/

Players strike

First time in Japanese baseball

Japanese baseball players elected to stage the first strike in the history of the sport in Japan on Friday after extended negotiations with team officials failed to reach an agreement.

News photoThe digital screen at Yahoo BB Stadium during Friday’s game between
the Orix BlueWave and the Chiba Lotte Marines announces that this weekend’s games have
been canceled following the players’ association decision to go on strike.

Japan’s professional players had threatened to strike this weekend unless a one-year freeze was placed on the merger of the Pacific League’s Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave.

“The players have elected to go on strike,” Chiba Lotte Marines representative Ryuzo Setoyama said. “I want to extend our apologies to the fans around the country. The players asked for a one-year freeze on the merger of Orix and Kintetsu, but given the dire financial conditions of these two teams that was impossible.”

The strike will wipe out all games this weekend and possibly all weekend games between now and the end of the season.

On Thursday, team officials told the Japanese baseball players’ association that a freeze on the merger was impossible.

“We asked for a one-year freeze,” said Yakult catcher Atsuya Furuta, head of the players’ association. “We were told that was impossible and I sincerely want to apologize to all the fans who were planning on going to watch games this weekend.”

There were also reports in Japanese media late Friday that commissioner Yasuchika Negoro would step down to take responsibility for the strike.

Friday’s negotiating session was extended four hours beyond the 5 p.m. deadline but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement that would keep games going this weekend.

Japanese baseball players and owners averted the strike a week ago after the owners assured the players there would be no further mergers but the refusal to put the merger off for a year forced the players to stage the first walkout in the 70-year history of Japanese baseball.

The Buffaloes reportedly have taken losses of $36 million a year due to a drop in attendance and rising player salaries. The team’s representatives have said previously they can’t put the merger off for another year.

“In talks with the players, we promised reforms,” added Setoyama. “We promised to improve the environment for new teams to enter the league and we explained in great detail the financial conditions of the two teams according to the demands of the players.”

Another main negotiating point of Friday’s meetings was the admission of new teams into Japanese professional baseball.

Two Japanese Internet service companies have applied to set up new teams. The players wanted any new teams to join the pro leagues next season while the representatives maintained that 2006 would be the earliest a new team could enter Japan professional baseball.

Earlier this month, the representatives of Japan’s 12 professional teams 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 representatives also said they will maintain the two-league format that has been in place since 1950 and will hold more meeting to discuss the introduction of interleague games for next season.