Monday, September 7, 2009
Card Of The Week September 6
In honor of Labor Day, here's a 2002 Calbee card (#006) of Atsuya Furuta, head of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association (JPBPA) for the last seven years of his playing career (not including his two years as player-manager).
This month marks the fifth anniversary of the one and only (to date) player's strike in NPB. During the 2004 season, Kintetsu, the owner of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, decided that they wanted out of the baseball business. Instead of selling to a company outside of baseball, they decided to sell the team to Orix and merge the Buffaloes with the Blue Wave. (Team mergers had been somewhat common during the earlier days of NPB, but it had been over 45 years since the last one.) Obviously, essentially dropping one team from the Pacific League and having an uneven number of teams would create a scheduling nightmare, so the owners started kicking around some ideas. One thought was to get two other teams to merge or to simply dissolve a team. Since this would leave only four teams in the Pacific League, the thought then was to put all ten remaining teams in a single league.
The JPBPA (under Furuta's leadership) naturally objected to the potential loss of 150+ jobs, especially when it was being done unilaterally by the league. They announced that the players would not play any weekend games in September, starting the weekend of September 18-19. As it turned out, they only needed that first weekend walkout for ownership to relent. A compromise was quickly reached, where it was agreed that the Orix-Kintetsu merger would be allowed to go through (resulting in the Orix Buffaloes) but an expansion team would be added to the Pacific League so that the existing two league system would be retained. This expansion team ended up being the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. (And yes, you could ask why Rakuten didn't simply buy the Buffaloes from Kintetsu and move them to Sendai. I don't have a good answer for that.)
My memory is a bit hazy, but I believe that this compromise also included an agreement on allowing interleague play. I could be wrong, but interleague play did start the following season.
(Beyond the Baseball Reference Bullpen pages linked above, I got some of the information for this from Baseball America's 2005 Alamanac.)