The Creation of an Asian Major League (baseball)
We all know that the best baseball is played in the United States in the MLB. There are many reasons for this, but largely it is because of money. The baseball teams in America have so much money that they are able to attract the world’s best players to play there. The best baseball in the world will probably always be played in the United States. Soccer isn’t popular in the U.S., so the best soccer players in the world always end up in Europe. Some might say that the same can be applied to baseball, as it is only popular in North America, but this really isn’t true. Japan and Korea both have a long tradition of baseball and in both countries it is the best attended professional sport. Japan is the world’s 2nd largest economy, and Korea’s not too far off. A league rivaling Major League baseball could take shape here if set up properly.
This is just an idea that I made up a few years ago when I lived in Japan, but I thought it might be in the best interests of Japan and Korea’s leagues to join together to form an Asian Major League.
While it’s probably true that the best players would still be headed for the U.S., this merger of leagues would make loads of money for both leagues, and would improve the level of play in both Korea and Japan.
So, before I discuss how my merger would work, I’ll give an overview of the Japanese and Korean baseball leagues.
Japan: Nippon Professional Baseball
In Japan there is the Central League and the Pacific League. The Pacific League uses the designated hitter, while the Central League doesn’t. There are 6 teams in each league for a total of 12 Japanese teams. The teams get their names from their corporate sponsor. Some Americans might be horrified if their team were to be named the same way (example: Citgo Red Sox, MetLife Yankees, Coca-Cola Dodgers) The Central League contains Japan’s biggest baseball rivalry, the (Tokyo) Yomiuri Giants and the (Osaka) Hanshin Tigers. It is for this reason that the Central League is more popular than the Pacific League. They also have an all star game featuring the best players in both leagues, as well as the Japan series, featuring the league champions of both leagues.
Korea: Korea Baseball Organization
Even though Korea developed very rapidly after the Korean War, it wasn’t quite financially stable enough until the 1980’s to have a professional baseball league. The Korea Baseball Organization started play in 1982 and at its peak, had 10 teams. Currently there are 8 teams. Korean teams all use the designated hitter rule. There is an all star game featuring the best players in the league. Since there is only one league the teams are usually divided geographically. This is usually divided as an East team and a West team, though sometimes they divide the teams into South and Central teams. (They don’t use the term North, because people like to think of North and South Korea together as one nation. Therefore, the teams at the northern end of South Korea are actually located close to the center of the peninsula. The Korea series is.. well interesting. It features the 1st place team against the winner of a series between the 2nd place team and the winner of a series between the 3rd and 4th place teams. (Confused? A= 4th vs 3rd. B= 2nd vs winner of A. C=1st vs. winner of B) There are a few rivalries, but none of them are comparable to the Yomiuri Giants – Hanshin Tigers rivalry in Japan. The biggest one would probably be Korea’s own Giants and Tigers rivalry that lends itself to the regional rivalry. (Gwangju, is in the southwest, Busan in the southeast, and these areas traditionally have a rivalry dating back thousands of years.)
How will you merge these into one league?
Well, it would be fairly easy. Korea and Japan are right next to each other. The longest trip by plane is probably Gwangju to Sapporo, which pales in comparison to the flight from San Diego to Boston, or Seattle to Tampa. They might need to change the names of the leagues as Korea doesn’t touch the Pacific Ocean, nor are any of Korea’s teams in Central Japan, but that’s probably not a huge issue. I’d break the teams down like this:
Central League Pacific League
(Tokyo) Yomiuri Giants (Osaka, Kobe) Orix Buffaloes
(Osaka) Hanshin Tigers (Sapporo) Nippon Ham Fighters
(Tokyo) Yakult Swallows (Chiba) Lotte Marines
(Hiroshima) Toyo Carp (Fukuoka) Softbank Hawks
(Nagoya) Chunichi Dragons (Sendai) Rakuten Eagles
Yokohama Baystars (Saitama)Seibu Lions
(Daejeon) Hanwha Eagles (Seoul) LG Twins
(Seoul) Doosan Bears (Busan) Lotte Giants
(Daegu) Samsung Lions (Gwangju) Kia Tigers
(Seoul) Nexen Heroes (Incheon) SK Wyverns
Giants vs Giants, Eagles vs. Eagles, Tigers vs. Tigers and Lions vs. Lions? Lotte vs. Lotte?
