Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks

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Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
Softbank hawks logo.png SoftBank Hawks insignia.png
Team logo Cap insignia
League

Nippon Professional Baseball (1950–present)

Ballpark Fukuoka Dome (1993–present)
Year established 1938
Nickname(s) Taka (?, hawk)
Japanese Baseball League titles 2 (1946, 1948)
Pacific League pennants 15 (1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1973, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2010, 2011)
Japan Series championships 5 (1959, 1964, 1999, 2003, 2011)
Former name(s)
  • Nankai (1938–1944)
  • Kinki Nippon (1944–1945)
  • Great Ring (1946–1947)
  • Nankai Hawks (1947–1988)
  • Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (1989–2004)
  • Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (2005–present)
Former league(s) Japanese Baseball League (1938–1949)
Former ballparks
Colors Yellow, Black
         
Ownership SoftBank
Manager Koji Akiyama
Uniforms
SoBa Hawks Uniforms.PNG

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (福岡ソフトバンクホークス Fukuoka Sofutobanku Hōkusu?) are a Japanese baseball team based in Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture. The team was bought on January 28, 2005 by the SoftBank Corporation.

The team was formerly known as the Nankai Hawks and was based in Osaka. In 1988, Daiei bought the team from Osaka's Nankai Electric Railway Co., and its headquarters were moved to Fukuoka (which had been without NPB baseball since the Lions departed in 1979). The Daiei Hawks won the Pacific League championship in 1999, 2000 and 2003 and won the Japan Series in 1999, 2003, and as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, the 2011 Japan Series.

History[edit]

Nankai Electric Railway Company ownership[edit]

The franchise's original name was Nankai when it joined the Japanese Baseball League in 1938, with the name originating with the Nankai Electric Railway Co., which owned the team at the time. The team's name was changed to Kinki Nippon in mid-1944, at the end of World War II, as team officials responded to the nationalistic atmosphere of the period. In 1946 the name was changed to Great Ring. Throughout the name changes the club underwent between 1938 and 1946, Nankai Electric Railway Co. continued to maintain ownership during the period.

In mid-1947, Nankai settled upon its current moniker. The Nankai Hawks (南海ホークス?) became one of the most successful franchises through the first two decades of the Pacific League's existence, taking 2 Japan Series championships and 10 Pacific League pennants.

The team fell on hard times between 1978 and 1988, finishing no better than 4th place out of the 6 teams in the Pacific League in any year in the period. The team witnessed its fan base diminish as a result of the prolonged period of poor play, with attendance dropping and the club dealing with reduced profits.

The change in the club's financial performance led Nankai Electric Railway to question the value of maintaining ownership, even after considering the value the team represented as an advertising tool. The company's board of directors and union leadership put pressure on Den Kawakatsu, then president of Nankai Railway and owner of the team, to sell the team, which he refused to do. However, Mr. Kawakatsu, who represented the most ardent supporter of Nankai's ownership of the Hawks, died in 1988, and the team was sold to the Daiei corporation to become the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks after the 1988 season.

Katsuya Nomura, Mutsuo Minagawa, Hiromitsu Kadota, and Chusuke Kizuka are among the more notable franchise players that were active during the Nankai era.

Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (1988 to 2004)[edit]

After the franchise was acquired by department store chain Daiei, Inc., the Hawks were flush with new funds and a new home city in Fukuoka, the capital of the eponymous prefecture on Kyushu Island. However, in spite of those efforts of the new ownership, the Hawks still were usually in the cellar of the Pacific League, and continued to be at the bottom half of the league until 1997.

The Hawks front office adopted a strategy of drafting and developing younger players, supplemented by free agent signings, a policy overseen by team president Ryuzo Setoyama and his aides. Setoyama's most brilliant moves were the hiring of Sadaharu Oh to take the reins of manager, a title he would hold until 2008 before he moved into the general manager's position. Oh replaced then-manager Rikuo Nemoto, who was named team president and held that position until his death in 1999. Also tapped was Akira Ishikawa, a little-known former player, who was tasked with bringing in talented amateurs. He brought in the likes of current Hanshin Tigers catcher Kenji Johjima, Kazumi Saitoh, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, future Chicago White Sox and current Chiba Lotte Marines infielder Tadahito Iguchi, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, and future team captain Hiroki Kokubo.

Supplementing the amateur signings were some free-agent acquisitions, most of them former Seibu stars from their 1980's championship teams. Among them were infielder Hiromichi Ishige, immensely popular outfielder and current manager Koji Akiyama, and ace left-handed pitcher Kimiyasu Kudoh.

These moves (and a few unpopular cost-cutting measures) helped to make the Hawks gradually more competitive with each passing year, and in 1999, the team finally broke through. That season, Daiei made their first Japan Series appearance since 1973, and defeated the Chunichi Dragons in five games, giving them their first championship since 1964. Kudoh was dominant in his Game 1 start (complete game, 13 strikeouts), and Akiyama was named Series MVP.

