The Global Flows of International Professional Baseball System

Abstract

This paper employs concepts drawn from a five-phase model of globalization adapted from the work of Maguire et al. in 2002, which aids in developing an understanding of the global phenomenon of professional baseball. It reports that the five flows of globalization, namely, migrant dimension, technology dimension, economic dimension, media dimension, and ideological dimension are shaping the outcomes of various local professional baseball cultures within the global context and vice versa. The paper concludes that Major League Baseball (MLB) in the U.S. is confirmed as the core economy within world professional baseball; and the global forces, the power of MLB in particular, have been impacting and shaping the outcomes of different local professional baseball cultures with a particular focus on the relationships between the above five flows.

Introduction

During the past generation, especially from the 1980s to the present, the world has experienced fundamental changes, and “globalization has emerged as one of the foremost discourses” (Jackson & Hokowhitu, 2002). According to Bramham and Spink (2001), such dramatic changes can be thought of in six separate dimensions. First, there has been a growing awareness of the ecological environment and the global impact of human activities upon a fragile and interdependent biosphere. Second, social action groups and political movements have tended to transcend the local and to make common cause at a transnational scale. Some of this activity has been facilitated by a revolution of global technology. Third, there has been a cultural transformation, particularly in terms of the decline of tradition. Cultural values can no longer be contained and constrained within a single nation state. Boundaries become increasingly porous as they experience growing flows of people, culture, information, goods, and services. Fourth, social transformations are taking place that loosen the constraints of traditional institutions and local communities on individuals. Fifth, in relation to political change, the growing importance of transnational institutions and agencies, such as the European Union (EU) has become increasingly apparent. Finally, there are economic factors changing global patterns of investment, production, distribution and consumption (Bauman, 1998).

The global development of sport has also accelerated from the 1980s. For example, one can find the flows from country to country of sporting goods, equipment, and landscapes that have grown such as the development of the media-sport production complex and project images to global audiences. In the academic field, the subjects of growth of internationalization or globalization have received much attention from numbers of academics (cf. Chiba, 2004; Law et al., 2002; Magnusson, 2001; Maguire et al., 2002; Takahashi & Horne, 2004). In this paper, the authors employ concepts drawn from a five-phase model of globalization approach, adapted from the work of Maguire et al. in 2002, with a focus on understanding the global phenomenon of professional baseball. They seek to report how the five flows of globalization: migrant dimension, technology dimension, economic dimension, media dimension, and ideological dimension are shaping the outcomes of various local professional baseball cultures within the global context and vice versa.

Theoretical Background

With the radical changes taking place in this global context, a major concern has been raised regarding the consequences of globalizing the sport field. Elite sport now occurs on a worldwide scale and is patterned along what academics term ‘global flows’ (Maguire et al., 2002). In a set of flows in global processes, Maguire et al. propose an elementary framework for exploring such phenomenon, suggesting that there are five dimensions of global flows: migrant dimension, technology dimension, economic dimension, media dimension, and ideological dimension.

According to Maguire et al. (2002), “the migrant dimension involves the international movement of people such as tourists, exiles and guest workers and so on.” This concept of migration refers to the make up of persons who have constituted the shifting world where guest workers, other moving groups, and persons constitute an essential feature of the world in general. In the sport arena, the global migration of sports personnel (e.g. players, coaches etc.) has been a pronounced and established feature of the sporting ‘global village’ in recent decades (Maguire, 1999). For instance, the movement of player migration occurs in some sports, such as professional baseball, between North America, Latin America, and East Asia.

The technology dimension, “created by the flow between countries of the machinery and equipment produced the flow between countries by corporations and government agencies,” (Maguire et al., 2002) making technology “a shaping factor at the nexus of alternative global sport futures, and as such it is a pivotal driver of sport’s global evolution” (Westerbeek & Smith, 2003: 153). Modern technology, such as the development of media, sport equipment etc., has created financial benefits and publicity for professional baseball.

“The economic dimension has been obviously concerned on the rapid flow of money and its equivalents around the world” (Maguire et al., 2002). It is evident that the flow of finance in the global sports arena has come to focus on the international trade in personnel, prize money and endorsements, and the marketing of sport along specific lines. Some good examples are manifested in the transformation of sports such as USA basketball and baseball, Olympic Games, and Football World Cup etc. into global sports.

