its apologists and proponents — who claimed human beings were better off in benevolent bondage.

If that light, the Japanese form of baseball labor relations has always been a little closer to apologists’ romanticized view of slavery. But simply being less onerous than MLB’s version doesn’t make it right.

According to Peter Miller, his father’s ultimate goal was freedom for the players to choose, something even the most benevolent of baseball autocracies cannot accept.

The kotatsu league: Tigers set deadline for Johnson decision

The Hanshin Tigers have set a Dec. 12 deadline — the final day of the baseball winter meetings in San Diego to decide on whether to try and bring back reliever Pierce Johnson or pursue other options, the Hochi Shimbun reported Sunday.

A collection of Pierce Johnson’s curves and strikeouts.

The 28-year-old right-hander was one of the Central League’s premier middle relievers in his 2019 debut Japan season.

Tigers officials are now in the U.S. to try and iron out agreements with Johnson and fellow right-hander Rafael Dolis.

And a collection of Dolis’ 2019 strikeouts.