While the story of 16-year-old Eri Yoshida being selected by the Kobe 9 Cruise of the young Kansai Independent League has made it around the world by now, I thought I’d take a moment to mention it here. Miss Yoshida’s signing raises more issues than just her sex, which will draw headlines but doesn’t change much. What is more significant to changes in professional and semi-pro ball in Japan is the continuing lack of eligibility requirements for players (beyond the ability to play ball, of course, and holding the right passport at the right time, on the right squad.)
I’ll be honest, I know more about the Kansai Independent League now than I did a few days ago. For instance, I can now name a team in it. I’ll also admit to assuming a situation similar to that of Ayumi Kataoka of the Ibaraki Golden Golds when I first heard the story. For a small independent team, though, a 16-year-old girl is more of an asset than any man. It’s about publicity.
(I’m not belittling Miss Yoshida’s talents, though – she did hold her male counterparts hitless for an inning in tryouts. I’d also like to congratulate sportswriters, who’ve never been able to resist obvious jokes, bad puns, or having the Tigers “maul” opponents, for not mentioning that no young buck of a ballplayer was even able to get to first with the 16-year-old girl pitching.)
In fact, I see no reason that a young woman couldn’t succeed in baseball, especially as a pitcher, especially a submariner. She won’t have to outrun men or compete with them on brute strength, she’ll just have to develop good control. More power to her.
I don’t really care that Eri Yoshida is of the fairer sex (although that term sounds silly when she’s fanning the boys.) If she were five years older, I doubt I’d be writing this. What interests me more is that she’s sixteen years old. Sixteen.
Her sex has overshadowed that fact, but imagine the debates if she were a guy. So, after realizing this was not an Ayumi Kataoka situation, I immediately thought of young Master Kento Tsujimoto, who was 15 when the Hanshin Tigers signed him almost exactly four years ago. The debates that went on then still stand.
Is the Kansai Independent Baseball League fully professional? If so, can a minor be employed for work that will involve road trips, late hours, etc. What about school? (Weekend games won’t conflict with classes at the Kobe high school to which she’s transferring, but surely the team practices and travels.) What about the logistics of a 16-year-old living in close quarters with adult ballplayers? Now imagine that 16-year-old is a girl. How’s that going to work?
I wish Eri Yoshida all the best and hope to see her and more young women succeed in competition with the men. (I’d rather see the girls playing than badly lip-singing to unbearable pop tunes.) However, I am in the camp that says it is inappropriate to sign a player too young to have finished high school to play pro ball at any level.