Nippon Professional Baseball

Last updated
Nippon Professional Baseball
Current season, competition or edition:
Baseball current event.svg 2024 NPB season
NPB logo.svg
Formerly Japanese Baseball League
Sport Baseball
Founded Pacific League, November 26, 1949;74 years ago (1949-11-26) [1]
Central League, December 15, 1949;74 years ago (1949-12-15) [2]
Commissioner Sadayuki Sakakibara
No. of teams12
Country Japan
Headquarters5–36–7 Shiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Confederation WBSC Asia [3]
Most recent
champion(s)
Hanshin Tigers
(2nd title)
Most titles Yomiuri Giants
(22 titles)
Qualification Asia Series (2005–2013)
TV partner(s)
Official website NPB.jp

Nippon Professional Baseball (日本野球機構, Nippon Yakyū Kikō) or NPB is the highest level of baseball in Japan. Locally, it is often called Puro Yakyū (プロ野球), meaning simply Professional Baseball; outside of Japan, NPB is often referred to as "Japanese baseball."

Contents

The roots of the league can be traced back to the formation of the "Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club" (大日本東京野球倶楽部, Dai-Nippon Tōkyō Yakyū Kurabu) in 1934. The first professional circuit for the sport in Japan, the Japanese Baseball League (JBL), was founded two years later and continued to play even through the final years of World War II. The organization that is today's NPB was formed when the JBL reorganized in 1950, dividing its 15 teams into two leagues, which would meet in the annual season-ending Japan Series championship play-off series of games starting that year.

NPB comprises twelve teams divided equally in two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League, a format which it has largely kept since 1957. It has seen several waves of expansion and contraction, sometimes at the same time, to keep it at those numbers; most recently, in 2005, the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes merged with the Orix BlueWave to form the Orix Buffaloes, while the Rakuten Golden Eagles were added as an expansion team. As is common in Asian baseball (and unlike North American leagues), teams are generally named after their corporate owners, such as Yomiuri and Softbank. NPB also oversees two affiliated minor leagues, the Western League and the Eastern League.

Since the first Japan Series in 1950, the Yomiuri Giants have the most championships with 22, and the most appearances with 37. Entering the 2024 season, the Hanshin Tigers, who defeated the Orix Buffaloes 4–3 in the 2023 Japan Series, are the reigning champions. The Japan Series has been contested 74 times as of 2023, with the Pacific League and the Central League winning 37 each.

NPB was the only professional sports league in Japan until the foundation of the J.League in 1993. It is the eleventh-wealthiest professional sport league by revenue in the world, and the second-wealthiest baseball league, behind only Major League Baseball (MLB); it is also the wealthiest sports league in Asia. NPB has the second-highest total season attendance of any league, also behind MLB, despite playing considerably fewer games per season.

League structure

Nippon Professional Baseball consists of two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League, which each have six teams. There are also two secondary-level professional minor leagues, the Eastern League and the Western League, that play shorter schedules for developing players. NPB teams are allowed to have more than one minor league team as long as they are outside of the established minor league system, with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants being the only teams taking advantage of this. As of 2023, the Hawks have three minor league teams, [4] the Giants have two, and the other ten teams only have one minor league team each. Teams below the Eastern and Western Leagues play exhibition matches against various teams of collegiate, industrial, Shikoku Island League Plus, and other NPB minor league statuses.

The Central League and Pacific League operate as separate entities, unlike the four major professional sports leagues of North America whose leagues each operate as one singular entity. TV rights for games are always held by a game's home team. The Pacific League has used the designated hitter (DH) rule since 1975, while the Central League has not used the DH outside of interleague play where a Pacific League team is the home team and in the 1985 Japan Series.

The season starts in late March or early April, and ends in October, with two or three all-star games in July. In recent decades prior to 2007, the two leagues each scheduled between 130 and 140 regular season games, with the 146 games played by the Central League in 2005 and 2006 being the only exception. Both leagues have since adopted 143-game seasons, 71 or 72 each at home and on road, facing their five respective intra-league opponents 25 times each and facing their six interleague opponents three times each in late May to early June in interleague play, with a separate champion being crowned for the team with the best record through the 18 games of interleague play. In general, Japanese teams play six games a week, with every Monday off (except on specific occasions, such as a game being played outside of the home team's primary stadium or if a rainout forced a game to be postponed to a Monday). [5] Unlike in Major League Baseball, doubleheaders have not been featured in NPB since the late 1990s.

Following the conclusion of each regular season, the top three teams from each league go on to play in the Climax Series championship play-off tournament, with the winner of each play-off tournament facing off in a best-of-seven championship series known as the Japan Series (known locally as the Nippon Series). Implemented in 2004 by the Pacific League (then known as the Pacific League Playoffs) and in 2007 by the Central League, the Climax Series is a two-stage system; in the "First Stage", the second and third-place ranking teams face off in a best-of-three series played entirely in the second place team's home stadium. In the case of an instance where the series ends 1–1–1, the higher seed always advances to the Final Stage. In the "Final Stage", the winner of the First Stage will face off against the league's pennant winner in a best-of-six series played entirely in the pennant winner's home stadium. The higher seed always starts with a "ghost win", or a 1–0 advantage in the series before any games have been played, meaning the higher seed only has to win three games whereas the lower seed has to win four games. In the event of a tie, the higher seed would subsequently only need to win two games. The winners of each league's Final Stage then face off in the Japan Series, a best-of-seven series mirroring the format of the World Series. In the rare instance where the series ends 3–3–1 after seven games, a Game 8 will be played with unlimited innings at the stadium with home-field advantage. Hypothetically, a Japan Series can go up to 14 games in length if each of the first seven games resulted in a 12-inning tie. Since its inception, home-field advantage alternates from year to year between the CL and PL, with the CL representative getting home-field advantage in even years and the PL representative getting home-field advantage in odd years.

