A History Of Japanese Baseball Future

Note: Tofugu and its staff are not responsible for any changes to the fabric of time that may directly or indirectly negatively affect you or someone you know. All time travel was done without malice and for research purposes only. Some names have been left out to prevent time-travel-related problems in the future. Please refer to clause 43.5a of the case “Time Versus The Supreme Court.” This document will be made available in your local supreme court office on February 22, 2094.

As I jumped into my time travel device yesterday (or was it tomorrow, this time travel thing really muddles with your brain), I remember going through my list of potential jumps thinking that too many of them were in the past. All of them, actually. Battle of Sekigahara? Too many arrows. The arrival of Perry and his black ships? Check. Done. Badaboom. The Mongols being wiped out by the Kamikaze? A breeze. Stephen’s party? I had to pass on that one, too many things to do, and had nothing to do with Japan or the Japanese language.

I figured it was time to jump in my time machine and travel to the future instead. Sure, there are still opportunities to change said future and alter what it was I saw, but in general I don’t see a lot changing due to my actions. No, I wanted to continue the theme of Japanese baseball posts just for one more week. That’s why I decided to travel to the future to learn what happened to this great American Japanese pastime. I’d like to present to you the future of Japanese baseball, as it stands today, so long as none of you muck it up and cause our line to jump to another reality. Butterflies will just need to stop flapping their wings, please.

A Major Move To The MLB (2013-)

ohtani

It’s 2013 (this year!). The big story is Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitcher from Japan who made his MLB debut in 2012. After a strong first season, it’s his second season that really wows the MLB. After going 21-4 for the Texas Rangers with 6 complete games, 204 strikeouts, and and one no-hitter, he wins the first of two career Cy Young Award just beating out Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez, who come in second and third respectively.

i love yu darvish
Our illustrator loves Yu

But this is just the start of things. I won’t tell you who wins the World Series (boy is it a good one!), though there is one Japanese player who does particularly well. It will help to open the MLB’s mind (if it wasn’t already open) to pulling more Japanese players over stateside at a much higher rate. In order to stay competitive, MLB teams would draft Japanese players out of high school and college, getting them before they have a chance to sign with a team in Japan, thus circumventing the posting system and getting young Japanese talent in the majors early on. The Oakland Athletics do particularly well at this, and by 2017 six of twenty-five members of the roster are from Japan, an MLB record at the time (it is broken three years later by the Baltimore Orioles, who have 8 Japanese players on their roster).

Superstars will begin to make their way to America as well. Shouhei Otani, illustrated above (by our illustrator Aya in present time, which I think is 2013), comes to America in 2015. Originally he planned to come to America straight out of highschool, but intense pressures on him by Japanese teams, coaches, and his parents cause him to being the first few years of baseball in Japan. He grows to regret this decision and comes stateside, debuting with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the beginning of the 2015 season. The fireballer throws 100 mph and has a wicked splitter, going on to win the Rookie of the Year award as well as joining the limelight along with Darvish as well as Tomoyuki Sugano, who makes the jump to the majors a year later.

sugano

But this barely scratches the surface. More and more Japanese players move to America, and it happens earlier and earlier. As more Japanese baseball players get experience abroad they transmit the positive experiences to younger baseball stars in Japan. They become less reluctant to come to America, and soon a trickle turns into a landslide.

Sadaharu Oh No Someone Broke The Homerun Record (2019)

sadaharu oh

You may remember the past articles we wrote about Sadaharu Oh, and things haven’t changed much since then… well, except for how his home run record has been broken, with asterisks, however. In 1964 he banged out 55 home runs for the record. In 2017 a relatively unknown non-Japanese player would break the record with 59 home runs. In 2018 he would do it again, though an “accident” where he would fall down the stairs ended his promising (Japanese) career early. In 2019, a Japanese player would break the record much to the relief of many nationalist baseball fans.

Controversy would stir when the non-Japanese player that beat Sadaharu Oh’s record got an asterisk next to his name saying “non-Japanese player.” It angered both sides of the table. One side claimed it made Japanese baseball look weak. The other side just said it was racist and unnecessary. Either way, the Japanese seemed to work harder than ever before due to this which led to a Japanese player breaking the record with 60 home runs, hitting the last one on the last day of the season. To be fair, it was also in 2019 that they added five games to the season raising it from 144 games to 149 games.

