- Nippon Professional Baseball
Nippon Professional Baseball Current season or competition:
2011 Nippon Professional Baseball season
Formerly Japanese Baseball League Sport Baseball Founded 1950 Commissioner Ryozo Kato No. of teams 12 Country(ies) Japan Most recent champion(s) Chiba Lotte Marines Most titles Yomiuri Giants (21) Official website NPB.or.jp (English)
Nippon Professional Baseball or NPB is the highest level of baseball in Japan. Locally, it is often called Puro Yakyū (プロ野球), meaning Professional Baseball. Outside of Japan, it is often just referred to as "Japanese baseball." 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 and the original Japanese Baseball League. NPB was formed when that league reorganized in 1950.
The league consists of two six-team circuits, the Central League and the Pacific League. Each season the winning clubs from the two leagues compete in the Japan Series, the championship series of NPB.
Some notable Japanese players who have gone on to play in North America's Major League Baseball include Hideo Nomo, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki, Tadahito Iguchi, Kenji Johjima, Hideki Matsui, So Taguchi, Hideki Irabu, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Kazuo Matsui, Kazuhito Tadano, Hiroki Kuroda, Akinori Iwamura, Akinori Otsuka, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Kosuke Fukudome, Koji Uehara, Kenshin Kawakami, Takashi Saito, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Nippon Professional Baseball consists of two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League. There are also two secondary-level professional minor leagues, the Eastern League and the Western League, that play shorter schedules.
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, the two leagues each scheduled 130, 135 or 140 regular season games with the best teams from each league going on to play in the "Nippon Series" or Japan Series. Starting in 2004, the Pacific League has had a postseason tournament to determine who advances to the Japan Series while the Central League initially did not. That changed in 2007, when the Central League adopted the Pacific League's tournament as well and the tournament became known as the Climax Series with the two winners, one from each league, competing in the Japan Series.
Comparison to Major League Baseball
Play in the Pacific League is similar to that in American League baseball, with the use of designated hitters, unlike the Central League, which doesn't have the DH and is closer to National League baseball. Unlike North American baseball, Japanese baseball games may end in a tie. If the score is tied after nine innings of play, up to three additional innings will be played. If there is no winner after 12 innings, the game is declared a draw, except in the postseason, where games that are tied after 15 innings must be replayed. Other differences from MLB are that the general play is less aggressive, there are fewer home runs, and the ball is slightly smaller and wound more tightly. The strike zone, until 2009 was defined slightly differently to the MLB standards.
Unlike American pro teams, Japanese professional baseball teams are usually named after their corporate owners/sponsors rather than the cities or regions in which they play. This is because franchising does not have strong territorial requirements as in the Major Leagues; the teams used to locate in clustered metropolitan areas in Japan's center (Tokyo, Nagoya) and south (Osaka, Fukuoka) areas. The current trend is to include the place names as well as owners/sponsors in an attempt to gain support from the franchised communities. Currently, only the Giants, Tigers, Dragons and Buffaloes do not include a place name, and Maruha Corporation, owner of the Yokohama BayStars, has chosen not to include the company name in its team name, a first in Japanese baseball. Nevertheless, mass media still tend to choose the sponsor names in abbreviations on standing tables.
Financial problems hinder the league as a whole, but the problem is not a simple one to solve. It is believed that with the exception of the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers, all teams are operating with considerable subsidies, often as much as ¥6 billion (about US$50 million), from their parent companies. A rise 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. Until Nippon-Ham Fighters moved to Hokkaidō, there were six teams in Tokyo and its surrounding area and four teams in the Osaka–Kōbe region before Nankai Hawks (now Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) moved to Fukuoka. The market was flooded, but this was considered acceptable, as there were no professional team sports challenging baseball's popularity.
Until 1993, baseball was the only team sport played professionally in Japan. In that year, the J. League professional association 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. Some Japanese baseball teams responded to the success of the J. League by de-emphasizing the corporate sponsors in their marketing efforts and/or by relocating to outlying regions of the country.
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. 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.
When the Boston Red Sox signed Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006, he became the most expensive trans-Pacific transfer ever. While details remain undisclosed, several sources cite Matsuzaka as having received a guaranteed $52 million for a six-year contract (with elevator clauses potentially bringing the value up to $60 million), in addition to the $51.1 million posting fee that the Red Sox paid his former team, Seibu Lions, to release him.
