Japanese Baseball League

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

Japanese Baseball League
FormerlyJapan Occupational Baseball League
FoundedFebruary 5, 1936 (1936-02-05)
First seasonSeptember 1936 (1936-09)
CeasedNovember 26, 1949 (1949-11-26)
(reorganized as Nippon Professional Baseball)
PresidentJiro Morioka
No. of teams11 (overall); 8 at time of reorganization as NPB
Tokyo Kyojin / Yomiuri Giants
Most titlesTokyo Kyojin / Yomiuri Giants
(9 titles)

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.[1]

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.

League structure


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).[citation needed] (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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[citation needed] 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.

Two Tokyo-based 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,[1] with 72 of them losing their lives in the war.[4]

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).[citation needed]

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.

Foreign players


Victor Starffin, an ethnic Russian pitcher, was a dominant player of the era and the first professional pitcher in Japan to win 300 games.[1][5]

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.)[6]

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.)[7] 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 (2012-present), relocated in 1978 from Kawasaki 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)
Nishinomiya (1940–1944)
1936 * Hanshin Baseball Club (September 25, 1940–1944)
* Osaka Tigers (1946–1960, nicknamed "Hanshin")
Hanshin Tigers (1961–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)
Dissolved (1944)[8] N.A.
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)
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 – 1988)
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (2005-present), relocated in 1988 Pacific League
Gold Star Tokyo 1946 * Kinsei Stars (1947–1948)
* Daiei Stars (1949–1957)[9]
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



Season-by-season standings


Season champion in bold.[a]

Year Half-season 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1936 Spring No standings
Summer No standings
Fall Osaka Tigers Tokyo Kyojin Hankyu Baseball Club Nagoya Baseball Club Tokyo Senators Nagoya Golden Dolphins Dai Tokyo  
1937 Spring Tokyo Kyojin Osaka Tigers Tokyo Senators Hankyu Nagoya Kinko Dai Tokyo Nagoya Korakuen Eagles  
Fall Osaka Tigers Tokyo Kyojin Korakuen Eagles Nagoya Kinko Tokyo Senators Lion Baseball Club Hankyu Nagoya  
1938 Spring Osaka Tigers Tokyo Kyojin Hankyu Korakuen Eagles Tokyo Senators Nagoya Kinko Nagoya Lion  
Fall Tokyo Kyojin Osaka Tigers Hankyu Nagoya Lion Tokyo Senators Korakuen Eagles Nankai Baseball Club Nagoya Kinko
1939 Tokyo Kyojin Osaka Tigers Hankyu Tokyo Senators Nankai Nagoya Nagoya Kinko Lion Korakuen Eagles
1940 Tokyo Kyojin Hanshin Tigers Hankyu Tsubasa Baseball Club Nagoya Kurowashi Nagoya Kinko Nankai Lion
1941 Tokyo Kyojin Hankyu Taiyō Baseball Club Nankai Hanshin Tigers Nagoya Kurowashi Asahi Baseball Club  
1942 Tokyo Kyojin Taiyō Hanshin Tigers Asahi Hankyu Nankai Nagoya Yamato Baseball Club  
1943 Tokyo Kyojin Nagoya Asahi Hanshin Tigers Nishitetsu Baseball Club Yamato Hankyu Nankai  
1944 Hanshin Tigers Tokyo Kyojin Hankyu Sangyo Baseball Club Asahi Kinki Nippon  
1945 No league play because of World War II
1946 Kinki Great Ring Tokyo Kyojin Osaka Tigers Hankyu Senators Baseball Club Gold Star Chubu Nippon Pacific Baseball Club  
1947 Osaka Tigers Chunichi Dragons Nankai Hawks Hankyu Braves Yomiuri Giants Tokyu Flyers Taiyō Robins Kinsei Stars  
1948 Nankai Hawks Yomiuri Giants Osaka Tigers Hankyu Braves Kyuei Flyers Taiyō Robins Kinsei Stars Chunichi Dragons  
1949 Yomiuri Giants Hankyu Braves Daiei Stars Nankai Hawks Chunichi Dragons Osaka Tigers Tokyu Flyers Taiyō Robins  


  1. ^ The JBL's inaugural season of 1936 included a Fall playoff between the top two teams, the Osaka Tigers and the Tokyo Kyojin. The Kyojin won the series two games-to-one to be declared champions.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Latham, Dan. Baseball Magazine Quarterly vol. 25, #3 (Summer 2001)
  3. ^ 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).
  4. ^ Whiting, Robert. You Gotta Have Wa (Vintage Departures, 1989), p. 46.
  5. ^ "Victor Starffin". Japan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2007-05-25.
  6. ^ Albright, Jim. "Hiroshi Oshita," BaseballGuru.com. Accessed March 12, 2015.
  7. ^ 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).
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.