The team office of the Ryukyu Blue Oceans, which was aiming to become Okinawa’s first professional baseball team to join the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), filed for bankruptcy with the Okinawa Branch of the Naha District Court on March 31, it has been learned. Teikoku Databank announced the filing. The amount of debt is currently under investigation.
According to Teikoku Databank, the Ryukyu Blue Oceans, which was established in July 2007, aims to enter the NPB, with Naoyuki Shimizu, a member of the 2006 World Baseball Classic winning team and ace right fielder for the Chiba Lotte, as manager. The team has acquired several players with first-team experience, including Kyohei Muranaka, a left fielder who played for Yakult, and Hiroki Yoshimura, who played in the middle lineup for DeNA and Softbank. The team was aiming to enter the NPB in 2010, and was aiming for a NPB berth by the end of 2010.
However, due to the spread of the new coronavirus, the company was unable to hold most of the games it had planned since its establishment, and its income was limited to a small amount of sponsorship income and sales of merchandise. FRIDAY Digital discovered that the company had been cutting back on salaries and unpaid wages to players from a very early stage, and published an article about the situation on October 11, 2009. The following is a reproduction of the article as it appeared at the time (some of the content has been altered).
The article recounts (with altered content): “I feel a little sad that the team I was a member of filed for bankruptcy, but considering what the team did to us players at the time, I guess I had no choice. ……”
In October 2021, one of the players who left the baseball team due to his distrust of the team’s management’s handling of nonpayment and reduction of compensation stated, “I think the team did what they did to us players at the time.
What exactly did the team do to us players? On October 1, 2009, the Ryukyu Blue Oceans, Okinawa’s first professional baseball team, announced the free signing of 15 players. Until September of the same year, the team had 27 players, but by October 1, 2009, the team announced the free agency of 21 players. Not a few of the players who signed free-agent contracts left the team on their own after growing distrustful of the team’s executives’ handling of nonpayment and reductions in compensation.
Just two years earlier, in July 2019, what had happened to a new baseball team that had just been established with the aim of joining the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB)? One player who was a member of the team revealed with a sigh.
One player who was a member of the NPB revealed with a sigh, “Since last year (’20), we have been struggling financially…. We were paid a yearly salary, with the total amount divided by the number of months and paid monthly. However, due to the impact of Corona, our compensation continued to decrease from the middle of last year. This year, we were not paid in May and again in August.
The unpaid amount for May was paid in June, but it was not the full amount, and the amount for August and later months has not been paid yet. We wanted to ask then team president Kitagawa and manager Shimizu-san about the reason for this, but they could not give us a satisfactory explanation.
Okinawa is home to Okinawa Shogaku and Konan, which have won the Koshien championship in high school baseball, and nine professional baseball teams camp there every spring. In addition, at the beginning of 2020, about six months after the team’s inauguration, SoftBank chairman Sadaharu Oh announced on a news program the “expansion plan to 16 teams” with the aim of increasing baseball enthusiasm by broadening the scope of the market. The newly launched Ryukyu Blue Oceans, with 2006 WBC champion Naoyuki Shimizu as manager, and players such as Muranaka, a left fielder who played for Yakult, and Yoshimura, a center fielder for DeNA and Softbank, were gaining momentum in their quest to join the NPB.
The 26 teams in the independent leagues throughout Japan are organized by local teams and hold their own games. Since 2009, these leagues have been considered professional, just like the NPB, but players are paid only about 100,000 per month and their contracts are for about six months, so financially, they are not well off. However, Ryukyu’s players started out with a 12-month contract at 200,000 yen per month, nearly four times more favorable treatment than other independent league teams, even if they did not have professional baseball experience. However, after February 2008, when the team’s activities began in earnest, the spread of a new type of coronavirus throughout Japan began to take a turn for the worse. One of the players mentioned above continued, “In the beginning, we were not allowed to work, but we had to pay our salaries.
In the beginning, I was grateful because I was paid even when I was not able to work. However, due in part to the Corona virus, my compensation began to decrease in April of last year. Initially, I was notified in advance that ‘the amount will be reduced’ for April and May, but eventually I received a transfer with a reduced amount even though I was not notified, and later I received a document notifying me of the reduction. Even when activities resumed and we were able to practice and play matches, some months resulted in a reduction.”
The new strain of corona would come and go, only to reappear in waves, so Ryukyu anticipated in advance that scheduled games and practices might not be possible depending on the status of the corona infection, and in February 2009, the following memorandum was signed by the players
<In the event that a state of emergency is declared, etc., and the players are completely unable to perform, their compensation for that period shall be reduced by 100%. <In the event that the players are not able to play in the exhibition due to a state of emergency declaration, etc., their remuneration shall be reduced by 50%.
This means that if the entire practice or scheduled games are cancelled due to the spread of the new corona outbreak, the salary will be cut. The team was so thorough that no one would be allowed to participate in spring camp without signing this memorandum of understanding.
The players’ distrust reached its peak when they were notified of the June reduction, which was handled by the team’s executives. Another player revealed, “In Okinawa, the emergency situation was declared from May 23, 2009.
