This winter, as Major League Baseball crosses out everything on its balance sheet that smacks of dead weight in an oligarchic pursuit of higher return on investment has triggered a sense of nostalgia for Japan’s summer of 2004, when Japan’s owners got the bit between their teeth and did their best to euthanize its less successful Pacific League.
That spring, one of the PL’s founding ownership groups, Osaka’s Kintetsu Railroad, announced it was looking to sell its team. The prospect of a weak five-team PL caused owners to scramble for solutions. The first was a merger between the league’s two Kansai clubs, with the Orix BlueWave absorbing Kintetsu to become the Orix Buffaloes.
But as owners began realizing that 10 clubs was a more sustainable number than 11, teams began looking around for merger partners, while fans and players fretted about an end to the two-league rivalry that had been one of the engines for pro baseball’s popularity.
It didn’t happen because the players went on strike and fans supported them, culminating in a settlement that preserved a six-team PL, and established interleague play.
It was a vastly more complex issue, but the owners took the stance that the game belonged to them, not the fans and certainly not the players, and that the PL was a failed experiment that should be eliminated. Although the death of the PL would have ended the CL as well, nobody saw it like that. It was 100 percent about, “Let’s cut out the inefficiencies.”
That was 16 years ago, and the league that was then treated as a failed experiment is now beating the established “we know how to operate baseball business” league like a drum. The PL is propelling Japanese baseball into the future because, in the summer of 2004, the fans and players saved it. Those fans and players saved Japanese pro baseball from the short-sighted arrogant oligarchic desire to marginalize the weak.
Deciding the value of an organization or group or community based on a straight-line spread sheet analysis of short-term costs ignores so much. Eliminating or marginalizing those who don’t figure in today’s profits, especially when they do things differently, means eliminating diversity from the system. It is the hubris of believing an algorithm creates wisdom.
It is so easy to see those who are different and less profitable as drains on a system. But eliminating or marginalizing baseball leagues because they don’t serve your immediate goals means eliminating their contributions you can’t see or don’t want to see because it conflicts with your algorithm or your belief that you are better than they are.
Baseball leagues matter.