I had an opportunity to hear Bobby Valentine speak.
It's strikingly clear how Japan's love of baseball inspires him.
Mr. V talked about a serious issue the Japanese professional baseball leagues face. Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has 12 teams. Roughly the same number of the best Japanese players played in MLB this year, and the situation looks to be similar next season. As a result, the level of competition has dipped in Japan. Fan interest has decreased, too.
It's natural for athletes to seek the biggest stage and the toughest competition, so moving from NPB to MLB should not be discouraged.
Bobby Valentine's main point was that Pro Yakyu (which is what
most folks call NPB) needs to step up its player development. The league needs to cultivate exciting talent so it can replace the players who leave.
Bobby-san shed light on how the current arrangement (one minor league team per top level team) is problematic for developing players:
"To have only one Japanese minor league means that players out of high school - 18 year old boys - when they're in the minor leagues, are playing against players who are 35 to 40 years old, players who have been in professional baseball for 10, 15 and 20 years who are either not healthy or they're not good enough to be in the top league. We send these 35-year-olds to the minor league to be ready for when we need them during the season. Well, these 18-year-old boys have to try to play against them. That's not fair. You do not develop talent that way. You develop talent by allowing people to have success. And so, if there were two minor league teams - one for the young minor leaguers and the other for older minor leaguers - then you can develop talent to replace the players who leave (for MLB) to keep the league strong, so there will still be a great game of baseball in Japan when my friends there are grandparents."
It's unfortunate that the leaders of Japanese professional baseball have yet to create a second minor league. Mr. V said they refused to do so. That would be perplexing, but not the first time leadership of an organization made a boneheaded decision.
Japanese baseball needs more exciting players. Pro Yakyu needs to put inspiring competition on the field on a daily basis to ensure a future. This year was the first (and hopefully last) year that fans could not watch the Japan Series on an ordinary (non-cable) TV channel.
On a brighter note, the team that Bobby Valentine managed in Japan through 2009, the Chiba Lotte Marines, won the 2010 Japanese Series. While Mr. V's departure from the team was reportedly less than amicable, he happily announced that he would be flying to Japan to join in the championship parade.
Middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, one of Bobby V's 1st round draft picks and a starter on the Marines for the last six seasons, is headed for the Show in 2011. A switch-hitter, Nishioka led the Pacific League in hits this year, with 206.