Baseball can't afford to shun the Japanese

Ken Rosenthal

February 07, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

The geniuses who run major-league baseball are backtracking on the question of Japanese ownership, and for the sake of decency, let's hope they stumble into the Pacific Ocean.

How pathetic can you get? It's as if the owners are saying, "We let the blacks play, and the Latins, too, but no way -- no way! -- will we sell to those stinking Japanese."

The reaction is typical of a sport that uses every excuse to avoid hiring minority managers, a sport that frowns on "those crazy Latins" who can't bridge the cultural gap.

Racism in baseball?

You don't say!

Naturally, baseball tried to get in on the fun just as Japan-bashing reached a fever pitch in this country. Naturally, it went overboard, provoking an even harsher response.

Commissioner Fay Vincent said Tuesday that the owners are rethinking their position on foreign ownership, which is damn nice of them, considering the tenuous position of the Mariners in Seattle.

In case you missed it, the president of the Japan-based Nintendo Co. wants to join Seattle investors in buying the Mariners for $100 million, thereby blocking St. Petersburg's attempt to go from expansion loser to Ken Griffey Jr.

The sale deserves serious consideration for that reason alone, but Vincent's initial response was to restate major-league baseball's longstanding preference for local ownership.

You know, a guy from New York (Eli Jacobs) owning the Orioles, a guy from Cleveland (George Steinbrenner) owning the Yankees and a guy from Indianapolis (Jeff Smulyan) owning the Mariners.

No, no, Vincent said.

North American ownership.

Don't blame Vincent -- he's just the mouthpiece of the owners, those enlightened souls who think the presence of two Canadian teams makes the World Series a truly international event.

It turns out that Nintendo employs 1,400 in Seattle. That the proposed club president is a 15-year resident. That both local newspapers endorse a 60 percent Japanese interest.

One recent survey found 71 percent of the American people opposed the sale, but the sentiment is quite different in Seattle, where the Japanese are considered a Pacific Rim trading partner, not a mortal threat.

True, the global village is a difficult sell when it comes to protectionist Japan. But major-league baseball needs fresh capital. Who better to provide it than the folks who overpaid to the tune of $846 million for Rockefeller Center?

The NFL sponsors a league with teams all over Europe. The NBA wants to become the world's most popular sports entity. Even the half-witted NHL is going global. One of its next expansion franchises, the Tampa Bay Lightning, is backed by Japanese.

Ah, but baseball is different, the national pastime and all that. There's just one problem: The national pastime faces serious financial concerns. Our crack presidential candidates will be disappointed to learn they can't be blamed on Japan.

No, the owners did this to themselves. Apparently they fear the Japanese will use their deep pockets to upset the pay structure. As if the Steinbrenners and Gene Autrys of the world are sticklers about cutting costs.

Salaries keep rising, and so do the prices of teams. Meanwhile, television revenue might soon decline. Another labor dispute is likely after this season, and it could be the nastiest yet.

Japanese investment could help small-market clubs remain competitive, but the owners don't want to hear that, for they'd rather demand concessions from the players and keep their small fraternity homogenous.

Yes, legitimate concerns exist: The Japanese could run a major-league club like one of their own, as a loss leader for a giant corporation. Worse, they could move the club to Japan and challenge baseball's anti-trust exemption if impeded.

Indeed, the possibility of numerous Japanese-owned franchises is unnerving, but such infiltration occurred in other spheres of American business -- most notably Hollywood -- without the nation collapsing.

Besides, who can tell what's what anymore? Coca-Cola and McDonald's do big business in Japan. Toyota employs thousands here. Russia is now just one large untapped market. Eastern Europe, the same.

The Nintendo bid isn't a threat to the national pastime; it's a way to breathe life into the game. The geniuses who run major-league baseball can do as they wish. They're so smart, they're probably still driving American cars.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.