The fact that a Japanese player could hit 60 home runs was no accident, though. Advances in training technology, diet, and baseball skill as a whole had increased rapidly during the last decade. Japanese baseball players were just becoming really good, on par with the rest of the baseball world (South America, Central America, and America-America).

Still, the MLB was the place to play baseball. All of this talent continued to move to Japan. Even the Japanese home run record holder came to the NY Yankees a year after knocking those 60 home runs. While he didn’t hit 60 home runs ever again in his career, he batted a career .279, averaged 30+ home runs a year, and made three All Star teams. He wouldn’t be the only one, either. The Japanese baseball league began to get worried about losing all their players, and rightly so.

A Closed Nippon Professional League (2020)

blackships

In 2020, the Nippon Professional League decides to close the doors to MLB teams trying to snipe their top talent. By this time, the NPL feels almost like another AAA league for the MLB. Japanese players train for a couple of years as “pro” players in the NPL or non-Japanese players come over to get some extra practice in before heading to the Bigs. The NPL is tired of this, and they implement the Foreign Transfer Act of 2020.

The Foreign Transfer Act states that “no player of Japanese descent will sign with a non-Japanese team for the first 10 years of his career.” While by law they could not technically keep any Japanese player from moving to the US to join an MLB team, there were steep penalties for those who did. Anyone who broke this rule would be banned, for life, from the NPL, and while this may not seem like a big deal if your goal is the Majors, it did put a lot of pressure on younger players. If they failed in the MLB, they had nowhere to go. Some players thought it better to join a Japanese team and have a safe job for those first ten years.

Japanese newspapers, who owned many of the Japanese teams at this time, highlighted the failed attempts at skipping the NPL to join the majors in their newspapers. Others would publish articles going over the negatives of baseball life in America. While the propaganda was strong, the Foreign Transfer Act of 2020 was abolished a year later in 2021 due to negative publicity as a whole.

It was clear that Japanese people wanted to see their Japanese players play in the MLB. TV ratings for the MLB in Japan continued to climb while the NPL games on TV declined.

Is That A Cyborg On First? (2036)

cyborg

Fast forward 16 years later. The NPL is on a sharp decline with hardly the popularity it used to have. Many Japanese players go straight to the Majors (especially the good ones), and the NPL is diluted with mediocrity and MLB has-beens. As a baseball fan, this saddened me to see happen, but it’s all part of evolution. If you’re backed into a corner you have to make changes. Although it happened nearly by accident, the NPL discovered something that would change baseball around the world.

Keisuke Andoh, a first baseman for the Honda Hawks (Honda now owns the Hawks, thanks to the huge piles of money they got via forays in robot and cyborg technology), is the first baseball player to receive a cyborg implant. Partly because of the ownership, but mostly due to a career-ending crash at home plate in the previous season, Andoh and the team management bet on a new Honda technology to replace both of his knees with robotic implants. At the time, no rules were in place regarding machinery that would increase your speed or skill in baseball. By the time the NPL could come up with something Andoh was batting .455, got 193 stolen bases, and was an overnight Japanese star. Oh, and did I mention he was under contract with the Hawks for the next 10 years? Honda would milk this one out for as long as they could. Their new speedster wasn’t going anywhere.

Many other players were getting upset. Fans were getting upset too. But, as more people followed in Andoh’s footsteps, mostly with small improvements at first, popularity in Japanese baseball increased as well. Not only did it increase in Japan, but the rest of Asia and America as well. The NPL was on the up and up, and money came before purity, so the NPL let cyborgization continue.

The Cyborg Era (2037-2050)

cyborg2

There were some rules that had to come with cyborg enhancements, however. Otherwise things would be unfair.

  • Arm-swing enhancements must remain under 100cc
  • Running speeds must stay under 20mph (32kph)
  • Jumping enhancements must not allow the player to jump more than 1 meter into the air.
  • Throwing enhancements must remain under 200cc
  • No more than one enhancement per player

Once the rules were in place, teams got to work. Being the leader in robotic technology, Honda had the distinct advantage, though the cyborg-augmentation draft, which allowed additional enhancements to the worst teams, helped even the playing field in 2042.

