Japan’s baseball civil war

Japan’s baseball civil war

On Friday, Ichiro Suzuki took the first step in going back to school when he attended a seven-hour seminar on getting certified to teach baseball to children in school. The course, a relatively new one, was created to prevent uncontrolled contact between professionals and amateurs.

On Sunday morning, Japanese baseball’s curmudgeon in chief, Hall of Famer Isao Harimoto, took umbrage with the system, calling it foolish that the sport’s top craftsman have to bow and scrape to amateurs who couldn’t carry their jockstraps.

“It’s all nonsense These people, whose (baseball) technical knowledge is the best in the country are going to be teaching people who lack that knowledge. It’s not like they’re going to be school teachers. They’ll be teaching ballplayers.”

Isao Harimoto in his Dec. 15 guest spot on TBS network’s “Sunday Morning.'”

It is a generalization, but to some degree, Japan runs on personal relationships between individuals within the same group. While baseball exists as a larger identifying group, its various segments made up of pros, amateur administrators and educators jealously guard their turf. Each has its own bureaucracy that excels at creating boundaries and enforcing them.

By its very existence, pro baseball is a threat to amateur ball because it exists beyond the amateurs’ control. But because all pros pass through amateur ball before turning pro, conflict and distrust are inevitable.

Pro clubs have signed corporate league players during their league season in violation of agreements between the pros and the corporate leagues (see the Yanagawa affair) Since Nippon Professional Baseball held its first amateur draft in November 1965, pro clubs have attempted on occasion to gain the future loyalty of amateur prospects by secretly paying them and their coaches.

For those reasons, the amateur side prohibits professionals from coaching amateurs. Pros in Japan are even barred from teaching baseball to children who are playing amateur ball, something Suzuki addressed in his Japanese language retirement press conference.

“In Japan there is a peculiar situation, in that a wall exists between amateurs and pros. Even now, how is it, that rule? I wonder. Isn’t it still complicated? To take an extreme example, if I have a child in high school, there had been a rule that I couldn’t teach him. Am I wrong? That’s why it feels weird. Today as the former Ichiro, if it were small kids, or junior high school or high school or maybe even college students I would be interested (in managing).”

Ichiro Suzuki during his March 23 retirement press conference in Tokyo

The first of the four-part Ichiro Suzuki presser translated into English is HERE.

The need to observe boundaries extends to rules. NPB cannot change its own playing rules without consulting the amateur federations and getting approval by Japan’s Rule Committee. The pros may have the loudest voice in the room, but theirs is not the only voice. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but it is peculiar.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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