Major League Success Hurts Japan Baseball
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"Major League Success Hurts Japan Baseball"
United Press International
Japan's professional baseball has been in turmoil since a merger of two teams in the less popular Pacific league was announced a few weeks ago. There has been rumors since of another merger among the teams, and talks on the consolidation of the two, Pacific and Central, leagues, where owners of each team apparently having different views and the players expressing their demands - leaving the fans behind in the dark.
The article is an interesting observation on Japan's professional baseball, and why it is losing popularity among Japanese people. It seems to adhere to the theory that a number of good players, such as Ichiro and Matsui, have left Japan and joined the US major league, which stimulated Japanese people's interest toward the major league at the cost of losing enthusiasm in the domestic professional league.
This theory definitely has some truth in it. But the majority of the critics in Japan feel it to be the other way around. The responsibility for declining popularity of Japan's baseball league, and the departure of good players, are both to be borne by the poor management which has distracted the spectators in various ways.
Following are a couple of simple and visible phenomena, as results of poor management and lack of imagination by the owners of the teams.
One is the proliferation of domed baseball stadiums. In the attempt to provide comfort to the spectators, especially during the hot and humid summer in Japan, air-conditioned seats were sought, which inevitably brought roofs and artificial turf. Also, aggressive solicitations by big construction companies during the era of bubble economy, and the fear of falling behind the trend, have pushed the baseball team owners to build domed stadiums.
As the stadiums were being built, another element became a large factor in the design; dubbed as the safety of the fans. Afraid of being sued by spectators injured by the balls, or bits of bats, plunging into spectators' seats during the game, the team owners designed the new stadiums with ample distances between the field and the seats, and built high fences surrounding the field, effectively creating a cage, to confine any risk, and excitement, of the game.
Obviously, even the improved air-conditioned seats could never match the comfort of the sofa in the living room, while the new stadiums with spectators' seats placed far away from the playing field robbed the chance to experience the wildness of the game, a key allure of the sport.
Another readily noticeable example might be the existence of so-called voluntary cheer groups. They keep on playing bells, trumpets, and drums constantly throughout the game, seemingly with no interest at all in the game itself, filling the field with shoddy noise effectively distracting attention of the spectators. In fact, quite a number of players and managers have expressed their frustration, too, but only anonymously, because they fear being accused of condemning the fans. The owners of the teams, however, still seem to believe that such noise creators are important part of, and to promote, the popularity of their teams.
Of course, the people still could watch baseball games on TV. But the true fans watch TV as a substitute for being at the stadium, endeavoring to share the excitement with the spectators actually at the field. If the games become unappealing to those visiting the stadiums, there would be no chance of selling them to TV viewers.
There have been a number of reasons suggested as causes for the dwindling professional baseball in Japan. But there is not much argument to the proposition that some terrible misconception by the team owners have been one of the key factors. It is also suspected by many that at least a part of the reason for the players who joined the US major league left Japan because they felt their abilities as athletes would be suppressed if they had stayed in Japan, where the baseball society is governed by obsolete customs and old autocratic owners.
Thus, although the US major league seems to have effectively poached good athletes from Japan, it might have been the result of Japan's baseball community squeezing-out those players out of the rigid society, into a new environment where their abilities would be evaluated properly.