Reader Mark Chabre of Tokyo’s Minato Ward is the latest of many fans who have asked, “Is there an MLB vs. Japan All-Star series this year?”
The answer is no.
If there had been a 2008 Nichibei yakyu tour, it would be over by now.
Unfortunately, the Japanese Pro Baseball Players Union does not want to participate in this any more, and this is the first even-numbered year since 1986 that an MLB postseason Japan tour will not be held, save for 1994 when the major league players were on strike, and their whole postseason — World Series included — was canceled.
One reason the JPBPU is opposed is said to be the disparity in salary and benefits, as the visitors are believed to receive about $40,000 per man, whereas, the Japanese players get the equivalent of a few thousand bucks.
Also, there is the Asia Series which wraps up this year on Sunday, and the second World Baseball Classic coming up next March.
On top of that, breaks in August for the 2008 Beijing Olympics expanded the calendar of the Central and Pacific League seasons here, and the Japan Series did not begin until Nov. 1.
Since the JS went the full seven games, it did not end until Nov. 9, and it would have been way too late to start an MLB tour after most of the American and National League players have been home for more than a month and no doubt starting to get rusty.
So, the postseason MLB-NPB series we have seen every other year may be gone forever.
Perhaps the best we can hope for as far as seeing major leaguers in Japan would be more regular-season openers such as the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics played in Tokyo in March, or a brief trip to Japan in the fall by a single MLB team such as the 1993 Tommy Lasorda-led Los Angeles Dodgers’ two-game series at Fukuoka Dome.
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Another recycling candidate?: Following up here on last week’s column and quotes from foreign players Jeremy Powell and Aaron Guiel, with another American who would like to return to another Japanese club. Former Yakult Swallows first baseman Adam Riggs, released this past summer after 3 1/2 years in Tokyo, says he too would like to give Japanese ball a second try with another club.
In an e-mail, Riggs offered the following insight: “I am hanging out here in Texas, spending time with the family, working out and staying in shape, because I plan on playing next year. I am a free agent and would love to play in Japan again.
“I totally agree with you about recycling players who have played in Japan before. If you give a guy enough at-bats, he is going to finish the season with the same stats he always does.
“Look at (Orix Buffaloes slugger) Alex Cabrera’s season this year. But in Japan, you can get a manager who does not have enough patience to let a guy struggle the first month. He releases him, or a guy gets hurt and doesn’t have a good year. But you have to look at the player’s total career, not just that one bad year.”
The Swallows dropped Riggs after an injury-plagued 2007 season and a 2008 campaign where he, as he said, struggled the first month. However, he showed what he can do when healthy and given the chance to play a full season.
In 2006, when he missed only two games, Riggs slammed 39 home runs, knocked in 94 and hit .294 while batting second for the Swallows. There is no reason, barring injury, he cannot repeat a season such as that, and he might even do better.
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Macha to Milwaukee: Congratulations to Ken Macha on being named the new manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. Maybe he will still get a chance to come back to Japan one of these years.
The former Chunichi Dragons (1982-85) third baseman narrowly missed a return to this country on two occasions during his tenure as field boss of the Oakland Athletics.
Macha came within two days of a Japan homecoming in 2003 after the A’s official season-opening series with the Seattle Mariners at Tokyo Dome was canceled because of the outbreak of the Iraq war.
Then he was named manager of the Major League All-Star team that eventually toured Japan in 2006, but he was not with it. Despite taking Oakland to the American League playoffs, he was fired after the Athletics were eliminated, and that move dictated his disqualification from the MLB Japan trip because he did not have a team whose uniform he could wear.
He went on to do TV work in Boston and now takes over a playoff team in Milwaukee as he did in Oakland, that one from Art Howe who left the A’s after the season in 2002 to become manager of the New York Mets. Howe managed the MLB All-Star team that toured Japan, and he wore the Mets uniform for the first time.
Howe said in November of that year, as he was about to lead his All-Star team in a game against the NPB all-stars at Tokyo Dome, that Macha should do OK in Oakland, because “‘I left him a pretty good team.”
Macha has been given a pretty good team with the Brewers, and we’ll see if he can get them to a World Series and — eventually — earn himself another chance at the elusive return to Japan.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com