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01/06/2003 Archived Entry: "Japanese Baseball News: A Town Called Matsui; Toyota to Buy Dodgers?"

Three Japanese Firms Said to be Mulling Dodgers Purchase

According to Chunichi Sports, there are rumors circulating that a Japanese company may step in and buy the L.A. Dodgers from Rupert Murdoch. Among the names being mentioned are Toyota, Suntory Beer and Sony. Toyota has owned an industrial league team that future Hall of Fame Yakult catcher Atsuya Furuta once belonged to, but that is the totality of their involvement in baseball as far as I know (anyone who has more details, please write in). And if I'm not mistaken, Suntory and Sony have not been involved in running any sort of baseball club.

The Seattle Mariners are owned by Nintendo, though the team is ostensibly run by an independent board, and that outfit played a major role in bringing both Kazuhiro Sasaki, who is friends with Nintendo Chairman Emeritus Hiroshi Yamauchi, and Ichiro Suzuki to MLB. The MLB Commissioner's Office hypocritically objected to foreign ownership of one of its teams when the sale to Nintendo was being discussed and thus it will be interesting to see how it reacts many years since if a bid is put up by another Japanese firm.

Matsui May Get City Named After Him

The meaning of the words "favorite son" just took on a whole new dimension if a report in Sports Nippon is correct. According to that Japanese daily, Yankees rookie outfielder Hideki Matsui's hometown of Neagari-cho in Ishikawa Prefecture is going to merge with two other nearby communities to create a new municipality in 2005 and the mayor of Neagari-cho is pushing to have that new entity named Matsui City.

The Japanese government has been pushing for cities and towns to merge with each other in order to create more efficient administrative entities. For example, the city of Shimizu, where the wildly popular Japanese cartoon series "Chibi Maruko-chan" is set, was recently annexed by the city of Shizuoka in Shizuoka Prefecture.

The other two towns that will join with Negari-cho are Terai-cho and Tatsunokuchi-cho. When combined, the new city will have a total of 46,000 inhabitants. Neagari-cho currently has 16,000. Moreover, over the New Years holidays, more than 3,000 people visited a museum dedicated to Matsui. If this comes to pass, it will be the first time a city has been named after a pro baseball player. Neagari-cho mayor Hirata says that, "Matsui has injected a lot of energy into our town. When the three towns are merged into one, we are considering naming it after him."

Matsui was given a town honor award in 1999 and is considered to be the face of the community. Over 90,000 have visited the Matsui museum in the last year and Godzilla is also considered a hero in the communities adjoining his hometown. Civic leaders are hoping that if they do indeed name the new city after Matsui, that it will help drive more tourism to the area and fill local coffers. They may also rename a local ballpark after Matsui and a nearby train stop "Godzilla Station." Furthermore, a shopping area of Neagari-cho may take on the name of "home run road."

Matsui's going to the Yankees has also inspired the 100 strong New York Ishikawa Prefecture Citizen's Association there to get moving, with President Kenji Nakase attempting to create a fan club for the slugger among Japanese in New York.

Nihon Kinki Tourist is booking its first Matsui tour to the Bronx, a six day, four night excursion that includes back to back Yankees games against the Twins in April that will cost their clients about $1400 each for the entire package. They have already had one day where they racked up 150 enquiries just into that package, say company officials.

Perhaps taking that tour during Golden Week (the first week of May) would be folks from Neagari-cho, as town officials are contemplating organizing a journey to Yankee Stadium, according to Hochi Sports.

A Yomiuri Giants official was quoted by Sankei Sports as worrying that the broadcast of Yankees games in Japan would compete with those of the Japanese team and hopes that Matsui will do what he can to enhance the Giants prestige while he is in New York.

Yakult Swallows pitchers Shugo Fujii and Rookie of the Year Masanori Ishikawa left for Phoenix earlier today, where they will train with Eric Hinske, and said that they will be talking to MLB players about how to pitch to Matsui. Fujii surrendered six homers to Matsui last season and nine lifetime, so how much of a help he will be to MLB hurlers is questionable.