Since its adoption by both leagues in 2007, Climax Series does not determine who won each league's pennant, rather the team with the best regular season record in each league wins the pennant, regardless of their result in the Climax Series. This has led to four occasions where the Japan Series champion did not win their league's pennant that year, with those being the 2007 Chunichi Dragons, 2010 Chiba Lotte Marines, and the 2018 and 2019 Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. However, from 2004 to 2006, the winner of the Pacific League Playoffs was given the Pacific League pennant for that year.

Financial problems

Financial problems plague many teams in the league. It is believed that with the exception of the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers, and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, all teams are operating with considerable subsidies, often as much as ¥6 billion (about US$44.9 million), from their parent companies. A raise in the salaries of players is often blamed, but from the start of the professional league, parent companies paid the difference as an advertisement. Most teams have never tried to improve their finances through constructive marketing. In addition, teams in the Central League historically saw much higher profits than the Pacific League, having popular teams such as the Giants and Tigers. [6]

The number of metropolitan areas represented in the league increased from four to five in 1988, when the Nankai Hawks (now Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) were sold to Daiei and moved to Fukuoka, nine years after the Nishitetsu Lions moved from Fukuoka to Tokorozawa to become the Seibu Lions, and from five to seven between 2003 and 2005, as the Nippon-Ham Fighters moved from Tokyo to Sapporo prior to the 2004 season. The Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes merged with the Orix BlueWave (becoming the Orix Buffaloes) in the middle of 2004, which caused a player strike that eventually resulted in the creation of the Tōhoku Rakuten Golden Eagles being founded in Sendai to maintain the 12-team balance before the 2005 season. [7]

Until 1993, baseball was the only team sport played professionally in Japan. In that year, the J.League professional football league was founded. The new football league placed teams in prefectural capitals around the country—rather than clustering them in and around Tokyo—and the teams were named after their locations rather than after corporate sponsors, despite many clubs in the J.League still being owned and subsidized by corporate entities.

The wave of players moving to Major League Baseball, which began with Hideo Nomo "retiring" from the Kintetsu Buffaloes, then signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has also added to the financial problems. Attendance suffered as teams lost their most marketable players, while TV ratings declined as viewers tuned into broadcasts of Major League games. [8] To discourage players from leaving to play in North America, or to at least compensate teams that lose players, Japanese baseball and MLB agreed on a posting system for players under contract. MLB teams wishing to negotiate with a player submit bids for a "posting fee", which the winning MLB team would pay the Japanese team if the player signs with the MLB team. Free agents are not subject to the posting system, however, and some teams almost never post their players. [9] [10]

History

Origins

The first professional baseball team in Japan was founded by media mogul Matsutarō Shōriki in late 1934 and called the Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Kurabu ("the Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club"). After matching up with a team of visiting American All-Stars that included Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Charlie Gehringer, the team spent the 1935 season barnstorming in the U.S., winning 93 of 102 games against semi-pro and Pacific Coast League teams. According to historian Joseph Reaves, "The only minor drawbacks to the team's popularity in the States were their kanji characters and their cumbersome Japanese name. They rectified both by renaming themselves the Tokyo Kyojin ['Tokyo Giants'] and adopting a uniform identical to the New York Giants..." [11]

From 1936 to 1950, professional baseball in Japan was played under the banner of the Japanese Baseball League (JBL). The league's dominant team during this period was the Tokyo Kyojin, which won nine league championships, including six in a row from 1938 to 1943. (The team was officially renamed the Yomiuri Giants in 1947.)

NPB establishment

After the 1949 season, the JBL team owners reorganized into the NPB; Daiei Stars owner Masaichi Nagata promoted a two-league system, which became the Pacific League (initially called the Taiheiyo Baseball Union) and the Central League. (Nagata became the first president of the Pacific League.) [12] The league now known as Nippon Pro Baseball began play in the 1950 season.

Four JBL teams formed the basis of the Central League: the Chunichi Dragons, the Hanshin Tigers, the Yomiuri Giants, and the Shochiku Robins (formerly the Taiyō Robins). To fill out the league, four new teams were formed: the Hiroshima Carp, the Kokutetsu Swallows, the Nishi Nippon Pirates, and the Taiyō Whales.

Four JBL teams formed the basis of the Pacific League: the Hankyu Braves, the Nankai Hawks, the Daiei Stars, and the Tokyu Flyers. To fill out the league, three new teams were formed: the Kintetsu Pearls, the Mainichi Orions, and the Nishitetsu Clippers.