On September 18, 2004, professional baseball players went on a two-day strike, the first strike in the history of the league, to protest the proposed merger between the Orix BlueWave and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the failure of the owners to agree to create a new team to fill the void resulting from the merger. The strike was settled on September 23, 2004, when the owners agreed to grant a new franchise in the Pacific League and to continue the two-league, 12-team system. The new team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles began play in the 2005 season.
From 1973 to 1982, 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. Then in 2004, the Pacific League played five fewer games than the Central League teams during the regular season and used a new playoff format to determine its champion. The teams in third and second place played in a best two of three series (all at the second place team's home ground) with the winner of that series going on to play the first place team in a best 3 of 5 format at its home ground. In the end, the Seibu Lions finished in second place, defeated Nippon-Ham 2 games to 1, went on to take 3 of 5 games in Fukuoka against the Daiei Hawks and then defeated the Chunichi Dragons in the Japan Series, 4 games to 3, capping off their grueling playoff drive with a well-earned championship. The System was proved successful when Pacific League's team continues to win the Japan Series in the following two seasons, until this playoff system was applied to both leagues as the "Climax Series" starting in 2007, which Chunichi Dragons from Central League beat Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from Pacific League in Japan Series.
The two leagues began interleague play in 2005, with each team playing two 3-game series (one home, one away) against each of the six teams in the other league. This was reduced to two 2-game series in 2007. All interleague play games are played in a 7-week span near the middle of the season. Currently Pacific League's teams won all the interleague titles.
Team City/Area Stadium Founded Joined Notes Central League Chunichi Dragons Nagoya, Aichi Nagoya Dome 1936 1950 Hanshin Tigers Nishinomiya, Hyōgo Koshien Stadium 1935 1950 Hiroshima Toyo Carp Hiroshima, Hiroshima Mazda Stadium 1950 Tokyo Yakult Swallows Shinjuku, Tokyo Meiji Jingu Stadium 1950 Yokohama BayStars Yokohama, Kanagawa Yokohama Stadium 1950 Yomiuri Giants Bunkyo, Tokyo Tokyo Dome 1934 1950 Pacific League Chiba Lotte Marines Chiba City, Chiba Chiba Marine Stadium 1950 Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Fukuoka, Fukuoka Fukuoka Dome 1938 1950 Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Sapporo, Hokkaidō Sapporo Dome 1946 1950 Orix Buffaloes Osaka, Osaka & Kobe, Hyōgo Osaka Dome & Kobe Sports Park Baseball Stadium 1936 1950 Saitama Seibu Lions Tokorozawa, Saitama Seibu Dome 1950 Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Sendai, Miyagi Miyagi Baseball Stadium 2005 Team City Stadium Joined Ceased Operations Result Defunct Clubs Daiei Unions Bunkyo, Tokyo Korakuen Stadium 1946 1957 Merged with the Mainichi Orions Nishi Nippon Pirates Fukuoka, Fukuoka Heiwadai Stadium 1950 1950 Merged with the Nishitetsu Clippers Kintetsu Buffaloes Osaka, Osaka Osaka Dome 1949 2004 Merged with the Orix BlueWave Shochiku Robins Kyoto, Kyoto Kinugasa Stadium 1936 1952 Merged with the Taiyō Whales Takahashi Unions Kawasaki, Kanagawa Kawasaki Stadium 1954 1956 Merged with the Daiei Stars
- Nippon Professional Baseball Most Valuable Player Award
- Nippon Professional Baseball Rookie of the Year Award
- Nippon Professional Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award
- Eiji Sawamura Award
- Mitsui Golden Glove Award
- Golden Spirit Award
- Matsutaro Shoriki Award
- Japan Series Most Valuable Player
- Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Game Most Valuable Player
Single season batting
Player Year Batting Average Randy Bass .389 1986 Ichiro Suzuki .387 2000 Ichiro Suzuki .385 1994 Home Runs Alex Cabrera 55 2002 Tuffy Rhodes 55 2001 Sadaharu Oh 55 1964 Randy Bass 54 1985 RBIs Makoto Kozuru 161 1950 Robert Rose 153 1999 Makoto Imaoka 147 2005 Fumio Fujimura 146 1950 Hiromitsu Ochiai 146 1985 Hits Matt Murton 214 2010 Ichiro Suzuki 210 1994 Norichika Aoki 209 2010 Stolen Bases Yutaka Fukumoto 106 1972 Strikeouts Ralph Bryant 204 1993 Ralph Bryant 198 1990 Ralph Bryant 187 1989 Ralph Bryant 176 1992 Akinori Iwamura 173 2004 Orestes Destrade 165 1990
Single season pitching
Player Year ERA Hideo Fujimoto 0.73 1943 Masaru Kageura 0.79 1936 fall Eiji Sawamura 0.81 1937 spring Wins Victor Starffin 42 1942 Kazuhisa Inao 42 1961 Jiro Noguchi 40 1942 Strikeouts Yutaka Enatsu 401 1968 Kazuhisa Inao 353 1961
Player Year Batting Average Leron Lee .334 1977–1987 Tsutomu Wakamatsu .31918 1971–1989 Isao Harimoto .31915 1959–1981 Home Runs Sadaharu Oh 868 1959–1980 Hits Isao Harimoto 3085 1959–1981 RBIs Sadaharu Oh 2170 1959-1980 Stolen Bases Yutaka Fukumoto 1065 1969–1988 Strikeouts Koji Akiyama 1712 1981-2002
- Ichiro Suzuki hit .353 for his Japanese career (1993–2000), but did not have enough at-bats to qualify for career leadership.
