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NPB may have solution to WBC problem

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Perhaps Nippon Professional Baseball has come up with something that will finally convince the Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association to reverse course and compete in the next World Baseball Classic.

It was reported late Monday night that, after checking with WBC organizers on a number of matters, NPB revealed it owns certain rights to sponsorship revenues stemming from Samurai Japan’s participation in the event.

“We were able to reconfirm that Japan could own these rights,” Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters representative Toshimasa Shimada was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

Japan won both previous editions of the tournament, in 2006 and 2009, but the players’ union has threatened to sit out the 2013 edition unless NPB secures the sponsorship rights for the team.

The NPB’s sponsorship revelation may be a positive sign, after it seemed like little was gained from NPB officials’ meeting with WBC organizers in New York last week.

“We have made Japan a very fair offer to participate in the World Baseball Classic that continues to make them a stakeholder in the tournament’s profit without requiring them to take any financial risk,” said MLB’s vice president for Asia Jim Small, representing WBC Inc., in an email to The Japan Times on Friday after that meeting. “In addition, MLB takes on significant costs that are not applied to the tournament’s budget. We have an agreement with the NPB to participate but they have been unable to come to an agreement with the JPBPA. The issue really is between NPB and JPBPA.”

The union told the Japan Times simply, “our original stance has not changed,” and declined further comment.

NPB officials are expected to sit down with the JPBPA soon and present the results of their meeting with WBC organizers in hopes of convincing the players to compete.

According to a Kyodo News report, Toru Matsubara, the union’s secretary general, has said he will confer with union head Takahiro Arai, of the Hanshin Tigers, in hopes of drafting a response after hearing from NPB.

Neither side is going to come out looking very good should a resolution not be reached.

A WBC without Japan is a flawed entity. Japan brings a cache from outside of the Americas that no team can match —- South Korea is as much of a threat to win, but lacks the overall star power.

Similarly, not delivering a team would be a blow to the NPB’s reputation and the players, by essentially taking their ball and staying home, missing out on the chance to showcase themselves and run the risk of being seen as sacrificing the greater good for their own benefit.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, the union doesn’t come around. That would seemingly leave NPB with two options. Either Japan could simply not send a team, or cobble together a squad of MLB players and amateurs under the Samurai Japan banner.

The idea of the WBC was to the help spread the game globally, and having the world’s second most important baseball power drop out or send a less than full strength squad doesn’t seem conducive to that goal.

The NPB’s latest revelation should offer some hope to fans wanting to see a full-strength Japan try and defend its title. Now, the ball is back in the players’ court.