The following year, the Hawks again made the Japan Series, but this time lost to the powerful Yomiuri Giants in six games. Despite the shaky financial ground that Daiei was on thanks to their rampant expansion in bubble-era Japan, the team continued to be competitive. The team won their second Japan Series in five years, defeating the popular Hanshin Tigers in seven games in the 2003 Japan Series, an exciting series in which the home team won every game.

Home run record controversy[edit]

In 2001, American Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes, playing for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, hit 55 home runs with several games left, equaling Hawks' manager Sadaharu Oh's single-season home run record. The Buffaloes played a weekend series against the Oh-managed Hawks late in the season, and Rhodes was intentionally walked during each at-bat of the series. Video footage showed Hawks' catcher Kenji Johjima grinning as he caught the intentional balls. Oh denied any involvement and Hawks battery coach Yoshiharu Wakana stated that the pitchers acted on his orders, saying, "It would be distasteful to see a foreign player break Oh's record." Rhodes completed the season with 55 home runs. League commissioner Hiromori Kawashima denounced the Hawks' behavior as "unsportsmanlike." Hawks pitcher Keizaburo Tanoue went on record saying that he wanted to throw strikes to Rhodes and felt bad about the situation.[1][2]

In 2002, Venezuelan Alex Cabrera hit 55 home runs with five games left in the season, with several of those to be played against Oh's Hawks. Oh told his pitchers to throw strikes to Cabrera, but most of them ignored his order and threw balls well away from the plate. After the game, Oh stated, "If you're going to break the record, you should do it by more than one. Do it by a lot."[3] In the wake of the most recent incident involving Cabrera, ESPN listed Oh's single-season home run record as #2 on its list of "The Phoniest Records in Sports."[4]

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (2005–present)[edit]

Daiei Inc had been under financial pressure to sell its 60% stake in the team over the previous few years, with reports in 2003 suggesting the company would sell the team and the Fukuoka Dome. Daiei attempted to hold on to the team and held discussions with its primary lenders, including UFJ Bank, to see if it could find a way to retain the team, but ultimately the sale went through to Softbank in January 2005.

The Hawks continued their winning ways after the sale of the team to SoftBank. Following the sale, the Hawks represented one of the richest teams in Japan, with a player core still intact from the last years of the Daiei era. Particularly strong was the team's starting pitching behind Saitoh, Tsuyoshi Wada, Nagisa Arakaki, and Toshiya Sugiuchi. In 2005, the Hawks finished in first place during the regular season, but fell to the eventual Japan Series champions, the Chiba Lotte Marines in the second stage of the Climax Series. In 2006, a dramatic pennant race led to an even more exciting playoff run that ended in the Sapporo Dome at the hands of the eventual Japan Series Champions, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Team manager Sadaharu Oh missed most of the 2006 season due to stomach cancer.

The Hawks' 2007 season was plagued by injuries and general ineffectiveness and inconsistency, leading to another 3rd-place finish and first-stage exit in the playoffs at the hands of the Marines. In 2008, though various injuries still affected the Hawks' bench (especially the bullpen), the club claimed its first Interleague title in June, winning a tiebreaker against the Hanshin Tigers. However, injuries caught up with them in the final month of the season, and the Hawks finished in last place with a 54–74–2 record. The finish represented their worst since 1996.

At the end of the 2008 season, Oh announced his retirement, and former Hawk and fan favorite Koji Akiyama was named as Oh's successor. In 2009, the team cracked the playoffs once again on the backs of breakout seasons from surging starting pitcher D.J. Houlton, outfielder Yuya Hasegawa, Rookie of the Year Tadashi Settsu and another stellar season from ace Sugiuchi. However, the team still was unable to get out of the first stage, as the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ousted the Hawks in a 2-game sweep.

The Hawks finally reclaimed the Pacific League regular season title in 2010 after a seven-year wait. The title came after a see-saw season in which the team recovered several times after extended losing streaks. Starting pitcher Wada, back from injury through much of the previous two seasons, was, along with fellow ace Sugiuchi, at his best. Wada set career highs in wins and games started. The reliable "SBM" relieving trio of Settsu, Brian Falkenborg, and Mahara limited opponent offenses late in games. The bullpen also benefited from the emergence of Keisuke Kattoh and Masahiko Morifuku, with the latter blossoming in the second half of the season.

The Hawks offense was largely composed of role players who seemed to take turns having big games and off days, and it was the team's speed that drove the team as the Hawks led the league in stolen bases in the regular season with 148, well ahead of their nearest challenger, who had 116. Yuichi Honda stole 59 bases while Kawasaki stole 30. However, despite putting forward a strong group, the Hawks failed to make it to the Japan Series, losing to the Lotte Marines in six games in the Climax Series despite having a 3–1 series lead.

