Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Many questions remain over merger of Buffaloes, BlueWave

by Wayne Graczyk

July 7 is the date for the big meeting in Japanese baseball. Owners of the 12 Central and Pacific League teams are to get together to decide what will happen with regard to the proposed merger of two PL clubs, the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave.

Following is a list of questions that may or may not be answered at the meeting, but they will have to be answered quickly.

The draft of the 2005 schedule needs to be drawn up, and the schedule makers will need to know how many clubs — how many teams — will be playing, and who will be playing whom.

Here are just some of those questions to be addressed:

Will the Buffaloes and BlueWave actually merge as intended?

Will the Pacific League play with just five teams (and a chaotic schedule that might include three teams at a time involved in playing doubleheaders) in 2005?

Or will Kintetsu and Orix both be eliminated, leaving 10 clubs in a one-league format?

Or will the 10-team league come about through an Osaka merger with Kobe and the tieup of two other teams?

Will the Chiba Lotte Marines merge with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks?

Will the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters unite with the Marines or melt into one with the Hawks?

Will the Yakult Swallows merge with the Yokohama BayStars?

All these possibilities have been rumored or suggested in the Japanese papers.

If we go to a one-league format, what will the league be called?

The Japan League?

Japan Pro Baseball?

Something else?

Presumably, there will be two five-team divisions, so what will they be called?

East and West?

North and South?

Central and Pacific?

Something different?

What will happen to the Eastern and Western League farm teams?

Will they still exist as two leagues or be re-organized?

How will the players from the merging or folding teams be disbursed?

Will there be a draft?

Will the players be made available to all teams?

Will the Central and Pacific League offices cease to exist under those names?

How much impact will the Japan Pro Baseball Players Union have in deciding what to do?

Besides players, what about all the others who will lose their jobs: managers, coaches, batting practice pitchers and catchers, trainers and interpreters, front office and public relations people, umpires, groundskeepers, stadium security staff members, public address, announcers, ball park vendors, team mascots (kawai so, Buffy and Neppie), cheerleaders and (gulp!) sportswriters?

Assuming we end up with one 10-team league, and each team plays all the other teams, how many games will be on the schedule?

Will it be 135 or 140, or some other number?

Will teams such as the Yomiuri Giants still be able to play “home” game series in Fukuoka and Sapporo?

What will happen to the designated hitter rule?

What becomes of league records?

Will they still be able to play All-Star games between the two divisions?

What happens to the Japan Series?

Will there be any playoffs to get into the Japan Series, whatever it is to be called?

Will the “A-Class” and “B-Class” teams in the standings be divided, respectively, by the top two and bottom three in each division?

Or the top three and bottom two?

What happens if the Buffaloes, though unlikely to finish in first or second place this season, end up in third place but win the Pacific League playoffs (now apparently a one-year thing) in October, then go on to win the Japan Series?

Can we go into next season with no defending champion?

Can any changes be made in time for the 2005 campaign, or will it wait until 2006?

Do the schedule makers have mental health insurance in case they go crazy trying to figure it out?

One more question that, if the answer to it is yes, would wipe out all the above and save a lot of time and trouble: Isn’t there a company, a buyer, who can step up and take over the Kintetsu Buffaloes franchise?

Mark your calendar for July 7 and fasten your safety belt for a rough ride as the team owners and other officials try to sort out the possibilities, defuse the crisis and, hopefully, come up with the answers to all the above.

From the (e-) mail bag, former Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers outfielder, and three-time Central League batting champion, Alonzo Powell checked in with a message for his ex-teammates and his many fans here who saw him win the CL Silver Bat in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

Coincidentally, “Zo” is now the manager of a team called the Dragons; the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons, a Class A minor league team in the Cincinnati Reds organization.

He played for Chunichi for six seasons (1992-1997) and finished his career in Japan in 1998 with Hanshin.

I can recall asking him if he wanted to stay in baseball as a coach or manager after retiring as an active player, and Powell replied, “No way. I’ll spend time with my family, then look into doing some other work.”

He obviously changed his mind.

The former Seattle Mariners player says hello to all in Japan who remember him and to stop by and see a Dragons game if you happen to be in downtown Dayton this summer.

Tokyo reader Neil Garscadden asked, “When is the Japan All-Star Game this year?”

The Central and Pacific Leagues face each other (perhaps for the final time under those designations) in the 2004 Sanyo All-Star Series. Two games will be played, and this summer the dates are earlier than usual.

The first will be on Saturday, July 10, at Nagoya Dome, and Game 2 will be staged at the Nagano Olympic Stadium on Sunday, July 11.