During the period from May 22 to June 9, there was an expedition to Yamaguchi and Kanto to play practice games against Hiroshima’s second team, the Giants’ third team, Saitama Seibu’s second team, and Chiba Lotte’s second team. However, after the tour was over, the team had to leave the country. However, after the tour was over and the players returned to Okinawa, they all received a letter from the baseball team informing them that their salaries for the month of June would be reduced because they would not be able to hold the exhibition games.
FRIDAY Digital obtained a copy of the letter, which was issued uniformly to all players, dated June 23 and purportedly from company president Tomoya Kitagawa. The document reads as follows
＜Due to the declaration of a state of emergency in Okinawa Prefecture, we will not be able to hold any tournaments for the month of June, so the reduction in the contract and memorandum will be applied from June 10.
When most of the players received this notice, their heads were filled with “? They had been on a tour of the Kanto area since May 22 and had already played a few matches. After returning from Okinawa, they were able to complete several scheduled full practices before receiving the notice.
The notice said, “The amount of the reduction is in spite of my full attendance. The players, who were not satisfied with the reason for the reduction, demanded an explanation from Shimizu, who had been appointed GM since the middle of the season, and further demanded that they could not practice as they were.
During this training period, some of the players spoke directly with President Kitagawa by phone. When they asked for the reason for the reduction, Mr. Kitagawa replied, “The team is doing its best to explain the situation. I have no intention of discussing this with you (the player who called ). He added, ” Who do you think you are? If you don’t practice, we won’t pay you any money.” The players resumed general practice.
During the resumed practice, a meeting was held, and the players were told by Director Shimizu the reason for the reduction in the players’ compensation, as given by the team. The players, upon hearing this, interpreted it as follows: “We have a facility that we can use without any problems in normal times.
The players interpreted what they heard as follows: “We are allowed to use facilities and stadiums that we would have no problem using in normal times, but because we are under a declared state of emergency, we are being allowed to use them specially. He explained that such a situation would be classified as a “situation affected by the state of emergency,” and therefore, his compensation would be cut.
Compared to the wording of the “memorandum at the beginning of the fiscal year” and the “letter of notification dated June 23,” both of which were obtained by this magazine, it is difficult to interpret the situation in the above manner. In fact, one player reveals that.
In fact, one player revealed, “Although it is not written (in the memorandum or the letter), if the company says that the amount will be reduced because of such interpretation (as explained in the meeting after the resumption of general practice), as a player, I am at my wits’ end. I think this incident has caused more people to give up and say, ‘It’s impossible (to seek improvements) now.
The suffering of the team’s management during the COVID-19 crisis must have been unimaginable, but the fact that the players were the ones to bear the brunt of it is not something to be satisfied with. In a telephone interview with FRIDAY Digital, Tomoya Kitagawa, then president of the Ryukyu baseball team, who is rarely seen in front of the players, revealed the following.
–In ’21, it seems that following the May salary, the August salary is overdue, but there is no doubt about it.
We are doing everything according to the contract and the memorandum of understanding, but there is a confidentiality obligation. However, due to confidentiality obligations, I cannot give you a detailed explanation of the details.
–What is the reason for the reduction in compensation?
One of the reasons is that a state of emergency has been declared.
–Even under the emergency declaration, the team traveled to Yamaguchi and Kanto, and was able to practice as usual after returning to Okinawa. Still, the players are not satisfied with the reduced amount….
The players are not convinced, but we are not sure what they are saying, but everything has been paid properly in accordance with the contract. Um, as per the contract, the memorandum of understanding.
–What do you think about the situation in which a large number of players have left the team, leaving nine players?
The GM (Director Shimizu) is talking about it now, so I leave it to him. I have no intention of interfering in any way. （I do not expect that we will not be able to gather nine members, and I have heard that a large number of people have tried out, so we are confident that we will be able to gather more than 20 members this year. I believe we can do more than we did this year.
GM and Director Shimizu, who was present at the contract negotiations with the players, stated.
I have a bird’s eye view of the current situation, and I too am asking myself, “Are we going to be okay?” I am not sure if we can do it. I think we need to talk with the team about what the company’s policy will be for acquiring players in the future. Once that policy is decided, I would like to make my own choice, just like the players, based on my own conviction.
When asked if he would sign a contract for the next season, he simply said, “I can only say that I am currently under contract, so I am working,” but after that year, Mr. Shimizu also left the team.
In fact, on October 3, 2009, the day the team restarted, only four members showed up at the practice field. After that, no games were played, and the president was replaced by Satoru Watanabe from President Kitagawa on December 27 of last year. Another player who left the team revealed, “If this is the way it is going to be, I don’t want to be a part of it.
If this was going to happen, it would have been better if they had said clearly, ‘We have no money, so we can’t pay you your salary. If possible, I wanted to stay with this team as long as possible…”
While the team was still “lingering in the afterglow of being the best in the world” after winning the WBC for the first time in 14 years, they were confronted with the harsh reality that the newly established team would come to an end in less than four years.