Popularity in Japanese baseball grew 10x in the same amount of years. America, which still believed in the purity of the sport, banned cyborgization altogether, no exceptions. This only fueled MLB players to come to Japan in greater numbers. Great players with season-ending injuries came to Japan. Young players came to Japan. Everyone wanted to play baseball in Japan. Things had evolved and gotten a lot more exciting. Some changes included:

  • Much larger fields and ballparks (good for strength augmentations as well as fitting all the fans who wanted to watch the games now).
  • 120 mph pitches.
  • Players regularly hitting 40+ home runs (until pitching augmentations caught up to hitting ones).
  • Increased season length, going from 149 to 225 games played in Japan per year. The MLB was still 162 games per year.

Some would call this cheating, others would call this advancement. Whatever it was, it was popular, and it spread all throughout Asia and beyond.

Asia League Baseball (2050)

asian baseball league

During the age of cyborgization in baseball (as well as with regular, rich, people), Asia as a whole gets better at baseball (as long as your definition of “better” means “more cyborgs”). Due to this advancement, as well as the general level of baseball in Asia increasing, we start to see that not just Japan is good at baseball, but Korea (all one country at this point), China, India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Russia all are quite good as well.

In 2050, Japan, Korea, and China come together to form the Asia League Baseball, a direct competitor to the now waning MLB, consisting of three leagues, nine divisions, and forty-two teams all across Asia. In 2052, India would add four teams. 2053 saw the Middle East join in, bringing the team total to forty-eight. Russia and Hawaii would only join five years after that, but they would bring ten teams to the table, making it by far the largest and best baseball section of the world.

For the first ten years, it is Japan and Korea that dominate, with Japan winning 6 of 10, Korea winning 3, and China winning the last. Baseball comes down to the level of technology that you can produce for your players to use. Japan and Korea tend to be at the forefront in this regard. China also does well, but still has the problem where they need to play catch-up in quality (putting a lot of strong players on the disabled list for repairs). After the first ten years, however, Asia League Championships seem to be all over the board. By this time the draft has helped the weaker teams, and technology has evened out as well.

Now it would be the MLB that had to try to keep their players from defecting to the other league. Asian baseball was hitting on all cylinders here.

The Jackie Robinson Of Robot Baseball (2064)

robot-baseball
Not “Taro” pictured above. Due to time travel restrictions any photo from the future may not be shown in the past

While cyborged up people were commonplace now in the ALB, robots were not. Although some robots had turned sentient years previous due to some amazing(ly dangerous) robot brain technology created by Dr. Nakamats Junior (a clone version of the great Dr. Nakamats), it wasn’t until 2064 that we see one of them attempt to play baseball. Just as there was “technically” no rule against African Americans playing baseball when Jackie Robinson joined the MLB, there was “technically” no rule against full on robots either.

And boy was the first one hated. Joining the Nippon-ham Fighters, ASI-43099b aka “Taro,” he was booed by the fans right from the start, even before taking an at bat. It was clear that Taro would have a hard time in the Asia League due to the venomous feelings towards sentient robots that Asia as a whole had. Despite doing well his first and only year for the Nippon-ham Fighters, he was a robot with feelings, so he packed up his bags and moved to the MLB, which was surprisingly more receptive to the idea of robots playing baseball.

By now even the MLB was allowing some forms of cyborgization, but they knew they needed to do something to keep baseball alive in America. 2065 saw not only Taro, but six other robots make their career debut as well to varying success. The ALB eventually warmed up to “The Sentients” coming back to the Asia League, but by then it was too late. The MLB had regained much of its popularity in the same way that cyborgization popularized the Asian leagues. The MLB and the ALB were on fairly even footing, which could only mean good things for baseball as a whole.

World League Baseball (2099)

world-series

It’s nearly a new century and advances in travel technology have made it possible to travel across the world in mere hours (hint: we travel in tubes now). It’s fairly unclear which league is greater: The MLB or the ALB? Also, by now the All Europe League, The African League, and the Australian / Southeast Asia Leagues were getting stronger too. South America would join the MLB, doubling the number of teams, but as you can see baseball has reached a “professional” level by the year 2099.

