Japan was almost a lock for hosting the 1981 tournament. Baseball had grown so much in the previous decade in the Pacific nation. Two stadiums in and around Osaka would be the host of the games. But first, you had to get there. The only new team was Australia, which filled the hole of the automatic bid for Japan. With the Japanese not participating in the Pacific qualifier, that means a new country would make the tournament. South Korea won a tiebreaker against Chinese Taipei after splitting their 2 games. To date, this was the toughest qualifying group. Powers such as the Dominican, Panama, and Canada all were eliminated. The IBF decided that the WBC would expand the tournament to 12 teams, and now look at 3 stadiums per bid to host.
The Japanese played great in front of their home fans. In the classic Koshien Stadium, matched up against the Venezuelans and the Americans in Group A, they survived and lead to the American's first time not advancing into the knockout stage. The South Koreans were put into the group of death, and were eliminated quickly. The other group competed in Osaka. The Puerto Ricans were a tough team all around, and the Cubans had a young Orestes Destrade, both advancing past the Mexicans and Dutch. The absence of the USA made the route to the finals for Japan much easier. The hosts and Puerto Rico both were the favorites to collide in the finals, and they didn't disappoint. In one of the most one sided finals, Japan would go on to lift their first championship in 8 tries.
The only three changes from 1977 was the dropping of maroon from the Venezuelan look. A new yellow and white look would be worn for road games. The Koreans came out wearing white and black for their debut. Simple hats with K on it, the script said KOREA with the ying-yang symbol from the flag in the O. Finally, a more refined look for Mexico, worn by new pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.