Category Archives: Live chat

NPB past & Present

Live chat with scout Kent Blasingame

In April, Softbank Hawks professional scout Kent Blasingame spoke about growing up in Japan’s game, the controversies that attached themselves to his father, a well-respected student and teacher of the game, bringing overseas Amateurs to Japan and the Hawks’ success.

The son of former Nankai Hawks second baseman Don “Blazer” Blasingame, Kent spent much of his childhood in Japan, soaking up the Japanese game at Osaka’s Namba Stadium.

After two years in the Phillies organization as a player, Kent became a Pacific Rim scout for major league teams. When the SoftBank Hawks reorganized their front office after the 2009 season, Blasingame was brought into an outfit that was an ocean away from the franchise he knew from his childhood.

Blazer comes to Japan

I’ve read in different places that Don Blasingame literally wrote the book about how to play Japanese baseball, that a manual he wrote became gospel to coaches around the country, but I’ve yet to ever see a copy of it. Nevertheless, Blasingame, Katsuya Nomura were icons of hard-nose, heads-up baseball despite working for a club long past its glory years.

Raised on Japanese baseball

Blasingame talks about his first experiences in Japan’s game, taking trains as a youngster from his family’s home in Kobe to the Nankai Hawks’ rundown ballpark.

Blazer’s end game

Don Blasingame’s first managing gig with the Hanshin Tigers ended controversially, and was written about in Robert Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa.” Kent had a front-row seat to the controversy that ended in his dad quitting the Tigers.

What makes SoftBank special

Blasingame talks about the Hawks’ special advantage. It’s not money, but rather how they’ve used the money to get better, as he spells out, particularly in regards to their domestic scouting. He cites the size of the players in an anecdote about former Giants scout Nate Minchey commenting on how tall the young Hawks players were.

This really got me wondering about the state of the two leagues and researching whether or not the Hawks or other PL teams might just be better at developing bigger and stronger players.

I did a fairly long study on this, which I won’t bore you with, but while new NPB players have gradually been getting younger, taller and heavier over the past 12 years, the PL teams have caught up in terms of the sizes of the players they have drafted, and while they used to lag behind the CL in making their players bigger, they’re about even now.

The Hawks’ new players do tend to be the youngest and taller than most other teams, but there is no clear and obvious evidence that they are getting bigger and stronger than any other teams’ players.

The next wave

What is up with Carter Stewart Jr., and are overseas amateurs turning pro in Japan and being developed by NPB teams the next wave. As much as a lot of us see this as a big potential opportunity for Japanese teams, Blasingame said there are simply too many hurdles in the way of this turning into a thing, yet.

Gita in Puerto Rico

I want to meet the baseball fan who doesn’t love Yuki “Gita” Yanagita. This guy is a treasure. Blasingame talks about the Hawks star and the tutoring he got in Puerto Rico from Alex Cora and Ivan Rodriguez.

Don Nomura chat

On Monday, March 15, player agent Don Nomura joined subscribers for a live chat on the freeing of Hideo Nomo, the business of Japanese baseball, his stepfather, baseball legend Katsuya Nomura and the differences between the way baseball is seen in Japan and in the States.

The freeing of Hideo Nomo

In 1994, Japanese baseball had just instituted free agency under pressure from the most powerful of its 12 teams, the Yomiuri Giants, who like most baseball people in Japan and the majors inferred a kind of social Darwinist vision of baseball: that because MLB was a tougher league, Japanese players were inferior.

Hideo Nomo disproved that belief big time, and Don Nomura was instrumental in giving him the opportunity to play in the States against the wishes of his team, the Pacific League’s Kintetsu Buffaloes. It did, however, come at a cost Nomura said he was unprepared for.

Nomura tells of how he became connected with Hideo Nomo, Jean Afterman, and the rest of the saga.

One of the side issues was that Katsuya Nomura, Don’s stepfather was then managing the Central League’s Yakult Swallows, and Don’s effort to free Nomo meant that amid the firestorm from the media, the elder Nomura was forced to take a public stand, which Don said was particularly ironic given Katsuya’s love of American baseball.

The realities of Japanese pro baseball

Although there is tremendous quality in Japan’s game thanks to the efforts of players and coaches, domestic and imported, it has some rules that Nomura is not a fan of. The biggest are: a) Japan’s limit on four imported players in a game, and b) it’s reserve system that allows a team to keep a player contract for however many years it takes him to achieve seven-plus years of first-team service time.

When asked about whether it might be a tough sell to have a team of imports in Japan, Nomura said, “What are we looking at? A baseball game or the color of the skin?”

Here’s Nomura on what he would do if he were put in charge of Nippon Professional Baseball.

Japanese baseball is full of potential

One of the ironies of Nippon Professional Baseball is that it is a magnificent structure, but one whose rules have more holes in them than Albert Hall. Hideo Nomo was able to make his getaway because nobody assumed a player would.

Japan’s contract structure allows any player, amateur or professional, who knows the rules to negotiate the most remarkable deals with the team that wants to sign him. This is a massive difference from how it is in MLB. There — even international professionals — who are defined as amateurs by MLB and its players union — can only be guaranteed a minimum minor league contract and a signing bonus that is part of a team’s capped maximum.

What Japanese amateurs need to know

Asked what he thought Japan’s players union could do for the game, Nomura said, “Educate the players.”

What about international amateurs

Although MLB scouts keep tabs on Japanese amateurs they might want to recruit, NPB teams spend virtually no energy on scouring the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean for amateur players who might turn pro in Japan.

However, a number of people have suggested that Japan may be the best place in the world for an amateur ballplayer to turn pro, not only from the living conditions, the quality of play and coaching but also from the contractual possibilities Japan offers that MLB teams cannot match.

Nomura said it was a huge opportunity, and that Japan was failing badly to take advantage of it.

The most important lesson

When Katsuya Nomura died a year ago, Nomura wrote that his stepfather taught him more lessons than he could count, the biggest of which, Don said, was not about baseball.