Matsutarō Shōriki, the Giants' owner, acted as NPB's unofficial commissioner and oversaw the first Japan Series, which featured the Mainichi Orions defeating the Shochiku Robins 4 games to 2.

Expansion and contraction

The Central League's Nishi Nippon Pirates existed for one season—they placed sixth in 1950, and the following season merged with the Nishitetsu Clippers (also based in Fukuoka) to form the Nishitetsu Lions. This brought the number of Central League teams down to an ungainly arrangement of seven. In 1952, it was decided that any Central League team ending the season with a winning percentage below .300 would be disbanded or merged with other teams. The Shochiku Robins fell into this category, and were merged with the Taiyō Whales to become the Taiyō Shochiku Robins in January 1953. This enabled the Central League to shrink to an even number of six teams.

In 1954 a new Pacific League team was founded, the Takahashi Unions, to increase the number of teams in that division to eight. Although the team was stocked with players from the other Pacific League teams, the Unions struggled from the outset and finished in the second division every season. In 1957, the Unions were merged with the Daiei Stars to form the Daiei Unions (and again bringing the number of Pacific League teams down to seven). The Unions existed for a single season, finishing in last place, 43-1/2 games out of first. In 1958, the Unions merged with the Mainichi Orions to form the Daimai Orions. This enabled the Pacific League to contract from the ungainly seven-team arrangement to six teams.

After these various franchise developments, by the end of the 1950s, Nippon Professional Baseball had contracted from the initial allotment of 15 teams down to the current number of 12.

1960s and 1970s

On September 1, 1964, Nankai Hawks' prospect Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to play in Major League Baseball [13] when he appeared on the mound for the San Francisco Giants; he returned to Japan in 1966. Disputes over the rights to his contract eventually led to the 1967 United States – Japanese Player Contract Agreement; it would be almost 30 years before another Japanese player played in the Major Leagues.[ further explanation needed ]

Continuing their dominance from the JBL, the Yomiuri Giants won nine consecutive Japan Series championships from 1965 to 1973.

The Black Mist Scandal rocked Nippon Professional Baseball between 1969 and 1971. The fallout from a series of game-fixing scandals resulted in several star players receiving long suspensions, salary cuts, or being banned from professional play entirely; the resulting abandonment of baseball by many fans in Japan also led to the sale of the Nishitetsu Lions and the Toei Flyers.

From 1973 to 1982, in a forerunner to today's Climax Series playoff rounds, the Pacific League employed a split season with the first-half winner playing against the second-half winner in a mini-playoff to determine its champion. In 1975, the Pacific League adopted the designated hitter rule. These were implemented in an attempt to draw fans back to Pacific League, as the Pacific League was hit significantly harder by the Black Mist Scandal than the Central League, with only the Hankyu Braves not having players involved in the incident.

1980s and the "Invincible Seibu"

After being a second division team for much of the 1960s and 1970s, in 1983 the Seibu Lions began a period of sustained success. The team gained the moniker "Invincible Seibu" during the 1980s and 1990s due to their sustained domination of the league, winning 11 league championships and eight Japan Series championships between 1982 and 1994. The Lions had a powerful lineup in this period, loaded with sluggers such as Koji Akiyama, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, and Orestes Destrade. Their defense also benefited from the services of skilled players such as Hiromichi Ishige, Hatsuhiko Tsuji and catcher Tsutomu Ito. Among the pitchers employed by the Lions in this period was "The Oriental Express" Taigen Kaku, Osamu Higashio, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Hisanobu Watanabe, and relievers Yoshitaka Katori and Tetsuya Shiozaki.

American expatriate players made their mark in NPB in the 1980s, with players like the Lee brothers (Leron Lee and Leon Lee), Greg "Boomer" Wells, Randy Bass, and Ralph Bryant playing key roles on their NPB teams.

Hideo Nomo and the exodus to MLB

In 1995, star pitcher Hideo Nomo "retired" from the Kintetsu Buffaloes and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nomo pitched over the span of 14 seasons in the Major Leagues before retiring in 2008. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1995. He twice led the league in strikeouts, and also threw two no-hitters (the only Japanese pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Major League Baseball until Hisashi Iwakuma achieved the feat in August 2015). Nomo's MLB success led to more NPB players moving to Major League Baseball, [14] and eventually led to the creation of the "posting system" in 1998. [15]

Since Nomo's exodus, more than 60 NPB players have played Major League Baseball. Some of the more notable examples include:

Merger and strike of 2004

In September 2004, the professional Japanese players went on strike for the first time in over 70 years. The strike arose from a dispute that took place between the owners of the 12 professional Japanese baseball teams and the players' union (which was led by popular Yakult Swallows player-manager Atsuya Furuta), concerning the merging of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave. The owners wanted to get rid of the financially defunct Buffaloes, and merge the two baseball leagues, since teams in the Central League saw much higher profits than the Pacific League, having popular teams such as the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers. After negotiations, the owners agreed to guarantee the survival of the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, leaving the Central League with six teams and the Pacific League with five.[ citation needed ]

A battle escalated between the players union and the owners, and reached its height when Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe controversially remarked that Furuta was "a mere player", [22] implying that players had no say in what league would look like the next year. The dispute received huge press coverage (which mostly favored Furuta and the players' union) and was dubbed one of the biggest events in the history of Japanese baseball. Proposals and amendments concerning interleague games, player drafting, and management were also discussed between the players union and the owners during this period.

