Nippon Professional Baseball
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Nippon Professional Baseball (日本野球機構 Nippon Yakyū Kikō) 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 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 Tokyo, founded 1934 and the original circuit for the sport in the Empire two years later - Japanese Baseball League (1936-1949), and surprisingly even continued to play through the dark years of total warfare with Japan's invasion of Manchuria (northeast China) in 1931, and intervening in the Chinese Civil War in 1937 with the wider Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and into the greater World War II (1939-1945).
|Current season, competition or edition:|
2019 Nippon Professional Baseball season
|Formerly||Japanese Baseball League|
|No. of teams||12|
|Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (9)|
|Most titles||Yomiuri Giants (22)|
|Qualification||Asia Series (2005–2013)|
|Official website||NPB.jp (in English)|
The new NPB for Japan was formed when that sports organization reorganized in 1950 with creating its two leagues with six teams each of the Central League and the Pacific League with an annual season ending Japan Series championship play-off series of games starting that year for the JPB on the lines of the American World Series tournament (since 1903).
Nippon Professional Baseball consists of two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League with six teams / franchises each. There are also two secondary-level professional minor leagues, the Eastern League and the Western League, that play shorter schedules for developing players.
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 prior to 2007, the two leagues each scheduled between 130 and 140 regular season games, with the 146 games played by the Central League in 2005 and 2006 being the only exception. Both leagues have since adopted 146-game seasons, 73 each at home & on road. In general, Japanese teams play six games a week, with every Monday off.
Following the conclusion of each regular season the best teams from each league go on to play in the "Nippon Series" or Japan Series championship play-off tournament on the lines of the American World Series since 1903.
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 (and which team would advance to the Japan Series). The teams in third and second place played in a best-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-of-five format at its home ground. In 2006, 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 with Major League BaseballEdit
The NPB rules are essentially those of the American Major League Baseball (MLB), but technical elements are slightly different: The Nippon league uses a smaller baseball, strike zone, and playing field. The Japanese baseball is wound more tightly than an American baseball. The strike zone is narrower "inside" than away from the batter. Five Nippon league teams have fields whose small dimensions would violate the American Official Baseball Rules. The note set out at the end of Rule 1.04 specifies minimum dimensions for American ballparks built or renovated after 1958: 325 feet (99 m) down each foul line and 400 feet (120 m) to center field.
American Major League Baseball (MLB) players, scouts, and sabermetricians describe play in the NPB as "AAAA"; less competitive than in MLB, but more competitive than in Triple A's (AAA) developing level minor 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 has no DH rule 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; this includes the playoffs, but not the Japan Series going beyond Game 7. If there is no winner after 12 innings, the game is declared a tie; these games count as neither a win nor a loss to team standings or to postseason series.
Similar to the current structure of the World Series, a team must win four games to clinch the Japan Series title; however, due to the fact that games can end in a tie, it may take more than 7 games to win the series. If the series must be extended, all games beyond game 7 are played with no innings limit, with game 8 being played in the same venue as game 7, and game 9 and beyond played in the opposing team's venue following a moving day.
- For power conservation reasons, besides the usual 12-inning limit, no extra innings were allowed to commence during the regular season once 3 hours, 30 minutes had elapsed from the game start time. This time included delays due to weather, but power failures would result in a called game.
- Due to the delayed start of the season and because of post-season commitments to the champion (such as the 2011 Asia Series), the Japan Series' extension rules were modified in 2011 if the series was tied after seven games, only one extra game would be played.
Most Japanese teams have a six-man starting rotation (as opposed to MLB teams, which feature five-man rotations). Although each team roster has 28 players, similar to other professional sports, there is a 25 player limit for each game. Managers scratch three players before each game, typically including the most recent starting pitchers, similar to professional basketball (two scratches).
Financial problems plague many teams in the league. 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$73 million), from their parent companies. A raise 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. In addition, teams in the Central League historically saw much higher profits than the Pacific League, having popular teams such as the Giants and Tigers.
The number of metropolitan areas represented in the league increased from four to five in 1988, when the Nankai Hawks (now Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) moved to Fukuoka; and to seven between 2003 and 2005, as the Nippon-Ham Fighters moved to Hokkaidō and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes merged with the Orix BlueWave and were replaced by the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Until 1993, baseball was the only team sport played professionally in Japan. In that year, the J.League professional soccer league was founded. The new soccer 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.
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. 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.
The first professional baseball team in Japan was founded by media mogul Matsutarō Shōriki in late 1934 and called the Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Kurabu ("the Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club"). After matching up with a team of visiting American All-Stars that included Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Charlie Gehringer, the team spent the 1935 season barnstorming in the U.S., winning 93 of 102 games against semi-pro and Pacific Coast League teams. According to historian Joseph Reaves, "The only minor drawbacks to the team's popularity in the States were their kanji characters and their cumbersome Japanese name. They rectified both by renaming themselves the Tokyo Kyojin ['Tokyo Giants'] and adopting a uniform identical to the New York Giants…"
From 1936–1950, professional baseball in Japan was under the name of the Japanese Baseball League (JBL). The league's dominant team during this period was the Tokyo Kyojin, which won nine league championships, including six in a row from 1938–1943. (The team was officially renamed the Yomiuri Giants in 1947.)
