This Day in Baseball and Rangers History for February 5

* 18 days until the Feb 23, 2024, spring training season opener with KC
* 52 days until the Mar 28, 2024, regular season opener against the Cubs

This stretch in early February has not provided much in the way of current roster birthdays, or Rangers history or signings or trades of notable players on any particular day. There'll be one tomorrow, but today continues with two general baseball stories connected to Feb 5 -- (1) the founding of the Japanese Baseball League and professional baseball in Japan; and (2) MLB's vote and attempt to contract in 2002 by removing teams in Minnesota and Montreal, and the several speculative theories about what the MLB was "really" doing in that effort.

February 5, 1936
The Founding of the Japanese Professional Baseball League

Matsutaro Shoriki, the head of Tokyo's Yomiuri Newspapers in the 1930's, is generally credited as having one of the principal roles, and perhaps the most significant individual role, in the creation of professional baseball in Japan.

By the 1930's, amateur and some semi-pro baseball had become popular in Japan. Beginning shortly after the creation of the NL, and continuing throughout the pre-WWII period, the MLs had promoted baseball in "World Tours", which were chiefly Pacific Rim tours -- Japan, Australia and often China and the Philippines, but which also some extended to Ceylon, Egypt and Europe. The larger Tours included the 1888-89, 1908, 1914, 1920, 1922, 1931 and 1934 World Tours. Between tours, the MLs sent prominent players and coaches to Japan to train the Japanese on how to play the game, what equipment and training facilities and techniques were necessary, and how to build ballparks. In 1932, prior to the 1934 World Tour, the MLs had sent 3 prominent players who could speak Japanese to Japan to major Japanese universities to teach and coach baseball. The 1934 All-American World Tour, that had a team including Babe Ruth and other prominent players, touring Japan 7 years before Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of WWII, and was famously embroiled in American espionage and the growing intensity and militarism of Japanese nationalism.

Matsutaro Shoriki had helped to finance and promote the Japanese segment of the 1934 tour. But more importantly for today's subject, he formed Japan's first truly professional baseball team, the Tokyo-based Yomiuri Giants, specifically to play the All-Americans in multiple games at ballparks in different cities throughout Japan. In prior Japanese and Pacific Rim tours, the American teams either played each other or amateur local teams. A couple of months after the 1934 World Tour had completed the Japanese portion of its travels, Matsutaro Shoriki was attacked for his involvement with the tour by a gang of sword-wielding would-be samurai from the "Secret Warlike Gods Society", a Japanese nationalist group, and left for dead in a Tokyo alley. But he fully recovered and would live to be 84 years old, "with a 16-inch scar on the left side of his bald head". Less than two years later, in 1936, he continued with his baseball goals and helped to form the first Japanese professional baseball league with multiple teams and league play.

On Feb 5, 1936, the Japanese Professional Baseball League (a/k/a the Dai-Nippon Professional Baseball League, Nippon no Puro Yakyu Rigu, or Nippon No Yakyu Rigu), the first professional baseball league in Asia, was founded with 7 professional teams playing 2 seasons (Spring and Fall) per year. The first Japanese professional league game was played on Apr 29. A Spring-Fall League Championship Series was instituted for in 1938, but beginning in 1939, with the onset of war in Asia, the 2-seasons-per-year format was reduced to a single season per year. The 1944 season was cut short, and the 1945 season was eliminated altogether due to WWII. JPBL play resumed for 1946-49. In 1950, the JPBL was replaced by the modern NPB with two separate leagues (Central and Pacific), doubling the number of teams from 7 to 15, and instituting the annual Nippon Series.

1936 in Japanese Baseball (BR Bullpen)
1938 in Japanese Baseball (BR Bullpen)
1950 in Japanese Baseball (BR Bullpen)
Leigh Montville, The Big Bam: the Life and Times of Babe Ruth (2006, pp 96-100)
1934 Japan Tour (Wikipedia)

February 5, 2002
MLB Withdraws Its Plan to Contract the Twins and Expos

On Nov 6, 2001, the day before the then active CBA expired, the MLB owners met in Chicago, led by Commissioner Bud Selig, and voted 28–2 to contract two teams for the upcoming 2002 season. The two teams expected to be eliminated, the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos, cast the dissenting votes. In an announcement by Selig, the decision was made for economic reasons -- the MLB had allegedly been losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year for several years, contraction was a critical step toward rebuilding MLB's economic structure, and "the teams to be contracted [had] a long record of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable major league franchise." In addition, both the Twins and Expos had been unable to fund the construction of new ballparks to replace the outdated Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and Olympic Stadium, respectively. Selig said the vote was originally scheduled for the Sep 12, 2001, owners meetings, but that those meetings had to be canceled, because of the events of, and travel restrictions following, the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

"Contraction" refers to the elimination of teams by a league, for the greater financial stability of the remainder of the teams. The general procedure is for the remaining league owners to buy out the owners of the struggling clubs, to eliminate the club, and then to conduct a dispersal draft of the players. While there have been a number of contractions in baseball's MiLs, a baseball ML has not contracted since 1899-1900, when the NL eliminated 4 teams -- the Baltimore Orioles, the Cleveland Spiders, the Louisville Colonels and the Washington Senators. There had been no contraction in any other American major-league sport since the NHL merged the Cleveland Barons into the Minnesota North Stars in 1978.

