Disturbed by repeated media reports saying Nippon Professional Baseball is dissatisfied with the organization and conditions of next year’s proposed World Baseball Classic, Major League Baseball’s Managing Director in Japan Jim Small invited the media to a coffee session in his Tokyo office on May 30 to clearly state MLB’s stance and explain its position vis-a-vis the NPB.
Small spoke first to a contingent of writers from Japanese sports papers and news services, then repeated his remarks in English in a second session for international media representatives.
His comments were consistent with those made by MLB senior vice president Paul Archey to The Associated Press and carried in the May 29 edition of The Japan Times.
Refuting claims supposedly made by NPB officials that the planned distribution of revenue from the 16-team tournament will be unfair and that March is not a good time to stage the event, Small said the MLB had not planned to talk to the media until full details of the WBC are announced on July 11 at the major league All-Star Game in Detroit.
However, the continuing controversy and articles hinting at the NPB’s apparent reluctance to fully back the WBC plan convinced the MLB that maybe it is time to say something.
“First of all,” said Small, “this is about seeing the best baseball players in the world competing. It is not about business or politics.
“We think the fans in Japan want to see players such as Hideki and Kaz Matsui, Ichiro (Suzuki) and (Tadahito) Iguchi on the same side with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kenji Jojima against the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols . . .”
The idea for a World Cup-style series was first considered in the late 1990s and the potential organizers had to think about how it could be staged in a way that it would be safe for the players, how to allocate sponsorship and TV rights and how to gain the participation and support of all the baseball-playing countries and governing bodies.
The International Baseball Federation promised its support in March of this year after the NPB, the Korea Baseball Organization and sanctioning entities in other nations pledged to join the World Baseball Classic.
Specifically, the MLB got agreement from NPB on Nov. 4, 2004, after MLB President Bob DuPuy flew to Japan twice to explain the details of the WBC and ask for support from Tokyo.
NPB Executive Secretary Kazuo Hasegawa gave the green light from the Japanese side.
“Since then, nothing has changed,” said Small, and that is why the MLB seems to be confused about the conflicting press reports indicating the Japanese are concerned about potential problems, especially the revenue-sharing and the scheduling of the WBC in March, rather than November, as the postseason period is said to be preferred by NPB and its players union.
Small insists everything is on the up-and-up regarding the distribution of the financial pot and says, “The Japanese and other participants cannot lose money. They can only make money.
“We are the ones taking all the risks and, should this event prove unprofitable, which we do not think it will, the others will not lose financially. The tournament will pay their expenses, and they will share in the profit and have a chance to win prize money.”
MLB has also allocated two seats to Japan on the WBC steering committee which will plan future WBC events in 2009, 2013 and beyond.
Regarding the schedule, Small said March is much better than November for a variety of reasons.
First, there is a minimum risk of injuries to the players, because they will be coming out of their spring training camps but fresh from the off-season winter rest period. In November, most of the players are exhausted from the grueling season, so the quality of play would not be as high as in March.
There is also the business aspect and element of competition with other sports.
In North America, for example, a November WBC would be going up against the NFL, NBA, NHL (if they get their labor problems squared away) and college football.
“Playing the WBC in March just prior to the regular season will excite the fans and should help sell season tickets in Japan,” said Small.
Asked if he thought one objection from the Japanese side had to do with the reluctance to lose players during the preseason when teams are playing exhibition games and preparing for their championship season, and especially from the Pacific League whose Opening Day this year was March 26, Small had a ready response.
“The dates of the WBC will be announced in Detroit on July 11, but it will take place roughly from about March 1 to 15,” he said, so participating national team players should be back with their regular clubs in plenty of time for Opening Day, even if the P.L. decides to start its 2006 season on March 25.
Also, it is expected that several Japan team players (both Matsuis, Ichiro, Iguchi, and perhaps Hideo Nomo, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Shingo Takatsu, Tomo Ohka, Kaz Ishii, Keiichi Yabu, Akinori Otsuka and So Taguchi) will come from MLB rosters, so each Central and Pacific League team would have to send only one or two players to the WBC to complete a 28-man squad.
Small pointed out the major league owners and its players association are trusting the MLB commissioner and backing the WBC concept for the right reason — to promote baseball.
In the end, he believes the Japanese side will be there, realizing the WBC is all for the good of the game.
He said, “We stand ready to meet anyone from NPB at any time, anywhere. I’m on the 15th floor of the building where the NPB Commissioner’s Office is on the 14th floor. They can call me with any concern, any problem, any question, and I can be there in one minute to discuss it.”
The WBC will include a field of teams from 16 countries, and Small concluded by saying, “The NPB is being asked to participate in the most important international baseball event ever held, with absolutely zero risk and the potential for a huge upside.
“I hope they will consider this, and the desires of Japanese baseball fans, when making their decision.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.