Some Places Are Just Different
I regularly read the posts on yakyubaka.com, an extremely detailed account in English of what is going on in Japan’s NPB. Every so often I find a blurb that just tickles me because it shows how different Japanese culture is than U.S. culture.
Some back story here — young major leaguers in Japan get paid a lot less than young major leaguers in the U.S. Some of this has to do with the fact that NPB has only one minor league level, while MLB has six, not counting the Dominican Summer League for Latin youngsters. As a result, Japanese minor leaguers are paid much better at the start of their professional careers than most MLB-system players, but make less than their U.S. counterparts do when they first reach the major leagues.
Young Japanese major leaguers spend the first few years of their careers living in a team dormitory. MLB may still have team dormitories for minor leaguers during Spring Training, but during the regular season, players live in apartments, or for low-level minor leaguers who make peanuts, they live with host families who essentially subsidize MLB and let it pay these players less than the U.S. minimum wage (this is the subject of some ongoing lawsuits, I’ve written about here).
Anyway, I read a blurb today stating that the Hanshin Tigers have decided to let their young star Shintaro Fujinami buy his own car. Fujinami is a pitcher roughly comparable to the Rays’ Chris Archer, except that Fujinami is a little better in terms of his ranking among two-year NPB starters than Archer is compared to other MLB two-year starters, and Fujinami is five years younger, since MLB prospects don’t reach the major leagues as quickly, because of the higher level of play and the many additional minor league levels. Fujinami doesn’t hit age 21 until next April.
Fujinami made $130,000 in 2013, his first full season in NPB, and I’m sure he made considerably more in 2014 since he was an immediate major league success (still waiting for yakubaka to publish the 2014 NPB salary figures).
Can you imagine a young U.S. professional ballplayer being given permission to buy a car? In fact, it’s something of a cliche that any player drafted out of high school who gets a signing bonus of more than $100,000 in today’s dollars immediately goes out and buys himself a sports car. In fact, I specifically remember Joe Pepitone writing in his autobiography that this is what he did as soon as he signed with the Yankees in 1958. Aside from the fact that young men like to drive fast cars, a hot rod is a great way to pick up girls before anyone has heard your name.
I guess it’s fair to say that NPB does a better job of keeping its young players in hand. Obviously, the young players tolerate this, even once they become legitimate major league stars, because the culture considers this appropriate. One good thing I can see coming from this is that it’s probably a lot harder for young Japanese players to blow through their baseball riches until they are at least a little older and hopefully wiser.