Another factor that must be considered is “the media dimension, entailing the flow between countries of information and images that are produced and distributed by newspapers, magazines, radio, film, television, video, satellite, cable and the World Wide Web” (Maguire et al., 2002: 5). Currently, global and local media sport organizations have aligned a range of sporting events to meet the global audiences’ interests, of which spectacle, personality, and excitement are emphasized. The sport-related media continuously ‘broadcasts’ images of sports to large global audiences. For example, consider worldwide audiences for the World Baseball Classic in 2006.

The ideological dimension is “linked to the flow of values centrally associated with the state or counter-state ideologies and movements” (Maguire et al., 2002). In the professional baseball business, players are regarded as individual entrepreneurs with rights (e.g. negotiation) (Suzuki, 2000). Nevertheless, except for the MLB, the leagues seem to have different stories (Lee et al., 2006).

Discussions

Migrant Dimension

“Sports migration is bound up in a complex political economy that is itself embedded in a series of power struggles characterizing the global sports system” (Maguire et al., 2002: 32). The U.S. is a central part of the global system. The most striking example of transnational power of sports organization is Major League Baseball (Rosentraub, 2000). Players from outside the United States are defined as guestworkers in this system. In MLB, many players have been recruited from Latin American countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Indeed, U.S. domination increasingly relies on Latin America talent, as illustrated by the professional sporting relations between the U.S. and Latin America (Klein, 1995). On the other hand, one could find that players came from Netherlands despite the fact that football is the most popular sport in Europe. There has been an influx of talented players from Latin America, Europe, and Australia because U.S. capital, technology, and media have provided rapid development related to professional baseball labor conditions. This, together with the infusion of Asian players (Takahashi & Horne, 2004) has fostered the exploitation of the North American professional baseball market over the past years. The baseball business is booming in Asia as a rapidly-swelling band of fans follow the exploits of home-grown players on the other side of the Pacific (Sportbusiness, 2001).

The growing prominence of foreign born baseball players in MLB (see Table 1) appears not only in the performances of foreign superstars such as Sammy Sosa but also in overall number of foreign players now on MLB rosters (Marcano & Fidler, 2000). By 2005, 242 overseas players, which occupied 29.2% of 829 Major League players, were featured from 15 countries together with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island. The Dominican Republic leads all countries with 91 players; Venezuela is second with 46; and Puerto Rico is third with 34 (Major League Baseball, 2005). The import of MLB players from East Asia in this half decade has also shown a dramatic growth (Chiba, 2004; Reaves, 2002; Takahashi & Horne, 2004).

Twenty-one Japanese, 9 Koreans, and 3 Taiwanese played in the U.S. during the 2001-05 period. “These results indicate that most of the demand for major league players is focused on foreign-born players” (Chiba, 2004: 197). Foreign players strive to play in the Major Leagues because that is the highest level (Koppett, 2000). More importantly, this claim clearly implies “the global migration of sports personnel has been a pronounced feature of recent decades and appears likely to continue in the future” (Maguire et al., 2002: 5).

Table 1 Foreign-Born Baseball Players of the MLB since 1980
5-Year Sets 1980-84 1985-89 1990-94 1995-99 2000-04 2005-now
Percentage 12.45% 13.68% 18.57% 25.41% 27.08% 29.20%

