Japanese Baseball League

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For the current Japanese Professional League, see Nippon Professional Baseball.
Japanese Baseball League
Formerly Japan Occupational Baseball League
Sport Baseball
Founded 1935
President Jiro Morioka[1]
Inaugural season 1936
No. of teams 11 (overall); 8 at time of merger with NPB
Country Japan
Ceased 1950 (reorganized as Nippon Professional Baseball
Last champion(s) Yomiuri Giants
Most titles Tokyo Kyojin/Yomiuri Giants (9)

The Japanese Baseball League (日本野球連盟 Nihon Yakyū Renmei?) was a professional baseball league in Japan which operated from 1936–1949, before reorganizing in 1950 as Nippon Professional Baseball.

The league's dominant team was Tokyo Kyojin (renamed the Yomiuri Giants in 1947), which won nine league championships, including six in a row from 1938–1943, during the "dead-ball era," when many of Japan's best players were serving in the Imperial Japanese Army.[2]

League structure[edit]

Unlike American pro teams, Japanese Baseball League teams were usually named after their corporate owners/sponsors rather than the cities or regions in which they played. This was because Japanese franchising does not have strong territorial requirements as in the Major Leagues; as a result, the JBL teams clustered in metropolitan areas in Japan's center (Tokyo, Nagoya) and south (Osaka). As a result, teams were notorious for how often they changed their names, often because of changes in ownership/sponsorship (and also because of nationalistic regulations imposed during wartime, such as the outlawing of English team names).[3] (The Yomiuri Giants, the Chunichi Dragons, and the Hanshin Tigers are the only surviving major clubs that have always been based in their respective cities. Additionally, the current Orix Buffaloes are a merger of two clubs which never left their hometown.)

Most Japanese Baseball League teams did not have an "official" home stadium; instead, teams played at any stadium in the area in which they were based.[4]

History[edit]

The league was established on February 5, 1936, as the Japan Occupational Baseball League, with an initial complement of seven teams. The league played fall and spring seasons in 1937 (c. 100-game schedule) and 1938 (75-game schedule), adding one new team each year.

It was renamed the Japanese Baseball League in 1939, playing a 96-game schedule.

Before the 1940 season, one of the founding teams, Nagoya Kinko (originally the Nagoya Golden Dolphins), merged with the Tokyo Senators. The 1940 season featured a 104-game schedule.

In October 1940 (responding to rising hostility toward the West due to World War II) , the league outlawed the use of English in Japanese baseball.[3] In response, the Korakuen Eagles became "Kurowashi," the Osaka Tigers became "Hanshin," the Tokyo Senators became "Tsubasa," and (eventually) Lion became "Asahi."

In 1941, the JBL appointed its first president, Jiro Morioka (formerly VP of Dai Tokyo). Morioka negotiated with the Japanese Imperial Army to keep professional baseball going through the early years of the Second World War.[1]

The league played a 90-game schedule in 1941, a 104-game schedule in 1942, and an 84-game schedule in 1943.

Two teams dissolved before the 1944 season: the Yamato Baseball Club (originally the Korakuen Eagles) and the Nishitetsu Baseball Club (originally the Tokyo Senators).

Due to the Pacific War, the 1944 season was truncated to c. 35 games, and the 1945 season was skipped entirely. Many players enlisted in the Japanese Imperial Army.[2]

The league restarted on November 6, 1945, and a full season of 105 games was played the next year, with two new teams joining the league. One of the new teams, Gold Star, was owned by textile manufacturer Komajiro Tamura, who also owned Pacific (formerly Asahi).[5]

A rival four-team league, known as the Kokumin League (国民リーグ Kokumin Riigu?), played a 30-game summer season in 1947. Unable to compete against the more established JBL, however, the Kokumin League disbanded a few games into the 1947 fall season.

The league played a 119-game schedule in 1947. That year, baseball personality Soutaro Suzuki proposed that JBL teams should have pet names like the Yomiuri Giants', whose pet name was "Kyojin", and names such as the Osaka Tigers' alias "Mouko" (fierce tiger), the revived Tokyo Senators' "Seito" (bluestockings) and the Pacific's "Taihei" (tranquility) began to be used by the press. However, some teams rejected the use of these pet names, so they were never fully adopted.

The 1948 season had a 140-game schedule, and the 1949 season had a 134-game schedule.

After the 1949 season, the league reorganized into Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). Four of the franchises formerly in the Japanese Baseball League currently play in NPB's Central League, and four others are in the Pacific League.

