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January 8, 2010 7:40 PM

U.S. vs. Japan: Can Bud make this idea work?

Even the empty-headed can sometimes find the smarts to take ownership of a good idea now and then, and that applies to the most know-nothing executive in the history of team sports. For Bud Selig is to intelligent leadership what Tiger Woods is to fidelity or what Bernie Madoff is to wise investing.

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But the baseball tsar -- His Royal Budness -- has hit a home run with his interest in taking the sport to global heights it hasn't reached before. Selig has held talks with Ryozo Kato, commissioner of the Nippon Professional League, about a real World Series: the best team in the United States against the best team in Japan.

Not that the idea was Selig's. How could a fresh idea come from a mind that hasn't had one since the turn of the 1600s? Yet Selig deserves a tip of the ballcap for recognizing a good idea when he sees it.

And this is a good idea whose time has come: the Major Leagues vs. the Japanese League for a "world" championship.


It's hard to argue that the Japanese don't play top-flight baseball. Look at how well they do in international competition, and it doesn't take Albert Einstein to see that Major League teams are scouring the Far East for all the top talent they can sign.

Selig could put together a team of Japanese talent now in the big leagues that would be the envy of any All-Star team. And he doesn't have to hear from anybody how much talent remains in Japan.

How good is the talent in Japan?

Think Ichiro and Dice-K.

Or look no further than how the Japanese have done in the World Baseball Classic, Bud's made-for-Spring Training event that brings teams from around the globe to compete for a meaningless championship.

Worthless or not, the Classic highlights how talented the teams from Japan are these days, which should surprise no one. The country, after all, has a rich baseball tradition, one that goes back to when Negro League teams barnstormed there in the first half of the 20th century. Even Major League stars like Babe Ruth played there in the early 1900s as well.

Those games meant nothing. There were no championships at stake, just games that showcased the best talent America had to offer.

Baseball has come far since Ruth played in Japan, a fact not lost on Selig. He has called turning baseball into a worldwide sport a mission of his. Selig's office embarked on a strategy years ago to bring the game to Africa and elsewhere and to strengthen it in places where the sport already is strong.

Now, Selig's strategy is at a point of no return. The game Selig lords over is a sport without borders, and he can ill-afford to stop the momentum he has played a role in building, which serves as one of the few plusses during his stewardship of the sport.

By all accounts, the Japanese can't get enough of the game. The fact that their press covers the homegrown stars playing in the big leagues illustrates how insatiable the country's appetite for the sport is. They have long ago stopped viewing their baseball as an inferior brand. "Made in Japan" isn't the joke it was when U.S. teams of All Stars played there in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Japanese can compete on a global stage, and nobody should be concerned about whether the best team in the Japanese League can beat the best team in the Major Leagues.

To give credence to such a thought is to engage in the kind of parochialism that often slows splendid ideas from reaching the marketplace, and even when a simpleton like Selig can see merit in an idea, people in the game should do more than sit on it as Selig has done with too many good ideas under his watch. 

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