Tag Archives: Masayuki Kakefu

NPB goes viral: Kakefu argues for small ball

The website of Fukuoka broadcaster TV Nishinihon, which has been covering the debate over NPB expanding to 16 teams, published part of an interview with former Hanshin Tigers great Masayuki Kakefu, who would prefer 10 teams in NPB with a kind of minor league development system that is not run by the teams. You can find the article HERE.

“When I was manager of Hanshin’s farm team, I asked the front office why we don’t have a third team like the SoftBank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants do,” Kakefu told the interviewer, retired former Hawks and Tigers pitcher Chikafusa Ikeda. “They said, ‘The outlay for infrastructure and expenses add up to quite a lot over the course of the year, but are not worth it when you consider the low chances of any of those players contributing on the first team.”

By that logic, the Tigers wouldn’t have a farm team if they weren’t required by NPB rules to have one. And since the Tigers are historically bad at developing talent, it would make sense for them to believe that a third team would just mean more expenses for more players who would never have careers with them.

Kakefu doesn’t really give a reason why he thinks 10 teams are better than 12, other than asking whether fans want “more baseball or better baseball.”

In my opinion, like some other former Giants and Tigers players, he’s just being nostalgic for the days before the NPB draft when the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants could afford to pay full value for amateur talent and other teams could not.

An independent alternative

The easy way to handle expansion is to simply do away with the active-roster limit of four imported players. Kakefu’s idea that a level of minor league development not be owned by the team but somehow contracted out is an interesting one but probably makes no sense for anyone.

A dream alternative would be for NPB to have its clubs to reduce their rosters to about 30 players while allowing for player loans and for purchases at market value from fully professional independent minor leagues. Currently, there are over 1,000 players under contract with NPB teams. If four teams were added and needed only 30 players, there still would be plenty of players available to seed two or four smaller regional leagues. These clubs would compete for their own championships, sign their own players, develop their own markets and players, and sell surplus talent to other teams and other leagues.

This would mean a huge increase in the amount of affordable professional baseball in Japan and, I believe, in the quality of talent.

That’s my two yen on the subject for the time being at least.

Uehara: “MLB club flew me to U.S. as an amateur”

One of the stories of NPB’s 1998 amateur draft was Koji Uehara’s decision to turn down a reported $5 million offer from the Angels to stay in Japan and sign with the Yomiuri Giants, who–IF they abided by an NPB’s gentleman’s agreement–could only offer amateurs a total of 150 million yen in signing bonuses and 1st-year incentives.

Fifteen years ago, I asked Uehara about this and he said he did get an offer from an MLB team but they would only guarantee that he would start now lower than Double-A. He also said he was not confident living in an English-speaking environment and for those two reasons chose nine years of indentured servitude with the Giants.

The most likely answer to the riddle of why Uehara turned down more money in exchange for a guaranteed roster spot with the Giants was that he didn’t. The Giants, most believe simply offered him a lot more money. And as long as he paid his taxes on it or the Giants successfully hid it, then there would be no questions asked.

Anyway, to get back to Uehara’s “confession” published by Sports Nippon Annex HERE, he told Fuji Television that during his senior year in his 1998 summer vacation, an MLB club paid for his trip to the States.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “They paid for everything. I got to throw a little in the bullpen. They took me to a night game and I was really enthused. I was leaning toward signing with them.”

He didn’t, he said, because the team’s Asia scout told him, “Only come if you are 100 percent certain. If you’re not, you won’t make it.” Uehara said he had been 100 percent certain but the more he went over the idea with his parents that confidence eroded.

Water under the table

That doesn’t mean the Giants didn’t offer him more money. Clubs aren’t bound to the NPB bonus and incentive limits for amateurs, and in legal filings, have called them “just guidelines.” In 1993, the Giants successfully lobbied for a change to the draft rules that allowed players the right to turn down draft selections under certain circumstances. That started a huge market in under-the-table signing bonuses.

Some people said there was never any evidence for that, but it has come out in various ways. An accountant who was an acquaintance of a Dragons coach convinced a string of players that they could hide their unreported bonuses and avoid paying taxes on them.

Those players, including former national team manager Hiroki Kokubo, were arrested, convicted and suspended. Tsuneo Watanabe, the windbag president of the Yomiuri Shimbun and then “owner” of the Giants, lambasted the Dragons and Hawks for signing “tax cheats.” This was rich coming from Watanabe who is infamous for being a tax cheat.

When I was at the Daily Yomiuri, the company handed us all bank accounts at Fuji Bank, currently Mizuho, into which all our work expenses would be paid. But several of my Japanese coworkers received more than one account but were told never to touch the other one or worry about the sums of money going in and out of it. A likely explanation for those accounts was that they were used by the company to hide taxes by reporting non-existent business expenses.

Hall of Fame time 2020

By this time tomorrow we’ll know whether or not a large majority of voters for Japan’s Hall of Fame have stepped up to the plate and done their job or are still in need of a spine transplant.

I’ve written at length about the players division and Tuffy Rhodes, who I rank as the 31st best player ever to lace up his spikes in NPB. Rhodes was left off over 60 percent of last year’s ballots to finish ninth behind eight guys who are in most ways less qualified then him.

Former White Sox reliever Shingo Takatsu, who was runner-up in last year’s players division ballot, and has an argument for selection in that he was for a time NPB’s career saves leader. He and Hall of Famer Kazuhiro Sasaki were really the first two Japanese closers who were effective year after year at a relatively high level. They were both eventually surpassed by Hitoke Iwase, but their achievements still deserve some recognition.

The experts division, however, is more interesting. Last year’s runner-up with 64.7 percent of the 75 percent needed for induction was slugging Hanshin Tigers catcher Koichi Tabuchi. Right behind him, however, was Tigers first baseman and two-time triple crown winner Randy Bass.

I’ve written about Bass a bit. His career profile would have been better had he played in Japan longer, but he had to return to America when his child needed cancer treatment and that was that.

In my book, Venezuelan first basemen Roberto Petagine and Alex Cabrera had better careers in Japan than Bass, but neither were particularly well-liked by the media, almost a prerequisite for selection by baseball writers. Tom O’Malley, too, probably had a better career here, but the likable Bass’ claim to fame as the MVP on a historic franchise’s first Japan Series championship team — and two triple crowns — carries more cache.

By my count, Tabuchi is the third greatest catcher to ever play in Japan, behind Hall of Famer Katsuya Nomura and the recently retired Shinnosuke Abe. I also think Tabuchi is the second-best candidate on the expert’s division ballot. The best, and I have him as the second greatest third baseman of all time, is yet another Tiger, Masayuki Kakefu.

Kakefu was a distant third in last year’s ballot. Behind Tabuchi’s 64.7 percent and Bass’ 63.2 percent, Kakefu mustered only 30.8. But if Bass and Tabuchi go in this year, Kakefu is sure to shoot up in the voting.

My ballot for 2020

My ballot, in the order I believe they deserve to go in is:

  1. Tuffy Rhodes
  2. Hiroki Kokubo
  3. Norihiro Nakamura
  4. Takuro Ishii
  5. Kenji Jojima
  6. Alex Ramirez
  7. Shingo Takatsu

Mind you, Tuffy was fond of saying about long home runs, “If they go in (the seats) that’s all that matters.”