It is appropriate then that in this year, the MLB and the ALB agree to inter-league play. Each team would play thirty games a season against the other league. In the following decade the other leagues would join in (except for the All Europe League and Southeast Asia League, which were still at too low of a level to join), forming the first truly worldwide League.

At the end of it all? Well, of course there was a World Series. A real one this time, not one that’s only in North America. Finally, there is no need to fight outside the baseball diamond. The world is united in terms of baseball, and a lot of it is thanks to Japan. While some still hate Japan’s contribution to the world baseball stage, others would never have known baseball in the first place if it wasn’t for the robots and cyborgs that people take for granted today.

While I don’t want to comment on this for fear of changing the future, I will say that it is entertaining to watch. I don’t know if it’s good or bad (or rather, I won’t say if it is or not), but it is different, and it is where baseball will head… that is, unless one of you mucks up the future somehow, at which point this article will have been rendered useless and you only have yourself to blame.

One more thing: GO KENYAN PANDAS! (don’t ask about the name… the team moved from China to Kenya and never changed the name…) I love their chances at winning it all this year.

If you have any questions about the future of (Japanese) baseball, feel free to ask. While I don’t know everything, I did spend a lot of time watching games all over the world, reading up on the stats, and just enjoying a lot of future baseball culture. I’ll answer whatever I can so long as I don’t think it will alter events and create a future where we are ruled by Neo Nazis (aka the Nazi baseball team is not something you are allowed to ask about).

P.S. Have yourself a full sized header illustration to support your favorite future team, the Honda Hawks!

  • Andy Pafko

    Did the Cubs defeat the Mariners in a future World Series, Koichi?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Sadly in 100 years of future research, the Mariners never make it to the World Series :(

  • Crabigator

    Koichi you are really obsessed with baseball! How many articles have you written on here so far? We need you in Wanikani. Get ready to depart!

  • http://twitter.com/Cupucuups Hamyo

    What a great history about the future!!?? eeh… then the time cracking dimension coming up and started to absorb all the baseball history. Great article, i wondered how long you will travel across the future time koichi. XD
    okonomikatsu.blogspot.com

  • http://twitter.com/Cupucuups Hamyo

    Did the cunichi dragon still exist and actively taking part to some of tournament at the cyborg era, koichi??

  • Aya

    DUDE, YOU CAN’T GO TO THE FUTURE WITHOUT TELLING ME WHAT HAPPENS TO MATT CAIN. Although I have a feeling I know what’s to become of him…

  • http://twitter.com/kima_siksin Kima

    the hilarious intro… as expected of koichi XDD

  • Mescale

    I can’t believe you stole my story that I write in 12 years time. I’ve a good idea not to go back in time and meet your grandmother to teach you a lesson.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    They still exist as a team, but their owners have changed. The newspaper crash hits Japan as well, so the newspapers sell off their teams, all except the Yomiuri Giants, at least.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    WHAT AYA WHAT

  • Mescale

    BTW we’ve already got to Terminator 4 in the past/current time narrative/thread.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I’m actually fine with pretending that Terminator 3 never happened. Yet.

  • Mescale

    Terminator 4 though, that was gold, right? One Word: Bike-anators,

  • MakuMaku

    Ayo, Koichi promised these articles and this one will be the last(I think).

  • MakuMaku

    Ayo, Koichi promised these articles and this one will be the last(I think).

  • MakuMaku

    There is no cubs nor mariners anymore. Andy, where in the past are you?

  • Aya

    HASHI R U SCARED

  • http://www.facebook.com/lowran.newlove Lauren Summers Feels

    “changes to the fabric of time” omg you’re so wonderful! thank you for writing and posting!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lowran.newlove Lauren Summers Feels

    do not discourage him! i love baseball almost as much as I love Japan and I am enjoying this more than I should-but it’s been great! I hope Koichi is following baseball this year, there are a lot of great (Japanese) players to watch!

  • MakuMaku

    Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah!

  • MakuMaku

    Agree!

  • Joel

    It was nice to see my hometown baseball stadium featured in the above picture! Go Phillies!