Source: http://japanesebaseball.com/forum/thread.jsp?forum=8&thread=14789

Media Dimension

In terms of media, there are two major and interrelated trends in the spheres of media, marketization, and globalization. And “a number of trends are occurring simultaneously in international sport” (Wagner, 1990: 399). The growing power of the media in recent decades has had a substantial impact on sport (Law et al., 2002) and this has generated excitement and interest in various sports around the world. Such tendency had a substantial impact on sport in many Third World areas, has generated excitement and interest in various heretofore-quiet sports of Asia [baseball] and Africa [football] (Wagner, 1990). Indeed, “reflecting the significant impact of global media on current society, sport media has significantly influenced culture and society, and increased opportunities in the sport related market” (McDonald et al., 2001: 44). In Taiwan, for instance, until the end of 2004, over 85.2 percent of households had cable television (National Communications Commission, 2006) with many foreign satellite channels.  Taiwanese who resided in  Far East Asia were able to watch American television programs, including sports channels, such as ESPN, and the four major U.S. networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. Similarly, the global audience unconsciously accepts American sports, commodities, and culture. Professional team sports are distributed through the electronic media (Law et al., 2002). Generally, the growing influence of the [global] media is evident with a wide variety of local cultures such as in Taiwan, Japan etc. where the development of media has significantly affected people’s daily life in which sport is inevitably included. The recent New York Yankee’s phenomenon of MLB in Japan and Taiwan could be illustrated as a good example in responding to the above claim. Therefore, “the transnational media has overtaken many dimensions of the business of sport” (Phillips & Hutchins, 2003: 217), and professional baseball industry is deemed as one of the media concern. Both the globalization of American-style sport and the creation of global professional baseball audiences “have been made possible by the development of ‘the media-sport production complex’” (Melnick & Jackson, 2002: 431).

As to be expected, the development of high technology has accelerated the development of global media, especially in the field of sport broadcasting, which has introduced MLB to the rest of the world through television channels which have simultaneously satisfied the global public’s fascination with such sport. Given the importance of sport media, new media technology such as satellite broadcasting, the Internet, and so on have made significant contributions to the promotion of professional baseball in general and Major League Baseball in particular. Professional baseball broadcasting reflects the phenomenon from an international perspective that explains the rapid spread of sport media programs (e.g. live games broadcasting of MLB). Besides, the existence of broadcasts has “greatly enhanced the revenues and financial health of organized baseball…the combination of commodity and non-commodity broadcasts enabled baseball to earn higher revenues than it might otherwise have earned” (Weiner, 2002: 25). For example, the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan has its game telecasts sponsored by the Videoland TV Company. This has become the pivotal income of clubs which have been suffering from red deficits for years since the League’s inauguration.

Technology Dimension

The rapid development of electronic media is evidenced by the development of video, satellite, cable, digital networks, and the Internet in recent decades. The continuous movement of new technologies has “accelerated the phenomenon of global integration and business opportunities related to global sport” (McDonald et al., 2001: 44).

Sport functions to provide a cheap and simple way of spending time and “as a means of enticing viewers to make the massive monetary and ‘technological shift to digital television’” (Miller, 1999: 123). The development towards what we can now see global professional baseball network has been marked by further rapid technological expansion, particularly in electronic media. And, “the impact of technology on the expansion and popularity of sport through television and the Internet is established” (Westerbeek & Smith, 2003: 131). Actually, technological innovations in the professional baseball industry have had a significant effect in providing audiences with information and entertainment of a sporting nature. Through the aid of modern media technology, which has created finical benefits and publicity for professional baseball, the global nature of this specific ‘industry’ is associated with its development into big business. Here, one tends not to overemphasize the ‘witnessed big success’ of the MLB, which is evidently dependent on the global media and technology. Rather, consider Taiwan, where the professional baseball business is benefited by harnessing the resources and technologies made available by media corporations such as Videoland TV Company.

Interestingly, new global technologies have been shown to have the potential to serve as savior and enemy of local professional baseball cultures. On the one hand, new technologies such as the Internet and satellite television are enabling ‘remote’ professional baseball systems to communicate with MLB, which plays a significant role in providing a stimulus for the rest of baseball world. On the other, these same technologies are also able, intentionally and unintentionally, to contribute to the exploitation and loss of local baseball cultures.

Economic Dimension

As noted, the globalization of sport is equally about the appeal of sport and its implications with world capitalism in which the “complex and contradictory links among sport, politics, and global capitalism in a country that is on the economic and political periphery” (Miller et al., 2003: 428). Money is generated through professional sports, international sports competitions, and the televizing of major sporting events. More precisely, this global capital phenomenon has led to a financial flow that has clearly impacted various local sport cultures. “The flow of finance in the global sports arena has come to center not only on the international trade in personnel, prize money and endorsements, but also on the marketing of sport along specific lines” (Maguire et al., 2002: 5).

