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Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011

Deadline passes for Japan-WBC deal

Staff writer

Major League Baseball is beginning to prepare for a 2013 World Baseball Classic without Japan, but the door is open for a change of heart from the two-time defending champions.

News photo
Jim Small

A Friday deadline was set for Japan to decide on its participation in the tournament, but Jim Small, MLB's managing director and vice president in Asia, said Friday there was still time for the Japanese to decide to play.

"It's not a hard line in the sand, but if we don't hear by today, we've gotta start making other plans," Small said.

Citing the often years-long period organizing committees have to plan the Olympics and FIFA World Cup, Small said with the WBC less than two years away, tournament organizers have to begin making important decisions.

"The NPB can't hold the other nations hostage," Small said.

Money is at the center of the dispute between the two sides. The Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association on July 22 requested a bigger cut of tournament revenue, namely full merchandising and sponsorship rights for the Japan national team. The request, which had the backing of NPB, was turned down by MLB.

Since then, the two sides have been in discussions over the matter, with the JPBPA maintaining it wouldn't participate unless its demands were met.

"We've come closer," Small said. "We've provided some additional benefits that they sought and some additional rights, but we can only go so far.

"This is a tournament which MLB conceived, started, funded over $100 million and taken all the risk in. With that, we've been more than fair."

Small said the NPB already receives a 45 percent cut.

"Their players are more than fairly compensated," he said. "That doesn't seem to be good enough for their leadership and that is very disappointing. As players become aware of it, they'll see that it's fair."

The clock is ticking, but Small noted time hasn't yet run out on a resolution being reached.

"It's important not to look at it as a hard 'you're in or you're out,' " he said.

"We've had some productive conversations," Small said of discussions with Toshimasa Shimada, a top executive of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and Naotaka Okuno, recently hired by the NPB as a business liaison, that have taken place both in Japan and New York.

"I think those two guys are extremely professional and I think we've gotten a lot closer because of those two guys."

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