10 Things You Didn’t Know About Japanese Baseball

Japanese baseball teamsBaseball may have its origins in America, but as we all know, it is played—and is popular—all over the world…especially in Japan. Today, there isn’t a baseball fan in the U.S. who hasn’t heard of Ichiro Suzuki, currently with the Miami Marlins, who is the all-time best player from Japan and one of the best of all time in any country. Suzuki came to the Seattle Mariners after playing professional baseball for nine years in his home country.


But outside of Ichiro, few Americans know much about professional baseball in Japan. Here is a handful of facts about Japanese baseball that you can impress your friends with:

1. The Yomiuri Giants are the “Yankees of Japan.”

It’s about 6,750 miles from Yankee Stadium, home of the Bronx Bombers, to the Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants. The Giants are the oldest team among the current Japanese professional teams, and they’re sometimes called…you guessed it…the New York Yankees of Japan. In fact, somewhat like the Yankees, the Yomiuri Giants are one of the most disliked teams in Japan, simply because they’re so popular. If the Red Sox are the Yankees’ American nemesis, the Hanshin Tigers are the main rival of the Yomiuri Giants.


2. The NPB. That’s the MLB in Japan.

In America, we have MLB—Major League Baseball. In Japan, it’s NPB. NPB stands for Nippon Professional Baseball—or they simply call it Puro Yakyu (“professional baseball”). The league, which officially started in 1950, is relatively young compared to our MLB, but baseball has been played in Japan since first being introduced by an American in 1872. NPB came about when the first professional league (started in 1926) had grown big enough to split into two leagues.


3. There are only 12 teams in Japan’s pro baseball league.

Compared to our 30 MLB teams, there are only 12 NPB teams. Just as in American baseball, there are two leagues. But they are the Pacific and the Central, each with six teams:


Pacific League Central League
Orix Buffaloes Yokohama DeNA BayStars
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Hiroshima Toyo Carp
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Chunichi Dragons
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Yomiuri Giants
Saitama Seibu Lions Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Chiba Lotte Marines Hanshin Tigers


4. Games can end in a tie.

The Yankees and Red Sox played a 19-inning game in 2015. That kind of game doesn’t happen in Japan, where there is a time/innings limit for games—if the score is tied when the limit is reached, the game ends in a draw (as in American hockey). During the regular season, the innings limit is 12, while in the playoffs it’s increased to 15 innings. Starting in 2011, an inning beginning 3½ hours after the first pitch is considered the final inning for that game.


5. Hideo Nomo was only the second Japanese player to play in the U.S.

Nomo joined the L.A. Dodgers 30 years after the first Japanese player (Masanori Murakami, a left-handed pitcher) played for the San Francisco Giants in 1964. Murakami played only one season before he had to return to the Japanese team that owned his contract. There still aren’t many—there were only eight Japanese-born players in MLB during the 2015 season.


6. The NPB season lasts 144 games, compared to MLB’s 162.

The overall season may be much harder on Japanese players, however, because there is practice every day. Teams play 144 games, followed by a playoff that leads to a championship held in October, known as the Japan Series. Like our World Series, it’s a best-of-seven contest to determine the NPB champion for the year. In the 2015 season, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks beat the Tokyo Yakult Swallows for the title.


7. A Japanese team doesn’t have more than four foreign-born players.

It can’t have more than four on a 25-man game roster, although there is no limit on the number of foreign players the team may sign. If there are four, they cannot all be pitchers or all position players. This limits the cost of and competition for expensive players of other nationalities and is similar to the rules of many European sports leagues.


8. A black man played pro ball in Japan 11 years before Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers.

A 24-year-old man from Louisiana named James Bonner was signed to play for Dai Tokyo in 1936, a brand new team that was in need of talent. Bonner joined the team and debuted in 1936, more than a decade before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the United States. The country was excited to have Bonner join the league, and he started off strong, but didn’t fare as well as Robinson: Bonner lasted only one month in the league and never played baseball again in the U.S. or Japan.


9. The baseball used to be smaller.

Until a few years ago, NPB didn’t really have one “official” baseball. Teams were allowed to use a ball that was more or less identical to those used by other NPB teams. The dimension of the baseball in Japan used to be smaller, but as international competition increased, Japan realized they needed to play with a ball that was more in line with those of the rest of the world. But over the years, there have been a few scandals and reports of “juiced balls” that were giving hitters more distance. Mizuno Corporation, a worldwide sporting goods distributor, makes the official baseball, called “Mizuno Japan Nippon Professional Baseball Official Authentic Ball (2015) NPB.”


10. The Japanese may be the best in the world.

We may refer to our Fall Classic as the World Series, but it’s actually not. The real “world series” is the World Baseball Classic, which has been played three times since 2006. Japan has won that competition twice. In the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Japan beat Cuba in the finals, and then in 2009 in defense of their title, Japan defeated South Korea in 10 innings. In 2013, Japan made it to the semifinals but lost.


In case you’re wondering, the U.S. failed to qualify for the semifinals in 2006; in 2009, they lost to Japan in the semifinals; and in 2013, the Americans were eliminated in the second round.

Photo Credit URL:http://www.umich.edu/~wewantas/brooke/baseball.htm