The strike was originally planned for all Saturday and Sunday games that month, starting from September 11, but was pushed back due to the agreement of another meeting between the union and the owners on September 10. The players decided to strike on September 18–19, 2004, when no progress was made in the negotiations, as there was insufficient time left in the season to hold discussions.[ citation needed ]

The dispute officially ended after the two groups reached consensus on September 23, 2004. As part of the agreement, the Buffaloes were allowed to merge with the Blue Wave (forming into the Orix Buffaloes); in addition, the Rakuten Golden Eagles were newly created (at a reduced "entry fee") to keep the former six-team league structure. Other agreements included the leagues adopting interleague play to help the Pacific League gain exposure by playing the more popular Central league teams. All these changes took place before the 2005 season.

Interleague play

The two leagues began interleague play in 2005, with each team playing two three-game series (one home, one away) against each of the six teams in the other league. This was reduced to two two-game series in 2007. All interleague play games are played in a seven-week span near the middle of the season.

As of the end of the 2017 season, the Pacific League has won the most games in interleague play since it began in 2005 twelve times, with 2009 being the only time that the Central League has won more games.

League championship series/Climax Series

After 2004, a three-team playoff system was introduced in the Pacific League, dubbed the "Pacific League Championship Series". The teams with the second- and third-best records play in the three-game first stage, with the winner advancing to the five-game final against the top team. The winner becomes the representative of the Pacific League to the Japan Series.

Since the Pacific League won every Japan Series after introducing this league playoff system, an identical system was introduced to the Central League in 2007, and the post-season intra-league games were renamed the "Climax Series" in both leagues. Player statistics and drafting order based on team records are not affected by these postseason games.

Recent history

In 2011, Miyagi Baseball Stadium, home of the Rakuten Eagles, was badly damaged by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. [23]

The 2013 season featured a livelier baseball, which was secretly introduced into NPB, resulting in a marked increase in home runs league-wide. [24] Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder Wladimir Balentien broke the NPB single-season home run record of 55, previously held by professional baseball's all-time home run leader Sadaharu Oh in 1964, Tuffy Rhodes in 2001, and Alex Cabrera in 2002. [25] Balantien finished the season with 60 home runs. Three-term NPB commissioner Ryōzō Katō was forced to resign over the scandal when the changed baseball was revealed. [24]

Former Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has proposed expanding NPB to 16 total teams by adding two expansion franchises in each of the country's top-tier professional baseball leagues. The goal of such a move would be to energize the economies of the regions receiving the new teams. Okinawa, Shizuoka, Shikoku, and Niigata have been identified as regions that could play host to said teams. [26]

The 2020 NPB season was delayed numerous times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially preseason games were set to be played without spectators, but with opening day of March 20 remaining unchanged. [27] With the lifting of states of emergency over major Japanese cities, NPB announced that it would begin its regular season on 19 June behind closed doors. "Warm-up" games began 26 May. [28] The shortened 120-game regular season began on 19 June. [29] On 10 July, NPB began allowing a limited number of fans to attend games, with plans to further ease restrictions in the near future. [30] On 19 September, attendance was expanded to a maximum of 20,000 fans per game, or 50% of stadium capacity. [31]

Expatriate baseball players in Japan

For most of its history, NPB regulations imposed "gaijin waku", a limit on the number of non-Japanese people per team to two or three—including the manager and/or coaching staff. [32] Even today, a team cannot have more than four foreign players on a 25-man game roster, although there is no limit on the number of foreign players that it may sign. If there are four, they cannot all be pitchers nor all be position players. [32] This limits the cost and competition for expensive players of other nationalities, and is similar to rules in many European sports leagues' roster limits on non-European players.

Nonetheless, expatriate baseball players in Japan have been a feature of the Japanese professional leagues since 1934. Hundreds of foreigners—particularly Americans—have played NPB. Taiwanese nationals Shosei Go and Hiroshi Oshita both starred in the 1940s. American players began to steadily find spots on NPB rosters in the 1960s. American players hold several NPB records, including highest single-season batting average (Randy Bass, .389), and the dubious record of most strikeouts in a season by a hitter (Ralph Bryant, 204). Americans rank #4 (Tuffy Rhodes, 55) and #7 (Randy Bass, 54) on the list of most home runs in a season, and #2 in single-season RBI (Bobby Rose, 153). Curaçaoan Dutch outfielder Wladimir Balentien holds the NPB single-season home run record with 60 round-trippers in 2013.

Koreans have had an impact in the NPB as well, including such standout players as Lee Seung-yuop, Sun Dong-yol, Baek In-chun, Lee Jong-beom, and Dae-ho Lee. Venezuelans Alex Ramírez, Alex Cabrera, Bobby Marcano, and Roberto Petagine all had long, successful NPB careers. The Dominican third baseman José Fernández played eleven years in the NPB, compiling a .282 batting average with 206 home runs and 772 runs batted in.

Many of the most celebrated foreign players came to Japan after not finding success in the Major Leagues; see "Big in Japan".