Herein lies the biggest problem. Teams all probably have a lot wrapped into their mascot names. For this reason, I put Korea’s Giants and Tigers in the Pacific League, to seperate them from Japan’s Tigers and Giants. In addition I put Korea’s Lions and Eagles in the Central League, to seperate them from the Pacific Leauge’s Lions and Eagles. I realize that I’ve got both Lotte teams in the Pacific League, but they can use the place names, Chiba Lotte Marines, Busan Lotte Giants. The only times we’ll have teams with the same mascot playing against each other are in the Asian Series, if both teams with the same mascot make it. Most people when they refer to the team though, they don’t use the mascot name, they use the company name, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to ask some of the teams to change their names. It also works out this way that we haven’t broken up the rivalry between the Lotte Giants and Kia Tigers.
What problems do you forsee?
Well, unlike the Major Leagues, Korean and Japanese teams limit the number of foreign players on each team. I guess the idea is that nobody in Japan or Korea will watch the league if most of the team isn’t Japanese or Korean. Furthermore it doesn’t help to increase the level of play of Japanese and Korean players if most of the players are foreign, but again, this is assuming that foreign players are better than Korean and Japanese players. If the World Baseball Classic is any indication, both Korean and Japanese baseball are at a level where they don’t need to keep this rule to continue to produce talented Korean and Japanese players. But, as baseball is a business, I’m not so sure that Korea and Japan can do without that rule.
In a league, the teams have to be able to trade with each other. If, for example, the Doosan Bears have an extra Korean pitcher and need a catcher, and the Orix Buffaloes have a spare Japanese catcher, then they should be able to trade, but both would have the burden of having to drop someone else off their roster, as the Korean team would be taking a Japanese (and thus foreign) player, and the Japanese team would be taking a Korean (and thus foreign) player.
They would have to abolish the foreign rule at least for each other. This would then create new problems. Japan has a much larger population than Korea. Japan also has a more rich baseball tradition, with annual nationwide middle school and high school tournaments. Every high school in the country with male students participates in this tournament. I hate to say it, but there are probably many more Japanese people who are good at baseball than there are Koreans who are good at baseball. If they decide to abolish the foreigner rule for Japanese and Koreans in this new league, It’s likely that 2/3 of the league (and concievably 2/3 of each team) will be Japanese. That probably wouldn’t be a problem for Japanese fans. It probably would be a problem for Korean ones.
Why would this merger be beneficial?
Increased sources of revenue! Korean teams would get money from Japanese media outlets and vice versa.
More fans would show up at Korean games to see Elite teams like the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers, meaning more money for Korean teams.
The new league would also have an effect of bringing Japanese and Koreans closer together. They will know more about each other as a direct result of having a common baseball league. Sure this won’t solve all the historical problems between them, but it will give both countries more favorable exposure in their neighboring country.
The Japanese leagues are already the best in Asia, and they are already well supported by Japanese fans. They don’t need the KBO. The Korean league seems to gain more from this idea.
Yes, that’s true. But I guess what I am trying to eventually lead to is a future merger with the MLB itself. Think about it. MLB has 30 teams on the North American continent. After this merger, the new Asian League will have 20 teams. It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to get 10 more teams in Taiwan and China to join the new league. After that, abolish all foreigner rules in the Asian league, and you’d have 4 major leagues in the world, in the hotbeds of baseball. The National League, American League, Pacific League, and Central League would each make way for a huge world series tournament, and the champions will have actually earned the right to call themselves World Champions.