ICJS Event: "Out of Bounds: Japanese Baseball in Transition?" - A dialogue between Robert Whiting and Marty Kuehnert

Friday, September 30, 2005
7:30 p.m.
Temple University, Japan Campus, Azabu Hall 206 (access)
Institute lectures are open to the general public, but space may be limited: RSVP is recommended.

The internationalization of Japanese baseball has seen Japanese stars like Ichiro and Matsui prosper in the American major leagues, with foreign players in Japan continuing to have an impact. Yet despite these cross cultural flows, there is still resistance to change. Player rights in Japan are restricted by a collusive cadre of powerful owners and insiders who defend their own self-interests in a dysfunctional system. 2004 saw the first player strike in the history of professional baseball in this country, albeit it one which lasted only two days and was accompanied by tearful apologies--a marked contrast to the attitude seen in the USMLB. This resulted in the formation of Japan's first new pro team in nearly half a century, the Rakuten Eagles, which initially attempted to develop an organizational structure modeled on U.S. baseball, appointing Marty Kuehnert, the first non-Japanese general manager of a Japanese baseball team, only to reverse its initiatives.

With the World Baseball Classic, a 16-nation tournament scheduled for March of 2006, Japan's role in the globalization of baseball becomes an increasingly important question. How it will be answered remains to be seen. Marty Kuehnert, who was been involved in every aspect of Japanese baseball for over 30 years, and Robert Whiting, noted author of "You Gotta Have Wa" and "The Meaning of Ichiro" bring their unique experiences and insights to these issues in a dialogue hosted by Temple University's Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies.

About Marty Kuehnert

Marty Kuehnert has spent most of his adult life living in Japan and working in the sports industry. He was General Manager of the first Japanese-owned pro sports franchise in the U.S., Lodi in the California League (1972-1973), and then the Director of Sales & Promotions for the Taiheiyo Club Lions in Fukuoka in 1974 (before they became the Seibu Lions). He was also President of the Birmingham Barons in Birmingham, Alabama, 1990-1991, and part owner 1990-1995, whose high profile players included Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan.

In October 2004 Kuehnert became the first foreign General Manager in the history of Japanese professional baseball when he was named GM of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. In May 2005 GM Kuehnert was reassigned as "Team Advisor" for the Eagles, a sudden move which puzzled both the media and fans alike. Kuehnert remains in his TA position, and has a unique perspective to relate about Japanese sports inside and out. In the more "regular" business world, Kuehnert worked for Descente Ltd. from 1975-1980, and was a pioneer in the sports licensing business, introducing licenses for MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA and many other leagues and associations. He also introduced the Sports Bar business to Japan with his own chain of "Attic" restaurants, started in Kobe in 1978. Over the last 25 years Kuehnert has also worked as a sports journalist in the print and broadcasting media. For many years he wrote "Kuehnert's Korner" in The Daily Yomiuri and "On The Keen Edge" in The Japan Times. He has published six books. No. 5 was entitled "The Day Matsui Leaves the Giants," published more than a year before Yomiuri Giants slugger left Japan to play for the N.Y. Yankees, and No. 6 came out April, 2003, titled "There are no Scholar-Athletes in Japan."

From April 2003 Kuehnert became a Visiting Professor at Waseda University, teaching classes in International Sports Management and Sports Media.

About Robert Whiting

Robert Whiting is the author of several highly acclaimed books on contemporary Japanese culture, including "You Gotta Have Wa," and "Tokyo Underworld," an account of organized crime in Japan which is being developed for the screen by Dreamworks. His first book, "The Chrsyanthemum and the Bat" was chosen Best Sports Book of 1977 by Time Magazine. The author of 10 books in Japanese, Whiting has also written for The New York Times, The Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Readers Digest, Sport and Time Magazine. He has been a reporter/commentator for News Station, the #1 rated news program in Japan, and has appeared in numerous documentaries about Japan and on such shows as CNN's Larry King Live, the PBS Macneil-Lehrer News Hour, Nightline, ESPN's Sports Central, HBO's RealSports, Fox News Sports, The Tim McCarver Show and All Things Considered.

In his new book, THE MEANING OF ICHIRO: The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of Our National Pastime (Warner Books), Robert Whiting examines the extraordinary phenomenon of Japanese ballplayers making it big-and re-inventing the game-in America.

In his classic book, You Gotta Have Wa (1989; chosen by Bukusu Magazine as one of the " The 100 Most Interesting Books Of All Time," Whiting examined how American major league players coped with culture shock while playing ball in Japan. In THE MEANING OF ICHIRO, chosen as one of the top 12 sports books of 2004 by ESPN, he reverses the field to show how Ichiro and other Japanese players are thriving overseas, and changing Americans' perceptions of Japan.

About ICJS

The Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies (ICJS) is an organization dedicated to fostering study and research on various topics related to contemporary Japan and Asia.