Since the 1970s, foreigners have also made an impact in Nippon Professional Baseball's managing and coaching ranks, with Americans Bobby Valentine and Trey Hillman managing their respective teams to Japan Series championships.

Teams

TeamCityStadiumCapacityCoordinatesFoundedManager
Central League
Chunichi Dragons Nagoya, Aichi Vantelin Dome Nagoya 40,500 35°11′15.36″N136°56′57.119″E / 35.1876000°N 136.94919972°E / 35.1876000; 136.94919972 (Vantelin Dome Nagoya) January 15, 1936 [33] Kazuyoshi Tatsunami
Hanshin Tigers HQ in Nishinomiya, Hyōgo

Plays between Osaka and Hyogo [34]

Hanshin Koshien Stadium

Kyocera Dome Osaka
47,757

and 36,477

34°43′16.34″N135°21′41.84″E / 34.7212056°N 135.3616222°E / 34.7212056; 135.3616222 (Hanshin Koshien Stadium)

34°40′9.48″N135°28′33.97″E / 34.6693000°N 135.4761028°E / 34.6693000; 135.4761028 (Kyocera Dome Osaka)
December 10, 1935 Akinobu Okada
Hiroshima Toyo Carp Hiroshima, Hiroshima Mazda Stadium 32,000 34°23′33″N132°29′2.4″E / 34.39250°N 132.484000°E / 34.39250; 132.484000 (Mazda Stadium) December 5, 1949 Takahiro Arai
Tokyo Yakult Swallows Shinjuku, Tokyo Meiji Jingu Stadium 37,933 35°40′28.3″N139°43′1.4″E / 35.674528°N 139.717056°E / 35.674528; 139.717056 (Meiji Jingu Stadium) January 12, 1950 Shingo Takatsu
Yokohama DeNA BayStars Yokohama, Kanagawa Yokohama Stadium 30,000 35°26′36.34″N139°38′24.36″E / 35.4434278°N 139.6401000°E / 35.4434278; 139.6401000 (Yokohama Stadium) December 15, 1949 Daisuke Miura
Yomiuri Giants Bunkyō, Tokyo Tokyo Dome 46,000 35°42′20″N139°45′7″E / 35.70556°N 139.75194°E / 35.70556; 139.75194 (Tokyo Dome) December 26, 1934 Shinnosuke Abe
Pacific League
Chiba Lotte Marines Chiba, Chiba ZOZO Marine Stadium 30,000 35°38′42.86″N140°1′51.32″E / 35.6452389°N 140.0309222°E / 35.6452389; 140.0309222 (ZOZO Marine Stadium) November 26, 1949 Masato Yoshii
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Fukuoka, Fukuoka Fukuoka PayPay Dome 40,000 33°35′43″N130°21′44″E / 33.59528°N 130.36222°E / 33.59528; 130.36222 (Fukuoka PayPay Dome) February 22, 1938 Hiroki Kokubo
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Kitahiroshima, Hokkaidō ES CON Field Hokkaido 35,000 42°59′23″N141°32′58″E / 42.98972°N 141.54944°E / 42.98972; 141.54944 (ES CON Field Hokkaido) November 6, 1945 Tsuyoshi Shinjo
Orix Buffaloes HQ in Osaka

Plays between Osaka and Hyogo [35]

Kyocera Dome Osaka

Hotto Motto Field
36,477

and 35,000

34°40′9.48″N135°28′33.97″E / 34.6693000°N 135.4761028°E / 34.6693000; 135.4761028 (Kyocera Dome Osaka)

34°40′50.37″N135°4′24.3″E / 34.6806583°N 135.073417°E / 34.6806583; 135.073417 (Hotto Motto Field)
January 23, 1936 Satoshi Nakajima
Saitama Seibu Lions Tokorozawa, Saitama Belluna Dome 33,921 35°46′6.6″N139°25′13.8″E / 35.768500°N 139.420500°E / 35.768500; 139.420500 (Belluna Dome) November 26, 1949 Kazuo Matsui
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Sendai, Miyagi Rakuten Mobile Park Miyagi 30,508 38°15′22.34″N140°54′9″E / 38.2562056°N 140.90250°E / 38.2562056; 140.90250 (Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi) November 2, 2004 Toshiaki Imae

Note: The Tokyo Yakult Swallows have plans to build a new stadium, located next to its current stadium, around 2030. [36]

Defunct Clubs
TeamCityStadiumFoundedCeased OperationsNotes
Nishi Nippon Pirates Fukuoka, Fukuoka 52 stadiums in 29 prefectures across Japan [37] 1950January 30, 1951 [38] Merged with the Nishitetsu Clippers to form the Fukuoka Nishitetsu Lions (now known as the Saitama Seibu Lions)
Shochiku Robins Kyoto, Kyoto Kinugasa Stadium 1936January 1, 1953 [39] Merged with the Taiyo Whales to form the Taiyo-Shochiku Robins (now known as the Yokohama DeNA BayStars)
Takahashi Unions Kawasaki, Kanagawa Kawasaki Stadium 1954February 25, 1957 [40] Merged with the Daiei Stars to form the Daiei Unions
Daiei Unions Bunkyō, Tokyo Korakuen Stadium 1946November 24, 1957 [41] Merged with the Mainichi Orions to form the Daimai Orions (now known as the Chiba Lotte Marines)
Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes Osaka, Osaka Kyocera Dome Osaka 1949December 1, 2004Merged with the Orix BlueWave to form the Orix Buffaloes

Franchise locations

Locations are listed from north to south. Only the most prominent names of each franchise are listed.

