Tag Archives: MLB

Japan’s WBC two-edged problem

In the immediate wake of Japan’s World Baseball Classic championship, Robert Whiting expressed some valid objective takes in a Substack post “WBC title is great for Japan, but NPB needs to concentrate on enhancing its product going forward.”

The tone of his post was a bit of a downer after riding a buzz for the past three days, having been at the most-watched baseball game in history. But if one really thinks about it, and how Japan’s best player, Shohei Ohtani, became the accidental two-way star MLB and NPB loves but neither wanted, one realizes Japan could easily learn the wrong lesson from its triumph.

His points, as I understand them, are:

  • The lively individualistic approach exhibited by Japan in the WBC will not loosen Japan’s embrace of paint-by-numbers solutions to baseball situations.
  • The WBC is fun, but it’s just an exhibition and doesn’t prove which team is the best.
  • Japanese pro baseball could be so much better than it is, and that should be its focus to be better at marketing and building its product, and that the DeNA signing of Trevor Bauer is a step in the right direction.

These points have some validity, but also need context that is more than, “The way MLB does things is better.” That’s not exactly what Bob is arguing, but much of his rationale does use MLB as a benchmark for comparison.

Today, I’ll address the last of those points and explore it in depth, not so much as a rebuttal but as a way of understanding where my friend really nails it. I was going to go with this from start to finish, but 8,000 words in one go is too much for anyone.


Bob is an extremely good researcher, and like many of us has long been immersed in “MLB knows best” arguments that used to be the standard argument from every import player coming to NPB.

MLB does have a longer history than NPB and infrastructural advantages. Bob describes how MLB’s profits, once on a par with NPB’s, are now in orbit, while Japan is still struggling with the sound barrier.

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MLB needs Sadaharu Oh

Not because he was the greatest player in the history of Japanese baseball, but because when Japan’s owners in 2004 opted for a short view and wanted to turn their backs on the good of the game, Sadaharu Oh saw the big picture and encouraged them to do the right thing.

What follows is a story I never published because the two people telling it had divergent views of what happened. While there is disagreement about the role Oh played in making the first World Baseball Classic possible, I do not doubt he was instrumental.

Like today’s MLB owners, who are happily diminishing their product out of a belief it will have no negative effect on the return on investment, Japan’s owners in 2004 were in no mood to go along with an untried tournament that promised no financial reward, much to the consternation of MLB’s then Vice President for Asia, Jim Small.

Continue reading MLB needs Sadaharu Oh