Although the Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Oakland Athletics had apparently been discussed as candidates for contraction, the Expos and Twins were the teams designated for contraction. Under the 2001 MLB contraction plan as approved by the MLB owners, the owners of each team were to receive a $250MM buyout. The AL and NL would each have division realignments, with the Rangers moving to the AL Central, the Pirates moving to the NL East, and the Diamondbacks moving from the NL West to the AL West. The contraction required that 2 teams be eliminated. If only the Expos were to be contracted, there would have been an odd number of teams in the two leagues, meaning that one team would have to be idle every day. This would have made it almost impossible to preserve the 162-game schedule within the normal 6-month season.

MLBPA Executive Director Donald Fehr stated in a release after the formal announcement that the union generally had no say in matters of expansion and contraction, but that the timing to make the move under the old CBA was manipulative, and threatened a bitter CBA battle, calling the vote "imprudent and unfortunate ... We had hoped that we were in a new era, one that would see a much better relationship between players and owners. Today's announcement is a severe blow to such hopes." On Feb 6, the day after the MLB owners vote was announced, the MLBPA filed a grievance with the NLRB to block contraction.

Meanwhile, the City of Minneapolis' Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC) filed a lawsuit against the MLB over the Metrodome lease. On Nov 16, a county district court issued a temporary injunction requiring the Minnesota Twins to honor their lease and to play their final season at the Metrodome. That ruling was sustained by a state appellate court, and on Feb 4, the temporary injunction was effectively upheld on appeal, when the Minnesota Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari and declined to hear the matter.

On Feb 5, 2002, MLB announced that it would withdrawal its contraction plan for the upcoming 2002 season, following the decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court, but stated that the MLB was still determined to eliminate 2 teams in 2003. Selig and other MLB executives reiterated and maintained in releases and interviews that contraction remained a critical step in rebuilding MLB's economic structure, and one that would be revisited in 2003 -- that it was only torpedoed in 2002 by time constraints.

At a meeting on Feb 11, the MLB owners approved the sales of the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos. Florida owner John Henry sold the Marlins to Expos owner Jeffrey Loria for $158.5MM, and Loria then sold the Expos to Baseball Expos LP, a limited partnership owned by the other 29 teams, for $120MM.

In the CBA finally executed on Aug 30, 2002, the MLB and MLBPA agreed that contraction was prohibited until the end of that CBA in 2006, ending any talk of contraction for several years. After the 2004 season, the MLB moved the Montreal Expos franchise to Washington DC to become the Washington Nationals. By 2006, the Twins had made sufficient progress towards the eventual building of a new baseball-specific stadium that contraction was no longer on the agenda.

Contraction is an unmistakably extreme tactic, one that not only threatens hundreds of jobs, but also carries with it a warning to various parties with whom MLB deals. All sorts of theories have been advanced in the sports media as to why the MLB voted for contraction in 2001, and what it was intended to achieve, including the following:

* It should be taken at face value. MLB franchises were losing money in baseball at the time, and owners were ready to downsize, just as many other large national businesses were doing. The Expos weren’t being supported in Quebec, and the Twins owner had been unable to get public funding for a new ballpark. Selig reinforced this in an interview years after the vote, stating -- "The owners really wanted contraction, but for different reasons [among the various owners]. The economics of the sport was brutal at the time. They looked at (contraction) at the time as one of the better solutions to it."

* It began as a tactical negotiating ploy with the union and/or the City of Minneapolis, but the owners then seized upon it as a real way out of their financial situation. The Executive Director of the MSFC stated in one later interview -- "Originally, I thought it was a negotiating ploy with the Players Association. Then [the owners] warmed up to the idea with such vigor, they got caught up in the potential of what this could do."

* That it was nothing more than a bargaining ploy to enforce the "desperate" financial condition of the MLB going into difficult negotiations with the MLBPA. MLBPA Executive Director Donald Fehr initially characterized contraction as a "bargaining chip" in union negotiations, when advance reports of the plan first surfaced in an Ontario newspaper on Oct. 23, 2001. A week after the plan was formally announced, however, Fehr said, "You always have treat it seriously."

* That it was a shot across the bow to smaller market cities and to opponents of public financing for new stadiums in current low-revenue markets, that they better consider new stadiums, if they want to retain their teams -- not just their team, but the entire MLB is financially interested in the negotiations. Regardless of whether contraction was ever viable, the threat of eliminating or moving franchises and so many jobs are nothing new in governmental-funding negotiations.

* Finally, from those who really didn't like Selig, the notion was bandied about that the Twins were targeted because of Selig's family ownership of the Milwaukee Brewers, which was the next closest team to the Twin Cities, and which could potentially gain the Twins' market should the team be contracted.

Contraction (BR Bullpen)
February 5 (BR Bullpen)
Judge orders Twins to play in 2002 (UPI)
2001 Major League Baseball contraction plan (Wikipedia)
February 11 (BR Bullpen)
Mark Asher, Baseballs Division by Contraction (Washington Post 2002)
Craig Calcaterra, People Still Claiming with a Straight Face (NBC 2014)