Locality19501951–1952195319541955–195619571958–19721973–197719781979–19881989–200320042005–present
Greater Sapporo   Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL), 2004–present [lower-alpha 1]
Sendai   Lotte Orions (PL), 1973–1977  Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (PL), 2005–present
Greater Tokyo Kokutetsu Swallows / Sankei Atoms / Yakult Swallows (CL), 1950–present
Yomiuri Giants (CL), 1950–present
Toei Flyers / Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL), 1950–2003
Mainichi/Daimai/Tokyo/Lotte Orions (PL), 1950–1972  Lotte Orions / Chiba Lotte Marines (PL), 1978–present
  Takahashi Unions (PL), 1954–1956 Daiei Unions (PL), 1957  Saitama Seibu Lions (PL), 1979–present
Daiei Stars (PL), 1950–1956
  Taiyo Whales / Yokohama BayStars (CL), 1955–present
Nagoya Chunichi Dragons (CL), 1950–present
Greater Osaka Hanshin Tigers (CL), 1950–present
Hankyu Braves / Orix BlueWave (PL), 1950–2004 Orix Buffaloes (PL), 2005–present
Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes (PL), 1950–2004
Nankai Hawks (PL), 1950–1988
Shochiku Robins (CL), 1950–1954
Hiroshima Hiroshima Toyo Carp (CL), 1950–present
Shimonoseki Taiyo Whales (CL), 1950–1952
Fukuoka Nishitetsu Lions (PL), 1950–1978  Fukuoka Daiei/SoftBank Hawks (PL), 1989–present
Nishi Nippon Pirates (CL), 1950

Champions

TeamChampionsRunners-upWinning seasonsRunners-up seasons
Yomiuri Giants 2214 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1981, 1989, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2009, 2012 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1976, 1977, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1996, 2008, 2013, 2019, 2020
Saitama Seibu Lions 138 1956, 1957, 1958, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2004, 2008 1954, 1963, 1985, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2002
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks 119 1959, 1964, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1961, 1965, 1966, 1973, 2000
Tokyo Yakult Swallows 63 1978, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2021 1992, 2015, 2022
Orix Buffaloes 510 1975, 1976, 1977, 1996, 2022 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1995, 2021, 2023
Chiba Lotte Marines 42 1950, 1974, 2005, 2010 1960, 1970
Hiroshima Toyo Carp 34 1979, 1980, 1984 1975, 1986, 1991, 2016, 2018
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 34 1962, 2006, 2016 1981, 2007, 2009, 2012
Chunichi Dragons 28 1954, 2007 1974, 1982, 1988, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2011
Yokohama DeNA BayStars 21 1960, 1998 2017
Hanshin Tigers 25 1985, 2023 1962, 1964, 2003, 2005, 2014
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 10 2013
Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes 04 1979, 1980, 1989, 2001
Shochiku Robins 01 1950

Awards

Records

Single season batting

Central LeaguePacific LeagueOverall
PlayerYearPlayerYearPlayerYear
Batting Average
Flag of the United States.svg Randy Bass .3891986 Flag of Japan.svg Ichiro Suzuki .3872000 Flag of the United States.svg Randy Bass .3891986
Flag of the United States.svg Warren Cromartie .3781989 Flag of Japan.svg Ichiro Suzuki .3851994 Flag of Japan.svg Ichiro Suzuki .3872000
Flag of Japan.svg Seiichi Uchikawa .3782008 Flag of South Korea.svg Isao Harimoto a.3831970 Flag of Japan.svg Ichiro Suzuki .3851994
Home Runs
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Wladimir Balentien b602013 Flag of the United States.svg Tuffy Rhodes 552001 Flag of the Netherlands.svg Wladimir Balentien 602013
Flag of Japan.svg Munetaka Murakami 562022 Flag of Venezuela.svg Alex Cabrera 552002 Flag of Japan.svg Munetaka Murakami 562022
Flag of the Republic of China.svg Sadaharu Oh c551964 Flag of Japan.svg Katsuya Nomura 521963 Flag of the Republic of China.svg Sadaharu Oh 551964
Flag of Japan.svg Hiromitsu Ochiai 521985 Flag of the United States.svg Tuffy Rhodes 552001
Flag of Venezuela.svg Alex Cabrera 552002
RBIs
Flag of Japan.svg Makoto Kozuru 1611950 Flag of Japan.svg Hiromitsu Ochiai 1461985 Flag of Japan.svg Makoto Kozuru 1611950
Flag of the United States.svg Bobby Rose 1531999 Flag of Japan.svg Katsuya Nomura 1351963 Flag of the United States.svg Bobby Rose 1531999
Flag of Japan.svg Makoto Imaoka 1472005 Flag of Japan.svg Norihiro Nakamura 1322001 Flag of Japan.svg Makoto Imaoka 1472005
Hits
Flag of the United States.svg Matt Murton 2142010 Flag of Japan.svg Shogo Akiyama 2162015 Flag of Japan.svg Shogo Akiyama 2162015
Flag of Japan.svg Nori Aoki 2092010 Flag of Japan.svg Ichiro Suzuki 2101994 Flag of the United States.svg Matt Murton 2142010
Flag of Venezuela.svg Alex Ramírez d2042007 Flag of Japan.svg Tsuyoshi Nishioka 2062010 Flag of Japan.svg Ichiro Suzuki 2101994
Stolen Bases
Flag of Japan.svg Tadashi Matsumoto  [ ja ]761983 Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Fukumoto 1061972 Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Fukumoto 1061972
Flag of Japan.svg Jiro Kanayama  [ ja ]741950 Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Fukumoto 951973 Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Fukumoto 951973
Flag of Japan.svg Yoshihiko Takahashi 731985 Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Fukumoto 941974 Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Fukumoto 941974
Strikeouts
Flag of Japan.svg Munetaka Murakami 1842019 Flag of the United States.svg Ralph Bryant 2041993 Flag of the United States.svg Ralph Bryant 2041993
Flag of Japan.svg Akinori Iwamura 1732004 Flag of the United States.svg Ralph Bryant 1981990 Flag of the United States.svg Ralph Bryant 1981990
Flag of Japan.svg Teruaki Sato 1732021 Flag of the United States.svg Ralph Bryant 1871989 Flag of the United States.svg Ralph Bryant 1871989

