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Swallows, BayStars state opposition to contraction

The Yakult Swallows and Yokohama BayStars on Wednesday joined the Hanshin Tigers in growing calls to curb what appears to be an accelerating move toward a contraction of Japanese professional baseball.

Meanwhile, the Tigers put a positive spin on the situation, saying the club will propose the introduction of interleague games between Central and Pacific League teams at a series of meetings of baseball officials later this month in a bid to help maintain the two-league system.

“The image of baseball will be hurt if it contracts (to one league),” Swallows president Yoshikazu Tagiku said, saying the current two-league system should be maintained for the sake of baseball circles as a whole.

Tagiku quoted Swallows owner Sumiya Hori as saying he is not seeking any change to the current two-league system.

“More discussions will have to be held before we go in either direction — expansion or contraction,” Tagiku said, voicing concern over mounting speculation about a possible shift to a one-league format triggered by merger plans involving PL teams.

BayStars President Susumu Minegishi said having two leagues is “ideal” for Japanese baseball in an indication that his club is ready to form an alliance with the Tigers and Swallows in resisting the move toward a contraction.

The proposed merger between the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes received the nod from the owners of the 12 ball clubs on July 7, nearly one month after the revelation of their merger plans.

The amalgamation is designed to bail out the Buffaloes’ parent company, Kintetsu Corp, an Osaka-based railway operator struggling under the weight of the loss-making Buffaloes.

Late last month, Kintetsu rejected an offer outright from Internet services company Livedoor Co. to purchase the Buffaloes.

A further contraction loomed when Seibu Lions owner Yoshiaki Tsutsumi said at last week’s owners meeting that another merger between PL teams is in the pipeline.

Tsutsumi said the merger plan concerns two of four PL teams — the Lions, Daiei Hawks, Lotte Marines and Nippon Ham Fighters.

He did not name names among the four nor give any details of the plan, prompting speculation among the Japanese media and fans that a blueprint had already been drawn up for realignment into one league.

On Tuesday, Tigers owner Shunjiro Kuma said he is opposed to a one-league, 10-team system in a surprise about-face from his earlier argument that Japanese baseball should be run with just eight teams in one league.

Tigers president Katsuyoshi Nozaki followed Kuma’s remarks Wednesday with a stern objection to any realignment of teams, even if the number of teams in the PL is reduced to four.

“The merger talks have progressed in a different way from what we thought it should be,” Nozaki said.

Nozaki revealed that he will propose a plan to introduce interleague regular-season games, which the PL had previously demanded in order to boost the league’s popularity, only to see the idea turned down in the face of opposition from CL clubs.

The CL is the more popular of the two leagues thanks largely to the broad fan base of the Yomiuri Giants.

The players’ association, a labor union, has adopted a set of resolutions against the Orix-Kintetsu merger and does not rule out the possibility of exercising the right to go on strike.

The club owners are expected to finalize any plans regarding the setup for next season when they meet in September.

Influential Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe said Tuesday that both leagues will remain in place next year if pro baseball has 11 teams after one team is lost in the Pacific League.

Japanese baseball bylaws say approval from three-quarters of the clubs is necessary to make a decision on “important issues.”