SoftBank won the Pacific League again in 2011, with a dominating season on all fronts. The offense was bolstered further by the acquisition of former Yokohama BayStars outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa, who led the league in batting in 2011. Pitching from Sugiuchi, Wada and an excellent bounce-back season from Houlton also helped propel the team to the best record in NPB. After sweeping the Saitama Seibu Lions in the Pacific League Climax Series, the Hawks took on the Chunichi Dragons to win the Japan Series, a rematch of the 1999 Japan Series. The Dragons pushed SoftBank to the full seven games, but the Hawks shut out the Dragons 3–0 in the seventh game to win their first Japan Series since 2003.

The 2012 season started with losses for the Hawks. During the off season, they lost their star starters Tsuyoshi Wada (to the Baltimore Orioles), Toshiya Sugiuchi and D.J. Houlton (to Yomiuri Giants) through free agency. All star shortstop Munenori Kawasaki also left the team for the Seattle Mariners. Closer Takahiro Mahara would sit out the season through injury. To compensate for these losses, the team acquire outfielder Wily Mo Peña and starter Brad Penny from the MLB, in addition to starter Kazuyuki Hoashi from Seibu Lions. However, of the 3 major signings, only Peña made regular contributions. Hoashi was injured in his first regular season start and did not rejoin the team for the rest of the season. Penny was in the downward spiral of his career and started only 1 game for the Hawks before being released.

The team had to deal with their off season losses to their pitching staff from within the organization. Settsu was elevated to the team's ace, while young pitchers such as Kenji Otonari and Hiroki Yamada were given bigger roles. Nagisa Arakaki returned from long term injury to join the rotation. However, new closer Falkenborg had to sit out most of the season through injury, eventually handing over the role to Morifuku. Arakaki could not regain his former numbers. In the end, the losses could not be mitigated. The team could only finish third in the Pacific League regular season and eventually lost out to the Nippon Ham Fighters in the P.L. Climax Series Final Stage. The bright spark of the season came from rookie starter Shota Takeda, who went 8-1 with and ERA of 1.07.

Players of note[edit]

Current manager[edit]

Current players[edit]

Former players[edit]

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks era[edit]

Fukuoka Daiei Hawks era[edit]

Nankai Hawks era[edit]

Retired numbers[edit]

  • none

Honored numbers[edit]

Though not fully official, the Hawks do honor the number 90, which belonged to Yasutake Kageura, a fictional character from Japanese Baseball manga Abu-san, in which he was depicted with the team in the Nankai Hawks era. This is the only squad number honored to a fictional manga character in the NPB.[citation needed]

Sadaharu Oh's 89 was originally planned to be retired or honored after his retirement, but Oh made clear his preference to give the number to his successor. Ultimately, however, the man who replaced him as manager of the Hawks, Akiyama, declined to wear the number on the grounds that the honor of bearing it would be too great so shortly after Oh's departure. Instead, Akiyama wore the number 81.

Mascot[edit]

Hawks has the largest number of mascots in NPB, the Hawk family. The current family members since 1992 are as follows:

  • Harry Hawk-a yellow colored hawk with Number 100, Harry supports the team as the main mascot. He is the youngest brother of Homer Hawk, the former main mascot.
  • Honey Hawk- a pink colored female hawk, Honey is a girlfriend of Harry, and the cheer leader of Hawks' dancing team, Honeys.
  • Herculy Hawk-an orange based hawk with Number 200, Harcury is Harry's teammate as well as his longstanding rival since Hawk University days.
  • Honky Hawk- a middle aged hawk, Honky is Harry's uncle, and the mayor of Hawks Town. He loves baseball.
  • Helen Hawk- a middle aged female hawk, Helen is Honky's wife. They have eloped during their high school days.
  • Hack Hawk-Harry's nephew. He wears red-lined T shirts and the same color cap.
  • Rick Hawk- Harry's nephew and middle of Hawk brothers. Rick wears glasses and blue-lined T shirts and the same color cap.
  • Hock Hawk-Harry's nephew and youngest brother of Huck and Rick. He wears a green-lined T shirts and the same color cap.

MLB players[edit]

Active:

Retired:

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Roah, Jeff, "tokyo under the tracks: It's Never Too Late to Insert an Asterisk", Tokyo Q, October 12, 2001.
  2. ^ Whiting, Robert, "Equaling Oh's HR record proved difficult", Japan Times, October 31, 2008, p. 12.
  3. ^ Whiting, Robert, "Equaling Oh's HR record proved difficult", Japan Times, October 31, 2008, p. 12.
  4. ^ Merron, Jeff, "The Phoniest Records in Sports", ESPN.com, February 28, 2003.

External links[edit]