Japanese Umpires Detained by Atlanta Airport Security

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) sent two of their young umpires, Tatsuya Hagiwara, 25, and Kyohei Makita, 23, to Harry Wendlstedt's school in Daytona Beach, Florida for some tutoring. But when they landed in Atlanta, U.S. customs officials judged their papers to not be in order and they were handcuffed and detained for over an hour in a holding cell before being put on a Delta flight and kicked back to Japan. Both men said they were flummoxed by the whole experience and complained of being treated like criminals. An NPB official accepted responsibility for the error that lead to his fiasco and lamented the fact that the umpires will not be able to participate in Wendlstedt's class this year.

Hot Shots....

Yokohama Bay Stars free agent closer Takashi Saito is reportedly in negotiations with two unnamed MLB teams. His agent just left for the U.S. to see what kind of deal he can work out, though Saito himself says that his going to MLB is "50-50." So far, neither of his MLB suitors have approached the three year, $2 million a season proffer from the Stars. Team ace Daisuke Miura threw for the first time since having surgery and reported no discomfort....Kintetsu Buffaloes first baseman Yuji Yoshioka absorbed a $50,000 pay cut to around $800,000....Yomiuri Giants outfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi says he plans to get up early in the morning to watch Hideki Matsui's games on television during the season and wants him to hit some homers and hopes that Matsui's performance will pump him up....Yomiuri southpaw Kimiyasu Kudoh stated today that he wants to eclipse 93mph for the first time in his 19 year career this coming season. His fastest to date was 92mph in 1999 and in 2002 he registered 91mph. Another Yomiuri moundsman, Hiroki Sanada, believes that he was tipping off his curve ball last season and is making some minor changes to his delivery to rectify that as well as get more sink on the pitch. Reliever Tsuyoshi Jobe would like to get into 50 games in 2003 and notch an ERA under 2.00...Hanshin Tigers manager Senichi Hoshino averred that he hopes his team will be good enough to draw more than three million fans for the first time in its history. Last year, 2.67 million mosied through the turnstiles while the club record was a little over 2.8 million, set in 1992. Hoshino's leftfielder, Osamu Hamanaka, said his goals for the new season are a .300 average and 25 homers....Seibu Lions ace Daisuke Matsuzaka has never had a weight problem in the American sense of the word, but he has had trouble maintaining his optimum playing weight over his first three seasons. He reported ten pounds over in 2002 and to prevent a repeat of that has hired a nutritionist who has put him on a low fat, high protein diet that has put him exactly where he wants to be. Now will that translate into the 20 wins he hopes to amass in 2003? We'll see....Meanwhile, Lions platoon player Toshiaki Inubushi, who ripped lefties for a .325 average last year, aspires to raise that figure to .400.... The Pacific League is said to be looking at instituting a playoff system in order to hopefully boost fan interest. It would be similar to the KBO, where the second and third place clubs would faceoff for the right to then knock heads with the pennant winner. From 1973-1982, the circuit had a playoff between the first half and second half winner before that was wisely abolished. Hopefully, this proposal will be ash canned as well....Eight Chunichi Dragons players, including reliever Eiji Ochiai and rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome, are in Hawaii training for next season. By the time they return, though, teammate Takeshi Yamasaki will be in an Orix uniform, as the propsed deal to send him to Kobe has been approved and should be executed sometime in the coming days. Orix had tried to work something out for Yamasaki in the waning days of last season. Chunichi also announced that they will send backup catcher Fumihiro Suzuki to Kintetsu for cash.

MLB Needs to Focus on China

See story at: Sporting News Article

Competitive Balance? Give Me a Break!

See story at: Sporting News Article

Replies: 1 Comment

Suntory might have had ownership involvement with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League in the 1990s. I think Marty Kuerhnert might have had some input in that.

Posted by Robert Kiyoshi Shadlow @ 01/07/2003 11:06 AM EST

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