Player Year ERA Hideo Fujimoto 1.90 1942–1955 Wins Masaichi Kaneda 400 1950–1969 Tetsuya Yoneda 350 1956–1977 Masaaki Koyama 320 1953–1973 Keishi Suzuki 317 1966–1985 Takehiko Bessho 310 1942–1960 Victor Starffin 303 1936–1955 Strikeouts Masaichi Kaneda 4490
Date Pitcher (Club) Score Opponent Ballpark 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
- †: 5th game of Japan Series; In NPB, no-hitters or perfect games achieved by multiple pitchers in one game are considered unofficial.
- Professional baseball in Japan
- Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame
- List of Japanese baseball players
- List of Japanese players in Major League Baseball
- Shikoku Island League (Regional semi-professional league)
- Baseball in Japan
- High school baseball in Japan
- Fitts, Robert K. (2005). Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0809326302.
- Johnson, Daniel (2006). Japanese Baseball: A Statistical Handbook. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786428414.
- Whiting, Robert (2005). The Samurai Way of Baseball: The Impact of Ichiro and the New Wave from Japan. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0446694037.
- Whiting, Robert (1990). You Gotta Have Wa. Vintage. ISBN 0-679-72947-X.
- (English) Official Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) Site (.jp)
- (Japanese) Official Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) Site (.jp)
- Japan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
- Japanese Baseball Data Archive at The Baseball Guru
- MLB history of Puro Yakyū page
Nippon Professional Baseball (2011) Central League Pacific League Chunichi Dragons Chiba Lotte Marines Hanshin Tigers Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Hiroshima Toyo Carp Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Tokyo Yakult Swallows Orix Buffaloes Yokohama BayStars Saitama Seibu Lions Yomiuri Giants Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Postseason: Climax Series · Japan Series · Asia Series All-Star Series · World Baseball Classic · Baseball awards · Hall of Fame · JPBPA · Players · Seasons · Western League · Eastern League · Japanese Professional Baseball Professional baseball leagues Americas Major MinorTriple-A: International League · Pacific Coast League
Independent Triple-A: Mexican League
Double-A: Eastern League · Southern League · Texas League
Class A Advanced: California League · Carolina League · Florida State League
Class A: Midwest League · South Atlantic League
Class A Short-Season: New York – Penn League · Northwest League
Rookie: Appalachian League · Arizona League · Dominican Summer League · Gulf Coast League · Pioneer League · Venezuelan Summer League
Independent Off-season Asia ChinaMajor: China Baseball League Japan South KoreaMajor: Korea Professional Baseball
Minor: Korea Baseball Futures League
Taiwan Europe ItalyMajor: Italian Baseball League 1D
Minor: Italian Baseball League 2D
Netherlands Oceania AustraliaMLB Affiliated: Australian Baseball League Inter-league and Professional National Team Championships Major international professional sports leagues Americas Association football (Soccer) Baseball Basketball Gridiron football Ice hockey Asia BaseballNippon Professional Baseball Cricket Europe Association football (Soccer) Ice hockey Rugby union Rugby leagueSuper League Cricket Oceania and Africa Australian football Rugby league Rugby unionSuper Rugby
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