Japanese Baseball League
|Formerly||Japan Occupational Baseball League|
|Founded||February 5, 1936|
|Inaugural season||September 1936|
|Ceased||1950Nippon Professional Baseball)(reorganized as|
|No. of teams||11 (overall); 8 at time of reorganization as NPB|
|Most titles||Tokyo Kyojin/Yomiuri Giants (9)|
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 to 1943, when many of Japan's best players were serving in the Imperial Japanese Army.
Standout players from the Japanese Baseball League era included Haruyasu Nakajima, Tetsuharu Kawakami, and Kazuto Tsuruoka; pitchers Hideo Fujimoto, Eiji Sawamura, Victor Starffin, and Tadashi Wakabayashi; and two-way players Fumio Fujimura, Shosei Go, Masaru Kageura, and Jiro Noguchi.
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). (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. All league championships went to whoever had the best record at the end of the season, without a postseason series being played.
The league was established on February 5, 1936, as the Japan Occupational Baseball League, with an initial complement of seven teams. Three of the teams were based in Tokyo, two in Osaka, and two in Nagoya.
Due to a lack of position players, a number of players in the league both pitched and batted. At first (until after World War II), the JBL was a "dead ball" league, due to Japan conserving rubber (including inside baseballs) for its war efforts; instead it used Balatá inside the balls. Initially, the league played split seasons, doing so from 1936 to 1938. In the debut 1936 season, it split into spring, summer, and fall seasons, only keeping track of the standings in the fall season. The league played spring and fall seasons in 1937 (c. 100-game schedule in total) and 1938 (total 75-game schedule), adding one new team each year.
The league 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. 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.
The league played a 90-game schedule in 1941, a 104-game schedule in 1942, and an 84-game schedule in 1943.
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. The league restarted on November 6, 1945, and a full season of 105 games was played the next year, with two new teams (both based in Tokyo) joining the league. One of the new teams, Gold Star, was owned by textile manufacturer Komajiro Tamura, who also owned Pacific (formerly Asahi).
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 Japanese Baseball League played a 119-game schedule in 1947. That year, baseball personality Sōtaro 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 today's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). The four earliest-established clubs formerly in the Japanese Baseball League were placed in NPB's Central League, while the four later surviving franchises went to the Pacific League.
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 1946 to 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.)
Andrew "Bucky" Harris 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.) They were joined by the Japanese-American players Kiyomi "Slim" Hirakawa, Fumito "Jimmy" Horio, Kazuyoshi "George" Matsuura, Yoshio "Sam" Takahashi, and Tadashi "Bozo" Wakabayashi.
|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 (1947–1952)
|Yokohama DeNA BayStars, relocated in 1978||Central League|
|Nagoya Baseball Club||Nagoya||1936||* Sangyo Baseball Club (1944)
* Chubu Nippon (1946)
* Chubu Nippon Dragons (1947–1953)
|Chunichi Dragons (1954–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)
|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–present)||Yomiuri Giants (1947–present)||Central League|
|Tokyo Senators||Tokyo||1936||* Tsubasa Baseball Club (1940)
* Taiyō Baseball Club (1941–1942)
* Nishitetsu Baseball Club (1943)
|Hankyu Baseball Club||Osaka||1936||* Hankyu Bears (January–April 1947)
* Hankyu Braves (April 1947 – 1988)
|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)
|Nankai Baseball Club||Osaka||1938||* Kinki Nippon (June 1–December 31, 1944)
* Great Ring (1946–May 31, 1947)
* Nankai Hawks (June 1, 1947 – 1988)
|Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, relocated in 1988||Pacific League|
|Gold Star||Tokyo||1946||* Kinsei Stars (1947–1948)
* Daiei Stars (1949–1957)
|Chiba Lotte Marines (1992–present) relocated in 1992||Pacific League|
|Senators Baseball Club||Tokyo||1946||* Tokyu Flyers (1947)
* Kyuei Flyers (1948)
* Tokyu Flyers (1949–1954)
|Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (1974–present) relocated in 2004 to Sapporo||Pacific League|
- 1937 (spring): Eiji Sawamura, Tokyo Kyojin, P
- 1937 (fall): Harris McGalliard, Korakuen Eagles, C
- 1938 (spring): Hisanori Karita, Tokyo Senators, 2B
- 1938 (fall): Haruyasu Nakajima, Tokyo Kyojin, OF
- 1939: Victor Starffin, Tokyo Kyojin, P
- 1940: Victor Starffin, Tokyo Kyojin, P
- 1941: Tetsuharu Kawakami, Tokyo Kyojin, 1B
- 1942: Shigeru Mizuhara, Tokyo Kyojin, 2B
- 1943: Shosei Go, Tokyo Kyojin, OF
- 1944: Tadashi Wakabayashi, Hanshin, P
- 1945: No league play because of World War II
- 1946: Kazuto Tsuruoka, Kinki Great Ring, 3B
- 1947: Tadashi Wakabayashi, Osaka Tigers, P
- 1948: Kazuto Tsuruoka, Nankai, 3B
- 1949: Fumio Fujimura, Osaka Tigers, 3B
Season champion in bold.[a]
- 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.
- "Kurowashi," Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed Mar. 7, 2015.
- Latham, Dan. Baseball Magazine Quarterly vol. 25, #3 (Summer 2001)
- Warnock, Eleanor. "In Japan, Change-Up Sent Balls Flying, but Now Fans Cry Foul: Baseball Commissioner Says Nobody Told Him; Home-Run Rally Will Last a While," Wall Street Journal (June 13, 2013).
- "Goldstar," Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed March 8, 2015.
- "Victor Starffin". Japan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved 2007-05-25.
- Albright, Jim. "Hiroshi Oshita," BaseballGuru.com. Accessed March 12, 2015.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Japanese Baseball Data Archive at The Baseball Guru
- List of players at Japanese Baseball
- "Japanese Baseball League (Spring) (Foreign) Encyclopedia and History," (1936–1938) at Baseball-Reference.com
- "Japanese Baseball League (Fall) (Foreign) Encyclopedia and History," (1936–1938 at Baseball-Reference.com
- "Japanese Baseball League (Foreign) Encyclopedia and History," (1939–1949 at Baseball-Reference.com