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Japanese ball players set to strike

Baseball officials endorse merger as weekend walkouts planned

The Associated Press

Japan’s professional baseball players’ association will go on strike for the first time if owners go ahead with a proposed merger of two teams later this week, the group’s leader said Monday.

News photoAtsuya Furuta, chairman of the professional baseball players’ association, answers questions from the media at a hotel in Kobe about the association’s decision to call a strike should the planned merger between the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes go ahead.

The players decided at a meeting that if their demand to suspend the merger between the Pacific League’s Orix BlueWave and Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes is not met, they will refuse to play, said Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta, who heads the association.

“If they decide to reduce the (number of) baseball teams, we will conduct a strike,” Furuta told reporters.

In a preliminary vote that raises the likelihood of the Orix-Kintetsu merger, representatives of the 12 professional baseball teams endorsed the deal on Monday at a meeting called by the commissioner’s office, Central League President Hajime Toyokura said.

Toyokura also threatened to file a lawsuit against the players if they strike.

“If the players strike, we are considering suing the players to seek compensation for damages,” he told reporters after the vote.

The baseball owners are widely expected to give final approval to the merger at a meeting Wednesday, which could lead to up to 100 players and team personnel losing their jobs.

It could also spur more mergers, possibly reducing the sport from the current two Central and Pacific leagues of six teams each to just one 10-team league.

The players have said that three conditions — including a one-year freeze on the proposed merger — must be met by Friday. If not, they will refuse to play all weekend games for the rest of the month, public broadcaster NHK said.

If the players carry out those plans, it would be the first strike in Japanese baseball history, and would take place 10 years after U.S. Major League Baseball players went on strike in 1994.

The owners had held back on merger negotiations after the players sought a court injunction against the plan, but were set to resume after a high court decision earlier Monday.

Presiding Judge Kazuyoshi Harada of the Tokyo High Court upheld a district court ruling allowing the merger to proceed, rejecting an appeal by the players, court spokeswoman Chieko Kamiyama said.

Many owners in the less profitable Pacific League are said to favor a single league in order to cash in on the higher revenues garnered by playing against the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants.

The Giants have long been Japan’s most popular team and draw large crowds wherever they play in Japan, as well as high TV ratings.

But the players have fiercely battled the planned merger, and many fans also oppose the plan. Critics argue that there are less drastic ways to divide up the baseball pie — interleague play and the more equitable distribution of television broadcast rights.

On Friday, it was reported that Tsuneo Watanabe, who has quit as owner of the Giants yet remains an influential figure, had proposed moving the team to the Pacific League.

BlueWave rally past Fighters

KOBE (Kyodo) Daisuke Hayakawa hit his second career homer to ignite a rally as the Orix BlueWave came from behind to beat the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 5-2 in the Pacific League on Monday.

Hayakawa connected for a two-run homer off Yusaku Iriki (2-3) to tie the game at 2-2 at Yahoo BB Stadium before Orix scored the go-ahead run on an Arihito Muramatsu infield single that capped a three-run fifth inning.