Well, So Much for the Rakuten Eagles

Jack Gallagher reports in the Japan Times on the quick demise of the once-brash upstart Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. (I prefer to call them the Igloos, which sounds much the same in Japanese.)

Last fall, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles emerged on the Japanese pro baseball scene as the first expansion team in 50 years and optimism abounded that a new era in the game had dawned.

The Eagles hired the first non-Japanese general manager ever in American Marty Kuehnert, then brought rookie manager Yasushi Tao out of the television booth to lead the team.

They marketed the club like it had never been done before here.

The term “fan service” was actually brought into the lexicon and seemed certain to have an impact on how pro baseball teams in Japan treated their supporters.

These moves were definitely not out of the traditional Japan pro baseball textbook and had the establishment feeling a bit uncomfortable, to say the least.

Eagles owner Hiroshi Mikitani seemed to be the face of the future. A 38-year-old business magnate who was determined to drag the game into the 21st century.

But, lo and behold, a funny thing happened on the way to changing history.

The more time passed, the more the Eagles began to look like the other 11 franchises in Nippon Pro Baseball….

[T]he team did not enjoy the benefit of an expansion draft — where they could choose players from the existing NPB teams — like new franchises do in Major League Baseball.

No, the Eagles were constructed almost entirely from the leftovers of the merger between the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave.

The only two true stars the team had were ace pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and outfielder Koichi Isobe, who refused to play for the Orix Buffaloes — the team created by the merger.

The results were predictable.

The Eagles finished their inaugural season with a record of 38-97-1, the worst mark in the NPB in 40 years.

Read the whole sorry story, if you have any interest in Japanese baseball.

UPDATE: And here’s another sad story by Gallagher about the nasty treatment of foreigners by Japan’s sports media.

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