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Minor League Levels

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Minor League Levels
How many levels of the minor leagues are there in Japan?
Comments
Re: Minor League Levels
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Jul 22, 2013 9:48 AM | YBS Fan ]

Well, that all depends on what you mean by "minor league."

Officially, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has two tiers - the top team (ichi-gun) and a farm team (ni-gun) for each ball club. However, since the clubs expanded the number of players a team may "own" beyond the standard 70-man roster between the two teams several years back through the "ikusei" system, some teams now have a third tier (san-gun).

Some teams having a san-gun presents a number of problems for getting playing time for players. To help resolve that, there has been an increase in games between ni-gun (or just san-gun and Independent League teams. I've also heard the idea of having san-gun players play for Independent League team, but don't know if such has actually occurred.

The Independent Leagues popped up a number of years ago in areas of Japan that have nice facilities but no convenient access to NPB teams (which are in the major metropolitans). The three Independent Leagues have struggled from the outset, but have been increasingly becoming a feeder system to NPB (which was their goal).

More traditionally a feeder system to NPB, there is also the Industrial Leagues which is made up of amateur employees of companies. While players in the Industrial Leagues are officially being paid for doing office work, there are several team that blur the line between amateur and pro. That is to say, their pay is more attached to how they perform on the field than in the office. Before the Independent Leagues sprang up at the beginning of the 21st Century, the Industrial Leagues had long been considered an unofficial farm system. (If you're interested in pursuing some research, I'd suggest looking into how the Prince Hotel team was used as a feeder to the Seibu Lions, the Prince Hotel chain being a subsidiary of Seibu's vast conglomerate.)

This is not exactly a straight answer, but it covers pretty much any meaning of "minor league" that you may have.

Hope this helps.


* Note: "Gun is pronounced like "goon" in English and it means "troop." If you don't know counting in Japanese, then ichi is 1, ni is 2, and san is 3. So you could call the top tier team the "First Troop," and so on.
Re: Minor League Levels
[ Author: rhdorsey | Posted: Jul 24, 2013 7:25 AM ]

Thanx, Michael. That was pretty much the info I was wanting. I previously had thought that the Industrial Leagues were the 'ni-gun'.

What is the official name of the 'ni-gun' league? And if only some ichi-gun teams have affiliated san-gun teams, how many teams are in the 'san-gun' league? And do the Industrial and Independent league teams have a limit on the number of non-Japanese players?
Re: Minor League Levels
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Jul 24, 2013 9:47 AM | YBS Fan ]

> What is the official name of the 'ni-gun' league?

You mean something like "Minor League Baseball"? There is no such designation. ni-gun (and san-gun) are all just an extension of each NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) team.

However, as the main teams are divided into the Central and Pacific Leagues (similar to National and American Leagues in MLB with respect to the designated hitter), ni-gun is divided into the Eastern and Western Leagues. As the teams don't want to spend so much money in travel expenses, and as the name suggests, the two leagues are divided geographically into eastern and western Japan. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters go so far as to have their ni-gun team located in the Kanto area where most of the other Eastern League teams are rather than commute from Hokkaido.

> And if only some
> ichi-gun teams have affiliated san-gun
> teams, how many teams are in the 'san-gun'
> league?

I wouldn't call san-gun a "team" in and of itself. While it is treated as a team for some exhibition games against amateurs and Independent teams, san-gun players generally work out and play games along with ni-gun.

There is another meaning for san-gun that I've only heard used by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks; players in san-gun are to report to rehabilitation for workouts.

> And do the Industrial and Independent
> league teams have a limit on the number of
> non-Japanese players?

I'm not aware of any foreign player limits in those respective leagues. But I also haven't reviewed their rules and regulations, either.
Re: Minor League Levels
[ Author: rhdorsey | Posted: Jul 28, 2013 3:23 PM ]

Thanks again, Michael, for your response.

I now see that the 'ni-gun' level has 2 leagues: the Western and Eastern League. Oddly the Eastern League has 7 teams and the Western League has only 5 teams. What is the reason for this? It would seem much simpler schedule-wise to have 6 teams in each league. Also, looking at the schedule, there are very few days where all 12 ni-gun teams are in action. In fact, even on many Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only 6-8 teams are in action, and sometimes only 2 teams. This seems very odd also, as the weekends are when fans are most free to attend games, so the teams would seem to be failing to maximize revenue by scheduling less than the max no. of games.
Re: Minor League Levels
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Jul 28, 2013 4:25 PM | YBS Fan ]

> [...] Oddly the Eastern League
> has 7 teams and the Western League has only 5 teams.
> What is the reason for this?

When the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave merged to form the Orix Buffaloes back in 2005, the new team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, being in north-eastern Japan, had their minor league team stationed nearby. This resulted in one less ni-gun team in the west and one more in the east. As teams want to keep traveling expenses low for their minor league teams, none of the teams east of Mt. Fuji were about to change to the Western League. So they agreed that having the leagues uneven was best for everyone.

Of course, because of the unevenness that was created, and the lack of teams to compete against in the Western League, moves were made to allow for more pro-amateur friendly match ups.

And that brings us to your other observation:

> This seems very odd also,
> as the weekends are when fans are most free to
> attend games, so the teams would seem to be failing
> to maximize revenue by scheduling less than the max
> no. of games.

The farm teams are not meant to bring in revenue. They're meant to be a holding pen for future players or for players to go to recover from injuries or fine tune their swings/pitches. Most home stadiums for ni-gun teams hold well under 10,000 people and are located in out of the way places. If teams charge for ni-gun games (and some don't), then I find it hard to believe that ticket sales support anything beyond maintenance costs. The farm teams simply aren't organized and/or marketed for profit.

Several years ago, Yokohama declared that they were going to re-brand their farm team to become self supporting. I talked with the club president a couple of years after that declaration, and he said that progress to that end was non-existent and unlikely to ever happen. They finally dropped the separate brand a few years ago.

There are many aspects to Pro Yakyu that leave devout Capitalists scratching their heads. Top teams playing in small, rural stadiums during the season is one of them. Others include the teams/stadium relationships, how the farm team is a loss leader, the lack of league-wide promotion on national TV, teams only having promotions when they play the Giants (when they'll probably have big crowds anyway), and many, many more.

Maximizing profit is not even the main goal of the top teams, let along the farm teams. It's a totally different world.
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This is a site about Pro Yakyu (Japanese Baseball), not about who the next player to go over to MLB is. It's a community of Pro Yakyu fans who have come together to share their knowledge and opinions with the world. It's a place to follow teams and individuals playing baseball in Japan (and Asia), and to learn about Japanese (and Asian) culture through baseball.

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