NOT Going to America? Japanese Baseball Protectionism

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/29/2012 09:25:00 AM
Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball - Jacques Barzun [RIP]
Those with even a passing knowledge of baseball know that the Japanese are the best in the world at this sport. Despite extending my congratulations to the 2012 US champions the San Francisco Giants--many of my relatives Stateside live in the Bay Area and are big fans--it is certainly a misnomer to call a sporting event between two US clubs the "World Series." It's another example of American narrow-mindedness in thinking their country represents the world, but the reality is that in truly international competition--the World Baseball Classic--Japanese teams have won both times this event was held Stateside in 2006 and 2009. Just as the British who invented the sport are exceptionally lame at football (soccer to American readers) having won no World Cups in recent memory, so too are the Americans exceptionally lame at baseball since they did not even place in the aforementioned events in their own backyard. As the Yanks prolly would say about their non-world class squads, "You suck, boys." (Draw your own conclusions about evident American hegemonic decline and its performance in baseball.)

It was thus with no small amount of interest that I came across an article concerning American efforts to poach great Japanese talent amid rising homegrown opposition. Actually, the Japanese have already tried to prevent more of their young players from going to America by prohibiting those who do straight from high school from playing in Japanese leagues for three years after they return to Nippon (it's for two years for those representing corporate or university teams). The so-called "Tazawa rule" is now being rethought though after one of the nation's most promising prospects, Shohei Otani--an 18-year-old fireballer throwing 100 MPH fastballs--left:
Japanese baseball officials are considering stricter rules for amateur players who bypass the country’s professional leagues to play in Major League Baseball. Concern with the existing rules arose after high school pitcher Shohei Otani decided to pursue a career in the major leagues instead of playing in Japanese professional baseball.

In 2008, Junichi Tazawa left Japan’s corporate league, signing with the Boston Red Sox as the first top amateur to bypass the Japanese draft. Tazawa’s move led Japanese baseball to rule that if a player decides to play overseas after being drafted by a Japanese team, he cannot play for a Japanese pro club for up to three years after he returns to Japan.

Japan’s 12 pro teams are looking for tougher rules to keep talented young players in Japan. “If there is a better system for the teams and for the players we should consider it,” Hiroshima Carp general manager Kiyoaki Suzuki said.
Instead of North-South brain drain, what we have here is "arm drain"--OECD style. Given that US-Japanese trade history has historically been contentious--over film, cars, and what else have you--it is interesting how the roles are reversed in the realm of migration. Ever heard of the famously mercantilist Japanese wishing they had fewer exports? Still, there is really nothing the Japanese can do if the aforementioned players decide to play for the majority of their careers Stateside.

Already, the team which has rights to him--the Nippon Ham Fighters (please don't ask)--indicates that it would prefer if the rule were abolished so that they can still allow him to play should he return to Japan instead of making him sit out for three seasons:
The meeting [about expatriate players] sought to find a compromise solution for the aggrieved Fighters by discussing whether the Sapporo-based team could retain exclusive negotiating rights to Otani. The issue of lifting the ban on the 1.93m pitcher if he returns to Japan was the key topic of discussion. "Suppose Otani returns after five years," Fighters executive director Toshimasa Shimada told the Sankei Sports newspaper. "Is it right to keep him out of Japanese baseball until he's 26?"
 For all its frailties, it appears American baseball still has more than a smidgen of "market power."

UPDATE: And speaking of the World Series, don't get me started on how many players on both teams were actually imports from countries like Venezuela which have done rather better than the US in international competition.