Tag Archives: Free agency

What is going on in Japan?

This is the text of a speech I gave in March to the Japan American Society of Chicago, entitled: “What Japanese Baseball Brings to the World.”

Last winter’s record MLB contracts to Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto have brought fans of America’s two major leagues into contact with the idea that Japan’s two major leagues can produce some of the best baseball players in the world.

Although this is not a new idea, Ohtani’s $700 million deal, the most valuable contract in the history of team sports, and Yamamoto’s $325 million, the most valuable ever given to a pitcher, have validated the talk of Japanese players’ prowess in ways that even the World Baseball Classic and scouting reports haven’t.

In the language Americans understand, that of concrete dollars and cents, these contracts have spelled out how valuable players coming out of a radically different pro baseball context can be, and force people to ask, “what the heck is going on over there?”

That difference between Japan’s and America’s baseball worlds and the value it creates for baseball around the world is the focus of today’s talk, because if Japanese baseball did not exist, or if the relationship between MLB and Japan were different, there would be no Shohei Ohtani in the sense that we know him now as perhaps the best human to ever play the game.

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Roki Sasaki & the revolution

“Roki Sasaki & the revolution” sounds like the name of the pitcher’s post-baseball garage band, but I digress. The Sasaki story, such has it is, has stirred up emotions.

There has been anger toward the hard-throwing right-hander for the temerity of thinking he might leave the Japan and the Lotte Marines before custom says he should.

There has been talk that the whole story must be concocted since the idea that a team might let an extremely valuable player leave for a transfer fee that barely registers is impossible for some to comprehend.

I apologize for being fascinated with the story. This is not because I am advocating for Sasaki to leave the Marines in the lurch, but because I advocate for labor rights everywhere, and it is every player’s right to use whatever leverage he can.

After all, turning pro requires players enter a system in which most have virtually zero options and no say in their working conditions for nine-plus years, an unequal and inequitable system that management is perfectly content to exploit at every turn.

This time around I will address the story’s latest iteration, as well as a larger meaning for Japanese pro baseball, a revolution as it were.

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