• The Associated Press


Japanese baseball players and team representatives averted the first strike in the history of the sport in Japan on Friday by reaching a last-minute agreement that will allow teams to continue playing through the weekend.

News photoOsaka – Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta (right), who
heads the Japanese players’ association, talks with team representatives Friday.

The players had said three conditions, including a one-year freeze on the merger of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave, would have to be met by 5 p.m. Friday to avoid a strike.

In addition to the freeze, the players also wanted assurances that there would be no further mergers and that the fees required for setting up a new team to enter Japanese professional baseball would be reduced.

In Friday’s meetings, they got just enough to keep playing at least through the weekend.

Atsuya Furuta, head of the Japanese baseball players’ association, said after Friday’s meeting that the team representatives assured the players there would be no further mergers and that negotiations on the other two issues would continue until Sept. 18, the next day there could be a work stoppage under the players’ strike plans.

“We decided to extend the negotiations with the possibility that the Buffaloes will remain in Osaka,” said Furuta. “And we’ve been assured there will be no further reduction in teams.”

The team representatives of Japan’s 12 professional teams on Wednesday voted to approve the merger between the Buffaloes and BlueWave, a move that could result in up to 100 players and team personnel losing their jobs.

The team representatives also said Wednesday they will maintain the two-league format that has been in place since 1950 and will hold another meeting on Sept. 29 to discuss the introduction of interleague games for next season.

On Monday, the players’ association decided that if the merger went through, the players would refuse to play all weekend games between now and the end of September.

Following the merger of the Buffaloes and BlueWave, a move that leaves the Pacific League with five teams instead of six, it was widely believed two more teams from the league would merge.

Several teams, including the cash-strapped Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Seibu Lions, were mentioned as possible merger candidates.

Many teams in the less-profitable Pacific League are said to favor a single league to cash in on the higher revenues generated by playing the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants.

Friday’s decision to have no further mergers makes the formation of a single league unlikely.

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