Foreign players[edit]

Victor Starffin, an ethnic Russian pitcher, was a dominant player of the era and the first professional pitcher in Japan to win three hundred games.[6][2]

Shosei Go, nicknamed "The Human Locomotive," was a speedy player from Taiwan who played in the league for the Kyojin and the Tigers. He won the 1943 JBL Most Valuable Player award as a member of the champion Kyojin. Hiroshi Oshita was another Taiwanese player who starred in the JBL. From 1949–1949 he played for the Tokyo Senators/Tokyu Flyers. (After reorganization, Oshita stayed with the Flyers until 1951, and then moved to the Nishitetsu Lions, finishing his Japanese professional career with a .303 lifetime batting average, 201 home runs, and 861 RBI.)[7]

Andrew "Bucky" Harrison McGalliard (Japan's "Bucky Harris"), Herbert "Buster" North, and James E. "Jimmy Bonna" Bonner became the first Americans to play in Japan's professional baseball league in 1936. (Bonner was African-American, thus beating Jackie Robinson to professional baseball 11 years before Robinson broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers.)[8] They were joined by the Japanese-American players Kiyomi "Slim" Hirakawa, Fumito "Jimmy" Horio, Kazuyoshi "George" Matsuura, Yoshio "Sam" Takahashi, and Tadashi "Bozo" Wakabayashi.

Teams[edit]

Original name City Founded Subsequent names Current name/status NPB league
Dai Tokyo Tokyo 1936 * Lion Baseball Club (1937–1940)
* Asahi Baseball Club (1941–1944)
* Pacific Baseball Club (1946)
* Taiyō Robins (1947–1949)
Yokohama DeNA BayStars, relocated Central League
Nagoya Baseball Club Nagoya 1936 * Sangyo Baseball Club (1944)
* Chubu Nippon (1946)
* Chubu Nippon Dragons (1947)
Chunichi Dragons (1948–present) Central League
Nagoya Golden Dolphins Nagoya 1936 Nagoya Kinko (1937–1939) Merged with the Tokyo Senators (1940; dissolved 1944) N.A.
Osaka Tigers Osaka (1936–1940; 1946–1949)
Nishinomiya (1940–1944)
1936 * Hanshin Baseball Club (September 25, 1940–1944)
* Osaka Tigers (1946–1949, nicknamed "Hanshin")
Hanshin Tigers (1950–present) Central League
Tokyo Kyojin Tokyo 1936 * Yomiuri Giants (1947–1949) Yomiuri Giants (1947–present) Central League
Tokyo Senators Tokyo 1936 * Tsubasa Baseball Club (1940)
* Taiyō Baseball Club (1941–1942)
* Nishitetsu Baseball Club (1943)
Dissolved (1944)[9] N.A.
Hankyu Baseball Club Osaka 1936 * Hankyu Bears (January–April 1947)
* Hankyu Braves (April 1947–1949)
Orix Buffaloes (2005–present) Pacific League
Korakuen Eagles Tokyo 1937 * Eagles Baseball Club (1938–1939)
* Kurowashi Black Eagles (1940-1942)
* Yamato Baseball Club (1942–1943)
Dissolved (1944) N.A.
Nankai Baseball Club Osaka 1938 * Kinki Nippon (June 1–December 31, 1944)
* Great Ring (1946–May 31, 1947)
* Nankai Hawks (June 1, 1947–1949)
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, relocated Pacific League
Gold Star Tokyo 1946 * Kinsei Stars (1947–1948)
* Daiei Stars (1949)[10]
Chiba Lotte Marines (1992–present) Pacific League
Senators Baseball Club Tokyo 1946 * Tokyu Flyers (1947)
* Kyuei Flyers (1948)
* Tokyu Flyers (1949)
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (1974–present) Pacific League

MVPs[edit]

Champions[edit]

  • 1936 (spring): No standings
  • 1936 (summer): No standings
  • 1936 (fall): Tokyo Kyojin
  • 1937 (spring): Tokyo Kyojin
  • 1937 (fall): Osaka Tigers
  • 1938 (spring): Osaka Tigers
  • 1938 (fall): Tokyo Kyojin
  • 1939: Tokyo Kyojin
  • 1940: Tokyo Kyojin
  • 1941: Tokyo Kyojin
  • 1942: Tokyo Kyojin
  • 1943: Tokyo Kyojin
  • 1944: Hanshin
  • 1945: No league play because of World War II
  • 1946: Kinki Great Ring
  • 1947: Osaka Tigers
  • 1948: Nankai Hawks
  • 1949: Yomiuri Giants

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Morioka, Jiro," The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (Japan). Accessed Mar. 27, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Reaves, Joseph A. (2002). Taking in a Game: A History of Baseball in Asia. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 70–71. ISBN 0-8032-3943-2.
  3. ^ a b "Kurowashi," Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed Mar. 7, 2015.
  4. ^ Latham, Dan. Baseball Magazine Quarterly vol. 25, #3 (Summer 2001)
  5. ^ "Goldstar," Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed March 8, 2015.
  6. ^ "Victor Starffin". Japan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  7. ^ Albright, Jim. "Hiroshi Oshita," BaseballGuru.com. Accessed March 12, 2015.
  8. ^ Thomas, Dexter. "Japan’s First Black Baseball Player: Eleven years before Jackie Robinson, Tokyo signed a black ace pitcher," Medium "Culture Club" (Oct. 7, 2014).
  9. ^ The team was reestablished in 1950 as the Nishitetsu Clippers for the Nippon Professional Baseball circuit and eventually moved to Tokorozawa, Saitama, becoming the Seibu Lions.
  10. ^ Merged with the Takahashi Unions in 1956 to form the Daiei Unions, which later merged with the Mainichi Orions in 1957 to form the Daimai Orions.

External links[edit]