Tag Archives: NPB

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.

Continue reading Japan’s WBC two-edged problem

Japan’s Rule 5

On Thursday, the players union held a working group session with NPB officials, when they discussed bringing about a kind of Rule 5 draft that would make surplus talent available to other teams. And though it might seem like something NPB owners would never go for, this one is probably going to happen.

And the reason it’s going to happen is that while NPB is defined by its rules, it is governed by organizational inertia that keeps it moving forward the way it always has, at least until it’s challenged. The reason NPB is going to accept this is because the union is likely holding a gun to its head.

When talks began on this subject a year ago, there was hope it could be implemented in 2020, but the coronavirus intervened, preventing NPB from instituting its version of MLB’S Rule 5 draft. According to Nikkan Sports, the plan last year focused on each team nominating eight players for the draft so that they might find teams willing to give them more playing time.

“The association is proposing setting specific qualifications in terms of service time in days and years, but that is the area where the two sides are farthest apart,” said Tadahito Mori, the association’s secretary general. “I would like to have it implemented this season.”

That, however, seems unlikely. Although the teams are not unwilling to talk, they don’t seem to have much interest in moving forward while the coronavirus pandemic remains a concern. But, NPB is just stalling.

The reason the union is going to get what it wants is that NPB already has a draft for players that teams have no plans for, called the Selection Draft. It is still on the books, and I see the new “breakthrough draft” as a way for NPB to negotiate its way out of a rule it wished didn’t exist but does.

The Selection Draft is supposed to be held within seven to 10 days after the new player draft, and each team is required to make one fifth of its roster available for other teams to pick through and claim if they so choose for the cost of one-year’s salary and up to 2 million yen, plus consumption tax, currently 10 percent.

I can easily see the union going to owners and say, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Give us a draft that suits our purposes, or we’ll force you to do the one that’s currently on the books.”

In my experience, Japanese unions make their biggest breakthroughs in Japan when companies are careless about their own rules. When I was an indentured servant at Yomiuri, the union reached a settlement in the area of $270,000 – not because of the blatantly hideous labor policies that really existed but because of a poorly worded contract that represented a trivial violation of the law.

To avoid a court case and a much costlier settlement the company agreed to pay its contract staff two years of overtime and night pay it had been holding back and never would have paid without the trivial contractual miss-step.

Returning to baseball, this is just the latest example of NPB’s not really knowing what its own rules are. We’ve seen over and over the gaps that exist between the way the owners insist the game works and the way NPB’s own rules are actually written.

The owners “knew” Hideo Nomo couldn’t just retire and play in the States. Then they knew that agents were not allowed to represent players in contract negotiations. But those were just things owners said that had no basis in reality.

So as unlikely as it may seem, I suspect that either the players association is going to get its draft THIS YEAR or the owners are going to once more face up to their own incompetence.