The Tazawa rule is headed toward its rightful place in history, the dustbin, Nippon Professional Baseball’s executive committee decided Monday.
The rule was an awkward spiteful attempt to prevent Junichi Tazawa, a top corporate league star in 2008, from snubbing NPB and going to play in the majors. Instead, it only served to make NPB look petty and spiteful, and weaken Japan’s team for the World Baseball Classic, by blacklisting him.
The rule, enacted in 2008, prohibited the 12 teams from signing players who chose to play overseas before submitting themselves to the NPB amateur draft for a period of three years–for those leaving right after high school–or two years for those who left later.
It was a hasty last-ditch effort to keep Junichi Tazawa from signing with the Boston Red Sox and was only agreed upon in the days leading up to him completing his deal.
Now 34, Tazawa returned to Japan this summer and is currently playing for the Musashi Heat Bears in independent ball–which would have been the case regardless of the rule since he is a Japanese citizen and can only sign with an NPB team after being selected in its autumn draft.
If the rule were to remain in place, he would not be available until the 2021 draft.
“I think it’s unfortunate they made that rule, and that it may have influenced others,” Tazawa said in September 2019 when he was with the Los Angeles Angels. “The Red Sox laid out a plan for my development and that encouraged me to think that was the best thing for me at the time to go over there and see how far I could push myself.”
“The Red Sox did a lot for me, and I am grateful to them for that. I suspect that going forward there will be more guys who want to try and make it straight out of the high school or something like that. Whether the rule will keep them from doing it, I don’t know.”
Two current major leaguers, Yusei Kikuchi of the Seattle Mariners and Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, were prepared to ignore the Tazawa rule and sign with big league clubs straight out of high school but were convinced to stay in Japan after they were drafted.
A few weeks before Tazawa spoke, corporate league pitcher Shumpei Yoshikawa abruptly quit his team to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“His decision is his decision,” Tazawa said. “In my case, had I failed, my company (Enos) had my back and said I could return, and that I could regain my amateur status after six months, so it wasn’t a huge leap.”