The clubs that have successfully recruited Japanese players don't always get a return on the investment. The Yankees spent $46 million to sign pitcher Kei Igawa of the Hanshin Tigers after paying a $26 million posting fee.
In his debut U.S. season last year, the left-hander who throws a sweeping curve was demoted after six starts to the minor leagues, where he languished for most of the season until starting for the Yankees in May. Igawa says he had trouble adjusting to the U.S. on and off the field.
In Japan, he could throw as much as he wanted in spring training, while the Yankees restricted his pitch count. Igawa also struggled with American customs such as tipping for service, and he couldn't find food he liked to eat while on the road.
"Everything is different living in the U.S.," Igawa says.
Valentine, the Marines manager, has brought American-style marketing to Japan to revive baseball and keep more players from departing. He first arrived in 1994 to manage the Marines after the Rangers fired him and he couldn't find work with another major-league club.
He clashed with coaches and executives by ending spring- training practices in the early afternoon and managing games more aggressively, according to Robert Whiting in his book "The Meaning of Ichiro." Valentine let players hit rather than bunt with runners on base in the early innings and encouraged base stealing.
At the end of the 1995 season, though the team had its first winning record in 10 years, Valentine was dismissed by the club's general manager. He returned to the U.S. and managed the Mets for seven seasons before beginning his second assignment with the Marines in 2003.
"When I got back, I think there was an openness to receive my ideas," says Valentine, 58, who speaks and reads some Japanese.
To lure fans, Valentine cut a big hole in the protective netting between the stands and the field at Chiba Marine Stadium so players could sign autographs. After Saturday-night games, Valentine, a ballroom dance champion in high school, gave cha- cha lessons to female fans.
Money Losing Teams
The moves paid off. Attendance rose 38 percent in Valentine's first year back as manager, and the team finished with a 65-65-3 record, the franchise's first non-losing year since he was fired.
In 2005, the Marines won the Japan Series championship for the first time in 31 years and Valentine was awarded the prestigious Shoriki Award, named after the Yomiuri owner, which honors the player or manager who contributes the most to Japanese baseball.
He's a celebrity off the field too, peddling his own brand of beer, BoBeer, made by Sapporo Holdings Ltd. Valentine's heroics are showcased in "The Zen of Bobby V," a documentary that was made by three New York University students and featured at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April.
The marines are still a money-losing team. Of the eight Japanese clubs that disclose financial results, five lost money in their latest reporting year. MLB says 26 of its 30 franchises were profitable in 2007.
Japanese teams are suffering partly because of a drop-off in broadcast revenue. After the Giants lost three-time MVP Matsui to the Yankees in 2002, the team's television ratings plunged 40 percent during the next four years and profits sank too. The ratings decline for the Giants -- the only team that televises games nationally -- hurt broadcast revenue for all of the clubs.
The Marines say a game against the Giants last year brought in about $300,000 in broadcast revenue compared with almost $1 million in 2005.
"We don't get the kind of money from television that is necessary to fill the tank with gas and keep the engine running," Valentine says. "TV runs the game in the States."
Toru Shimada, president of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, says NPB has to bring clubs together to boost their clout and revenue. Today, teams cut their own deals for regional broadcasts, which limits their potential to make more money. MLB, on the other hand, flexes its muscle by negotiating joint national television and sponsorship deals and distributes income equally to all 30 teams.
'NPB Needs to be Stronger'
"NPB is not making any consolidated efforts to make professional baseball more attractive," Shimada says. "Unless a dramatic structural change is made, Japanese baseball teams will not be profitable or the market won't grow."
Jim Small, who negotiates sponsorship and television deals for MLB in Japan, says NPB also should take down the protective netting at stadiums that separates fans from players and allow more than four players born outside of Japan on each team.
"Instead of looking internally at why these players are leaving, it's easier just to blame the foreigners, blame MLB," Small says. "NPB needs to be stronger. It starts and ends with the way they market the product, the way they sell."
Nobuhisa Ito, NPB's director of baseball operations, says his group isn't as aggressive as MLB in promoting its game.