Among the network of international professional baseball, the U.S. plays an influential role due to its economic status in the world. To attract excellent players, the MLB pays more money to ‘import’ or ‘exploit’ players than other countries. The release of American capital, supplied by stakeholders such as the media, supporters, and shareholders has impacted other leagues in other countries. In Japan, for example, partly because of players challenging themselves (participating in the MLB) and partly because of monetary factors, the forceful USA capital has brought about obstacles for the management of Japanese leagues and this has had a negative impact on professional clubs. More and more baseball fans now would rather pay attention to MLB than domestic leagues. This shows that the prevailing globalization of professional team sports will not really benefit every country since American capital transfers around the world without boundaries. In contrast, some countries have been damaged. For instance, “U.S. MLB retains the vast majority of elite athletic talent in the world, American and imported, largely through its enormous capital base” (Chiba, 2004: 207).  Interestingly, Japanese companies sponsor the CPBL, which means “Japanese capital can thus support leagues and clubs elsewhere in Asia and stimulate Japanese players to move to those countries where the capital flows” (Takahashi & Horne, 2004: 52). Consequently, within the context of global capitalism, the struggle to maintain and protect local professional baseball cultural spaces (e.g. Taiwan, Japan, and Latin American countries) where identities can be constructed and affirmed have become complex and difficult (Jackson & Hokowhitu, 2002). Baseball, which has been traditionally claimed by the above countries as a national game is now, more than ever before, inevitably subject to foreign influences, namely, the economic power of MLB.

Ideological Dimension

In professional team sports, the 1996 Bosman ruling proved the value of players’ ideology. In general, the Bosman ruling has abolished the legality of all movement restrictions or nationality clauses for athletes, comfirming  the right of an EU citizen player to move to another country free of any transfer upon the expiration of his contract (Horne et al., 2001: 248). After the Bosman judgment, European players were no longer tied to clubs even when out of contract and players with the big clubs can demand more pay in return for committing themselves to longer contracts (Magnusson, 2001). They won freedom of movement between clubs.

Compared to the professional football arena, current professional baseball leagues players express a similar desire to operate as free agents or associations and have tried to seek a beneficial balance between players and leagues. In MLB, the managerial operating mechanism is recognized as successful and thus the right of players is assured (Suzuki, 2000). Nevertheless, the free movement of baseball talents within Taiwan and Japan was dependent upon the establishment of administrative agreements and common regulations implemented by leagues and clubs. Recently, promotion [improvement] of Taiwan’s draft pick system has been considered by the clubs and the league, however, in comparison with professional baseball leagues either in the USA or Japan, Taiwan still needs to promote its own system. In Japan, despite having a more ‘advanced and sound’ operating mechanism in professional baseball system than Taiwan’s case, the NPB players’ rights are still, to some degree, far behind the players in MLB. For instance, in 1993, a free agency system had been implemented, nevertheless, there still exist limitations that have hindered players’ mobility, such as the fact that players were unable to be free agents after 9 years of service in the first club (Lee et al., 2006). Meanwhile, before the period of obtaining the right of free agency, if players intend to develop careers in MLB, they have to get through a termed Positing System which, unfortunately, prevents players from choosing clubs. Ironically, only the players belonging to clubs in the NPB can select or refuse the offers from MLB clubs (Suzuki, 2000). In this sense, in the development of the Japanese professional baseball it is necessary to promote players’ rights. Having given similar concern to such phenomenon in Taiwan, this matter must be considered by the stakeholders within its governance system.

Conclusions:

This paper has sought to highlight some of the broad patterns and structures that characterize global professional baseball sports system. The professional baseball industry is developing and evolving very rapidly, creating opportunities and threats that can be captured by other professional baseball leagues in East Asia and Latin America. MLB in the U.S. is confirmed as the core economy within world professional baseball. Non-core leagues such as the NPBL and CPBL have developed dependent relationships with the dominant North American core in terms of the technology, design, production, and marketing of professional baseball business. Meanwhile, Eastern Asia and Latin American countries have constructed reputations as major producer nations, and powerful MLB clubs are constantly scouting for cheaper products those they can import and exploit. The lure of the financial gains accruing from a move to the MLB has offered a strong incentive and is significant in explaining such migration flows. The professional baseball business and the media have come to adhere to he ideologies, structures, and practices of corporate capitalism as they have satisfied each other’s commercial needs. It is evident that global forces, the power of MLB in particular, have been shaping the outcomes of different local professional baseball cultures with a particular focus on the relationship between, migration of players, capitalism, new media technologies, and ideology.

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