a Harimoto is a Korean citizen who was born and grew up in Japan (see Zainichi Korean).
b As all Curaçaoans have Dutch citizenship and Balentien has represented the Netherlands internationally, he is listed here as Dutch.
c Despite being born in Japan, Oh was a citizen of the Republic of China (his father's nationality) instead of Japan.
d Ramirez did not have Japanese citizenship until 2019 and so is listed as the nationality he was during his playing career.

Single season pitching

Central LeaguePacific LeagueOverall
PlayerYearPlayerYearPlayerYear
ERA
Flag of Japan.svg Minoru Murayama 0.981970 Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhisa Inao 1.061956 Flag of Japan.svg Minoru Murayama d0.981970
Flag of Japan.svg Minoru Murayama 1.191959 Flag of Japan.svg Masahiro Tanaka 1.2722011 Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhisa Inao 1.061956
Flag of Japan.svg Minoru Murayama 1.201962 Flag of Japan.svg Masahiro Tanaka 1.2732013 Flag of Japan.svg Minoru Murayama 1.191959
Wins
Flag of Japan.svg Juzo Sanada 391950 Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhisa Inao 421961 Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhisa Inao e421961
Flag of Japan.svg Hiroshi Gondo 351961 Flag of Japan.svg Tadashi Sugiura 381959 Flag of Japan.svg Juzo Sanada 391950
Flag of Japan.svg Takehiko Bessho 331952 Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhisa Inao 351957 Flag of Japan.svg Tadashi Sugiura 381959
Saves
Flag of Japan.svg Hitoki Iwase 462005 Flag of the United States.svg Dennis Sarfate 542017 Flag of the United States.svg Dennis Sarfate 542017
Flag of Japan.svg Kyuji Fujikawa 462007 Flag of the United States.svg Dennis Sarfate 432016 Flag of Japan.svg Hitoki Iwase 462005
Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhiro Sasaki 451998 Flag of the United States.svg Dennis Sarfate 412015 Flag of Japan.svg Kyuji Fujikawa 462007
Strikeouts
Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Enatsu 4011968 Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhisa Inao 3531961 Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Enatsu 4011968
Flag of South Korea.svg Masaichi Kaneda f3501955 Flag of Japan.svg Tadashi Sugiura 3361959 Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhisa Inao 3531961
Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Enatsu 3401970 Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhisa Inao 3341958 Flag of South Korea.svg Masaichi Kaneda 3501955

d The Japanese record is 0.73, set by Hideo Fujimoto in the 1943 Japanese Baseball League season, which is also the world record ERA, surpassing Tim Keefe's 0.86 of the Troy Trojans in 1880.
e The Japanese record is shared between Inao and Victor Starffin, who also recorded 42 wins during the 1942 Japanese Baseball League season.
f Despite being born in Japan, Kaneda did not become a Japanese citizen until 1959 and was instead a South Korean citizen.

Career batting

[ citation needed ]

