OSAKA – Hanshin Tigers president Katsuyoshi Nozaki called on four other Central League clubs Thursday to join forces in resisting a move toward a shift to a one-league system in Japanese professional baseball.
Nozaki unveiled a plan to meet separately with top officials of the Yakult Swallows, Yokohama BayStars, Chunichi Dragons and Hiroshima Carp to draft a joint agreement against the move and submit it to a July 26 executive committee meeting of Japanese professional baseball.
“We want to work on feasible and practical proposals such as the introduction of interleague games,” Nozaki said, noting that the four teams have already accepted his offer to hold talks aimed at keeping the current two-league format.
“This may lead to a clash of opinion with the (Yomiuri) Giants. But hopefully we will put forward proposals capable of maintaining the two-league system for co-existence and co-prosperity of all teams,” Nozaki said.
Nozaki also said he told the Giants that the Tigers favor keeping the current two-league system in Japanese baseball made up of six teams each in the Central and Pacific leagues.
The latest development came a day after Yakult and Yokohama joined Hanshin in growing opposition to a shift to a one-league system. The owners of the 12 clubs gave the nod last week to the proposed merger between the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes.
Speculation of a further contraction of teams was fueled when Seibu Lions owner Yoshiaki Tsutsumi said at the owners meeting that another merger is in the works between two of four PL teams — the Lions, Daiei Hawks, Lotte Marines and Nippon Ham Fighters.
Tsutsumi did not elaborate on the plan, prompting talk that a blueprint had already been drawn up for realignment into one league.
It is widely believed the influential Yomiuri Giants owner, Tsuneo Watanabe, strongly supports a switch to one league at a time when fan support for the hugely popular CL club has shown signs of declining.
The other CL clubs have relied largely on the popularity of the Giants and previously rejected a PL demand for the introduction of interleague regular-season games for fear that the lucrative shares from their games against the Giants would be reduced.
To the surprise of many, Tigers owner Shunjiro Kuma earlier this week voiced opposition to a one-league system in an about-face from his earlier argument that Japanese baseball should be run with just eight teams in one league.
Baseball sources said an increasing number of ball clubs have become sensitive to the reaction of fans and public concerned over what appears to be a rapid move toward one-league baseball.
Last weekend, the players’ association, a labor union, adopted a set of resolutions against the Orix-Kintetsu merger and does not rule out the possibility of strikes.
The club owners are expected to finalize any plans regarding the setup for next season when they meet in September.
Abe set for return
Yomiuri Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe, who has been sidelined since last month with a left hamstring injury, will make his return to the top team for a three-game series starting Friday against the Yakult Swallows, team officials said Thursday.
Abe strained the hamstring in late June and was removed from the active roster. He made cameo appearances in both games of the two-game All-Star series last Saturday and Sunday but showed no signs of the injury at practice Thursday.
“I’m in condition to make a full appearance. I’d like to redeem myself after taking all this time off,” Abe said.
Abe had been on a torrid pace with a league-high 24 homers and batting .309 after 65 games when he sustained the injury June 23.