SECOND STRIKE AVERTED

Baseball players reach deal with management

The Associated Press

Japan’s baseball players averted a second strike Thursday after agreeing in principle with management that a new team will be allowed to join Japanese professional baseball next season.

The players have agreed not to stage a second strike this weekend after representatives of Japan’s professional teams softened their stance on the entry of new teams into Japan’s pro leagues.

Following the merger of the Pacific League’s Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave, Japan’s players insisted that a new team be allowed to enter Japan’s pro leagues next season.

Management, however, countered that the earliest a new team could enter Japan professional baseball would be after the 2005 season.

“In today’s negotiations, management promised they will deal with a number of issues to work toward the development of baseball,” said Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta, the head of the players’ association.

In Thursday’s negotiations, it was agreed by both sides that efforts would be made toward having 12 teams next season, instead of five teams in the Pacific League and six in Central League.

Japan’s professional players staged the first strike in the 70-year history of Japanese baseball last weekend when 12 games were wiped out.

It was expected the merger of the Buffaloes and BlueWave would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs for players and team personnel.

The players were also convinced that having five teams in the Pacific and six teams in the Central was not workable in terms of scheduling.

The Buffaloes reportedly have lost $36 million (29.4 million euros) a year because of a drop in attendance and rising player salaries. The team’s owners have said they can’t put the merger off for another year.

Two Japanese Internet service companies have applied to set up new teams.

Rakuten President Hiroshi Mikitani said he would make a formal application Friday to set up a professional baseball team based in Miyagi Prefecture north of Tokyo.

“I’m glad the two sides were able to avert a strike,” said Mikitani. “We look forward to working with the players and Japan professional baseball in an effort to reinvigorate Japanese baseball. If Rakuten is allowed in, we will work hard to please the fans.”

Earlier this month, Livedoor President Takafumi Horie applied to Nippon Professional Baseball to create a team that would play out of Miyagi Stadium in the northeastern Japanese city of Sendai.

Livedoor attempted to purchase the Pacific League’s Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes before they were merged with the Orix BlueWave.