PlayerYears played
Batting average [42]
Flag of the United States.svg Leron Lee .3201977–1987
Flag of Japan.svg Tsutomu Wakamatsu .319181971–1989
Flag of South Korea.svg Isao Harimoto .319151959–1981
Flag of the United States.svg Greg Wells .3171983-1992
Home Runs
Flag of the Republic of China.svg Sadaharu Oh 8681959–1980
Flag of Japan.svg Katsuya Nomura 6571954–1980
Flag of Japan.svg Hiromitsu Kadota 5671970–1992
Hits
Flag of South Korea.svg Isao Harimoto 3,0851959–1981
Flag of Japan.svg Katsuya Nomura 2,9011954–1980
Flag of the Republic of China.svg Sadaharu Oh 2,7861959–1980
RBIs
Flag of the Republic of China.svg Sadaharu Oh 2,1701959–1980
Flag of Japan.svg Katsuya Nomura 1,9881954–1980
Flag of Japan.svg Hiromitsu Kadota 1,6781970–1992
Stolen Bases
Flag of Japan.svg Yutaka Fukumoto 1,0651969–1988
Flag of Japan.svg Yoshinori Hirose 5961955–1977
Flag of Japan.svg Isao Shibata 5791962–1981
Strikeouts
Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhiro Kiyohara 1,9551986–2008
Flag of Japan.svg Motonobu Tanishige 1,8381989–2015
Flag of Japan.svg Koji Akiyama 1,7121981–2002
OPS
Flag of the Republic of China.svg Sadaharu Oh 1.0801959–1980
Flag of Japan.svg Hideki Matsui .9951993–2002
Flag of Venezuela.svg Alex Cabrera .9902001–2012

Career pitching

PlayerYears played
ERA
Flag of Japan.svg Hideo Fujimoto 1.901942–1955
Wins
Flag of Japan.svg Masaichi Kaneda 4001950–1969
Flag of Japan.svg Tetsuya Yoneda 3501956–1977
Flag of Japan.svg Masaaki Koyama 3201953–1973
Flag of Japan.svg Keishi Suzuki 3171966–1985
Flag of Japan.svg Takehiko Bessho 3101942–1960
Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Victor Starffin 3031936–1955
Strikeouts
Flag of Japan.svg Masaichi Kaneda 44901950–1969
Flag of Japan.svg Tetsuya Yoneda 33881956–1977
Flag of Japan.svg Masaaki Koyama 31591953–1973
Flag of Japan.svg Keishi Suzuki 30611966–1985
Saves
Flag of Japan.svg Hitoki Iwase 4071999–2018
Flag of Japan.svg Shingo Takatsu 2861991–2003, 2006–2007
Flag of Japan.svg Kazuhiro Sasaki 2521990–1999, 2004–2005

ERA champions

Perfect games

DatePitcher (Club)ScoreOpponentBallpark
June 28, 1950 Hideo Fujimoto (Yomiuri Giants)4–0 Nishi-Nippon Pirates Aomori Stadium
June 19, 1955 Fumio Takechi (Kintetsu Pearls)1–0 Daiei Stars Ōsaka Stadium
September 19, 1956 Yoshitomo Miyaji (Kokutetsu Swallows)6–0 Hiroshima Carp Kanazawa Stadium
August 21, 1957 Masaichi Kaneda (Kokutetsu Swallows)1–0 Chunichi Dragons Chunichi Stadium
July 19, 1958 Sadao Nishimura (Nishitetsu Lions)1–0 Toei Flyers Komazawa Stadium
August 11, 1960 Gentaro Shimada (Taiyō Whales)1–0 Ōsaka Tigers Kawasaki Stadium
June 20, 1961 Yoshimi Moritaki (Kokutetsu Swallows)1–0 Chunichi Dragons Korakuen Stadium
May 1, 1966 Yoshiro Sasaki (Taiyō Whales)1–0 Hiroshima Carp Hiroshima Municipal Stadium
May 12, 1966 Tsutomu Tanaka (Nishitetsu Lions)2–0 Nankai Hawks Heiwadai Stadium
September 14, 1968 Yoshiro Sotokoba (Hiroshima Toyo Carp)2–0 Taiyō Whales Hiroshima Municipal Stadium
October 6, 1970 Koichiro Sasaki (Kintetsu Buffaloes)3–0 Nankai Hawks Ōsaka Stadium
August 21, 1971 Yoshimasa Takahashi (Toei Flyers)4–0 Nishitetsu Lions Korakuen Stadium
October 10, 1973 Soroku Yagisawa (Lotte Orions)1–0 Taiheiyo Club Lions Miyagi Stadium
August 31, 1978 Yutaro Imai (Hankyu Braves)5–0 Lotte Orions Miyagi Stadium
May 18, 1994 Hiromi Makihara (Yomiuri Giants)6–0 Hiroshima Toyo Carp Fukuoka Dome
November 1, 2007 Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase (Chunichi Dragons)1–0† Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Nagoya Dome
April 10, 2022 Rōki Sasaki (Chiba Lotte Marines)6–0 Orix Buffaloes Zozo Marine Stadium

International play

The Japan national baseball team, long composed of amateur players, began to include NPB players in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and has been composed of NPB players only since the 2004 Athens Olympics. [43] As of 2023, the Japan national baseball team composed of NPB players had won three World Baseball Classics, one WBSC Premier 12, and one Olympic Games, and was ranked No. 1 in the WBSC World Rankings. [44]

Since 1986 an All-Star team from Major League Baseball (MLB) is sent to a biennial end-of-the-season tour of Japan, dubbed as MLB Japan All-Star Series, playing exhibition games in a best-of format against the All-Stars from NPB or recently as of 2014 the national team Samurai Japan.

The 2014 series also celebrated the 80th anniversary of the establishment of Japan's professional baseball by holding an exhibition game of a joint team of Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants against the MLB All-Stars at the Koshien Stadium on November 11, 2014.

Agreement and systems

See also

Notes

  1. Based in Kitahiroshima since 2023

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Further reading