Tag Archives: Hideki Irabu

Lotte’s problem children

On Thursday, Roki Sasaki became the lone Japanese player in Nippon Professional Baseball without a contract for 2024, a week away from becoming the first Feb. 1 holdout in 13 years.

That phase of the Sasaki drama ended Friday, when the Marines announced the two sides had come to an agreement on a contract. The holdout ended because one of the two sides realized they had nothing to gain by letting this dram continue, and we won’t know until the end of the season which side that is.

But first, a digression into how Sasaki’s situation compares to that of the Marines 1990s problem child, Hideki Irabu.

Hideki Irabu

Until Friday, Sasaki’s case was beginning to feel more and more like the turmoil that surrounded Irabu in 1996.

Irabu left Lotte in the middle of the season, effectively going on strike, until Lotte capitulated and sent him to the San Diego Padres after the season. Exactly how it happened is a little murky.

Continue reading Lotte’s problem children

A lot has changed, Part 2

How Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto earned record MLB contracts this month is a story about the growth of Japanese pro baseball and the change of its players’ world view. It is a story that traces back through Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki and the miscalculations of Japanese pro baseball’s owners.

Ohtani and Yamamoto and a growing number of their compatriots have achieved extreme success by seeking their own unique solutions as individuals. How this happened in Japan is quite a story. For decades, pro baseball had mimicked Japanese industry by reinforcing a cultural bias toward conformity with a rigid belief that only uniform styles and methods could achieve perfection.

Part 1 outlined how NPB has continued to grow and thrive:

  • Through unintended consequences of owners trying to restructure the existing domestic balance of power
  • Through effort of individuals working on their own and eventually with others to create new paradigms within obsolete structures.
  • Through a collective effort by players to combat owners’ abuse of power

Although the belief in baseball quality control lingers, largely through youth baseball coaches raised in the 1970s and ‘80s, it slowly began reversing through the success of one iconic player, and has accelerated rapidly because of one owners’ effort to rig the system in his team’s favor.

Even though Nippon Professional Baseball’s business model remains almost comically rooted in the 1950s with owners controlling nearly every aspect of the game and a relatively powerless union, the game on the field has become more and more vibrant with each recent generation.

The draft

One place to start might be 1965, when NPB’s 12 teams, acted collectively to institute a draft in order to deprive amateurs the right to sell their services to the highest bidder. The first draft took place just days after the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants polished off the Pacific League’s Nankai Hawks in five games to win the first of nine straight Japan Series championships.

Continue reading A lot has changed, Part 2