Nippon Professional Baseball

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 (English)
Koshien Stadium (in 2009)
Seibu Dome (in 2007)

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.


League structure

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.[citation needed]

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

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 OsakaKōbe 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.[1] 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.


Prior to 1950, professional baseball in Japan was the Japanese Baseball League. Before the 1950 season, the team owners reorganized into the NPB.

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.

In 2011 Miyagi Baseball Stadium, home of the Rakuten Eagles, was badly damaged by the Tohoku earthquake.[2]




Single season batting

Player Year
Batting Average
United States Randy Bass .389 1986
Japan Ichiro Suzuki .387 2000
Japan Ichiro Suzuki .385 1994
Home Runs
Venezuela Alex Cabrera 55 2002
United States Tuffy Rhodes 55 2001
Republic of China Sadaharu Oh 55 1964
United States Randy Bass 54 1985
Japan Makoto Kozuru 161 1950
United States Robert Rose 153 1999
Japan Makoto Imaoka 147 2005
Japan Fumio Fujimura 146 1950
Japan Hiromitsu Ochiai 146 1985
United States Matt Murton 214 2010
Japan Ichiro Suzuki 210 1994
Japan Norichika Aoki 209 2010
Stolen Bases
Japan Yutaka Fukumoto 106 1972
United States Ralph Bryant 204 1993
United States Ralph Bryant 198 1990
United States Ralph Bryant 187 1989
United States Ralph Bryant 176 1992
Japan Akinori Iwamura 173 2004
Cuba Orestes Destrade 165 1990

Single season pitching

Player Year
Japan Hideo Fujimoto 0.73 1943
Japan Masaru Kageura 0.79 1936 fall
Japan Eiji Sawamura 0.81 1937 spring
Russia Victor Starffin 42 1942
Japan Kazuhisa Inao 42 1961
Japan Jiro Noguchi 40 1942
Japan Yutaka Enatsu 401 1968
Japan Kazuhisa Inao 353 1961

Career batting

Player Year
Batting Average
United States Leron Lee .334 1977–1987
Japan Tsutomu Wakamatsu .31918 1971–1989
South Korea Isao Harimoto .31915 1959–1981
Home Runs
Republic of China Sadaharu Oh 868 1959–1980
South Korea Isao Harimoto 3085 1959–1981
Republic of China Sadaharu Oh 2170 1959-1980
Stolen Bases
Japan Yutaka Fukumoto 1065 1969–1988
Japan 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.

Career pitching

Player Year
Japan Hideo Fujimoto 1.90 1942–1955
Japan Masaichi Kaneda 400 1950–1969
Japan Tetsuya Yoneda 350 1956–1977
Japan Masaaki Koyama 320 1953–1973
Japan Keishi Suzuki 317 1966–1985
Japan Takehiko Bessho 310 1942–1960
Russia Victor Starffin 303 1936–1955
Japan Masaichi Kaneda 4490

ERA champions

Perfect games

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.

See also



  • 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. 

External links

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