posted on Sep, 17 2004 @ 12:17 PM
Japan's players go on strike, weekend games called off
September 17, 2004
TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese baseball players elected to stage the first strike in the history of the sport in Japan on Friday after extended negotiations
with team officials failed to reach an agreement.
Japan's professional players had threatened to strike this weekend unless a one-year freeze was placed on the merger of the Pacific League's Kintetsu
Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave.
The strike will wipe out all games this weekend and possibly all weekend games between now and the end of the season. Weekday games will be played as
Negotiations will resume next week in an attempt to salvage the remaining weekend games.
``The players have elected to go on strike,'' said Lotte Marines representative Ryuzo Setoyama. ``I want to extend our apologies to the fans around
the country. The players asked for a one-year freeze on the merger of Orix and Kintetsu but given the dire financial conditions of these two teams
that was impossible.''
On Thursday, team officials told the Japanese baseball players' association that a freeze on the merger was impossible.
``We asked for a one-year freeze,'' said Yakult catcher Atsuya Furuta, head of the players' association. ``We were told that was impossible and I
sincerely want to apologize to all the fans who were planning on going to watch games this weekend.''
There were also reports in Japanese media late Friday that commissioner Yasuchika Negoro would step down to take responsibility for the strike.
The players were convinced that having five teams in the Pacific League and six teams in the Central League was not workable in terms of scheduling.
Friday's negotiating session was extended four hours beyond the 5 p.m. local time deadline, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement that
would keep games going this weekend.
Japanese baseball players and owners averted a strike a week ago after the owners assured the players there would be no further mergers. But the
players said the refusal to put the merger off for a year forced them to stage the first walkout in the 70-year history of Japanese baseball.
The Buffaloes reportedly have lost $36 million a year because of a drop in attendance and rising player salaries. The team's owners have said they
can't put the merger off for another year.
``In talks with the players, we promised reforms,'' said Setoyama. ``We promised to improve the environment for new teams to enter the league and we
explained in great detail the financial conditions of the two teams according to the demands of the players.''
Another main issue was the admission of new teams.
Two Japanese Internet service companies have applied to set up new teams. The players wanted any new teams to join the pro leagues next season, while
the owners maintained that 2006 would be the earliest a new team could enter Japanese professional baseball.
Earlier this month, the owners of Japan's 12 pro teams voted to approve the merger between the Buffaloes and BlueWave, a move that could result in up
to 100 players and team personnel losing their jobs.
The owners also said they will maintain the two-league format that has been in place since 1950 and will hold more meetings to discuss the
introduction of interleague games for next season.
A merger is opposed by many fans, and critics argue there are less drastic measures -- such as interleague play and more equitable distribution of TV
broadcast rights -- to make Pacific League teams more profitable