Toru Matsubara, who organized Japanese baseball’s only players’ strike as the secretary general of the players union, died of urinary tract cancer on Sunday. He was 58.
In 2004, the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association defied Nippon Professional Baseball’s owners over restructuring the Pacific League due to the merger of two PL franchises. Fighting the arbitrary decision of the owners to merge the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes, the union — with strong backing from fans — struck four consecutive weekend dates.
Although the players were unable to prevent the merger, they forced owners to expedite the creation of an expansion franchise that became the Rakuten Eagles, and introduce an annual series of interleague games between the PL and the Central League.
“The strike changed the landscape,” Matsubara told Kyodo News in an exclusive interview in December. “No longer can owners hand down arbitrary decisions without consideration for the players or the fans.”
Matsubara, a native of Kawasaki, entered professional baseball after leaving university in 1981, when he was hired by the Lotte Orions. He was hired by the players union in 1988 and became the secretary general in 2000.