In contrast with my belated April Fools story “NPB to expand, rescue US amateurs, Hall of Fame catcher Atsuya Furuta appeared on Kyushu’s TNC TV to say that four cities have been in talks to host future expansion clubs that would — if all goes well — change Nippon Professional Baseball from a 12-team, two-league system to one with 16 teams.
The four cities he named, according to Nishi Nihon Sports, were Naha in Okinawa, Matsuya in Ehime, Shizuoka, and Niigata. Furuta said the plan was for two teams to join in two years.
SoftBank Hawks chairman Sadaharu Oh has long been a proponent of a 16-team NPB.
On this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, John E. Gibson and I discussed our sides to this possibility, with John wanting a developmental stage added to increase pro baseball’s ability to handle more players.
The Hanshin Tigers blog has been dead set against expansion, fearing a dilution of talent, considering the inability of teams to develop more players as it is and Japan’s declining birth rate.
Ironically, this is the second time Furuta has been involved with the shape of NPB, having led the 2004 players’ strike that won an expansion franchise to preserve the 12-team, two-league system after the owners approved a merger between two Pacific League teams and were prepared to switch to a single league with 10 or 11 teams.