Baseball is set to return in Japan. As Kaz Nagatsuka of the Japan Times reports, Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Atsushi Saito announced Monday that the league plans to kick off its regular season on June 19 — nearly three months after the originally scheduled March 20 date. As has been the case in Taiwan and South Korea, where their top leagues are already underway, games will begin without fans in attendance. NPB teams will aim to play 120 games in their condensed season, which represents a reduction from the 143-game norm.
NPB has yet to formally release its schedule or its health/safety guidelines, although Saito made clear that the Japan Series — NPB’s championship series — will still be held. Other changes to the postseason format in Japan’s 12-team league are still possible, although commissioner Saito indicated the matter is still being discussed. Eliminating extra-inning play in 2020 is also under discussion, per Saito. (Ties are already possible in NPB in games that remain a stalemate through 12 innings.)
NPB has terminated interleague play between the Pacific League and the Central League in 2020, per Nagatsuka, and the schedule is expected to have other alterations aimed at lowering the risk of potential COVID-19 infections among players, staff and other gameday personnel. And while NPB will formally begin a new training camp that runs June 2-14, Nagatsuka adds that teams are already beginning intrasquad games at their home parks in an effort to build back up. The SoftBank Hawks and Orix Buffaloes are among the teams that have already begun to do so.
After announcing back on March 9 that the season opener would be delayed, NPB had targeted April 24 as a potential start date. However, by the end of March, league officials were already casting doubt on the feasibility of that plan. By April 8, NPB had announced that Opening Day was further delayed — this time indefinitely. No dates or plans were made public until today’s announcement from the league.
On the one hand, its encouraging for MLB fans to see another top-level professional league preparing to resume play, as it gives hope that Major League Baseball won’t be far behind. On the other hand, the fact that defined dates for a new training camp and season opener have been put forth to fans even as NPB continues to discuss some of the finer details is a reminder that other leagues don’t face the type of tension between ownership and labor that exists in MLB. It’s been clear for weeks now that MLB’s hope is to relaunch training games in mid-June with an eye toward an early July start, but MLB owners and the MLB Players Association have yet to agree to terms on health/safety protocols or on player compensation in a truncated 2020 campaign.
The MLBPA responded to MLB’s initial health and safety proposal late last week. MLB has yet to make an economic proposal to the union after MLBPA executive director Tony Clark wholly rejected the idea of a 50-50 revenue share before MLB could even formally present the offer. A new economic plan will reportedly be proposed to the union tomorrow.