After the 1949 season, the JBL team owners reorganized into the NPB; Daiei Stars owner Masaichi Nagata promoted a two-league system, which became the Pacific League (initially called the Taiheiyo Baseball Union) and the Central League. (Nagata became the first president of the Pacific League.)
Four JBL teams formed the basis of the Central League: the Chunichi Dragons, the Hanshin Tigers, the Yomiuri Giants, and the Shochiku Robins (formerly the Taiyō Robins). To fill out the league, four new teams were formed: the Hiroshima Carp, the Kokutetsu Swallows, the Nishi Nippon Pirates, and the Taiyō Whales.
Four JBL teams formed the basis of the Pacific League: the Hankyu Braves, the Nankai Hawks, the Daiei Stars, and the Tokyu Flyers. To fill out the league, three new teams were formed: the Kintetsu Pearls, the Mainichi Orions, and the Nishitetsu Clippers.
Expansion and contractionEdit
The Central League's Nishi Nippon Pirates existed for one season — they placed sixth in 1950, and the following season merged with the Nishitetsu Clippers (also based in Fukuoka) to form the Nishitetsu Lions. This brought the number of Central League teams down to an ungainly arrangement of seven. In 1952, it was decided that any Central League team ending the season with a winning percentage below .300 would be disbanded or merged with other teams. The Shochiku Robins fell into this category, and were merged with the Taiyō Whales to become the Taiyō Shochiku Robins in January 1953. This enabled the Central League to shrink to an even number of six teams.
In 1954 a new Pacific League team was founded, the Takahashi Unions, to increase the number of teams in that division to eight. Although the team was stocked with players from the other Pacific League teams, the Unions struggled from the outset and finished in the second division every season. In 1957, the Unions were merged with the Daiei Stars to form the Daiei Unions (and again bringing the number of Pacific League teams down to seven). The Unions existed for a single season, finishing in last place, 43-1/2 games out of first. In 1958, the Unions merged with the Mainichi Orions to form the Daimai Orions. This enabled the Pacific League to contract from the ungainly seven-team arrangement to six teams.
After these various franchise developments, by the end of the 1950s Nippon Professional Baseball had contracted from the initial allotment of 15 teams down to the current number of 12.
1960s and 1970sEdit
On September 1, 1964, Nankai Hawks' prospect Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to play in Major League Baseball when he appeared on the mound for the San Francisco Giants. Disputes over the rights to his contract eventually led to the 1967 United States – Japanese Player Contract Agreement.
The Black Mist Scandal rocked Nippon Professional Baseball between 1969 and 1971. The fallout from a series of game-fixing scandals in resulted in several star players receiving long suspensions, salary cuts, or being banned from professional play entirely; the resulting abandonment of baseball by many fans in Japan also led to the sale of the Nishitetsu Lions and the Toei Flyers.
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. In 1975, the Pacific League adopted the designated hitter rule.
1980s and the "Invincible Seibu"Edit
After being a second division team for much of the 1960s and 1970s, in 1983 the Seibu Lions began a period of sustained success. The team gained the moniker "Invincible Seibu" during the 1980s and 1990s due to their sustained domination of the league, winning 11 league championships and eight Japan Series championships between 1982–1994. The Lions had a powerful lineup in this period, loaded with sluggers such as Koji Akiyama, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, and Orestes Destrade. Their defense also benefited from the services of skilled players such as Hiromichi Ishige, Hatsuhiko Tsuji and catcher Tsutomu Ito. Among the pitchers employed by the Lions in this period was "The Oriental Express" Taigen Kaku, Osamu Higashio, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Hisanobu Watanabe, and relievers Yoshitaka Katori and Tetsuya Shiozaki.
American expatriate players made their mark in NPB in the 1980s, with players like the Lee brothers, Leron Lee and Leon Lee, Greg "Boomer" Wells, Randy Bass, and Ralph Bryant playing key roles on their NPB teams.
Hideo Nomo and the exodus to MLBEdit
In 1995, star pitcher Hideo Nomo "retired" from the Kintetsu Buffaloes and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nomo pitched over the span of 14 seasons in the Major Leagues before retiring in 2008. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1995. He twice led the league in strikeouts, and also threw two no-hitters (the only Japanese pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Major League Baseball until Hisashi Iwakuma achieved the feat in August 2015). Nomo's MLB success led to more NPB players moving to Major League Baseball, and eventually led to the creation of the "posting system" in 1998.
Since Nomo's exodus, more than 60 NPB players have played Major League Baseball. Some of the more notable examples include:
- Ichiro Suzuki – after nine years with the Orix BlueWave, in 2001 Ichiro was posted by the BlueWave and claimed by MLB's Seattle Mariners. The first Japanese-born position player to be signed to the major leagues,[not in citation given] Ichiro led the American League (AL) in batting average and stolen bases en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year and AL Most Valuable Player. Ichiro, a member of MLB's 3,000-hit club, has established a number of MLB batting records, including the single-season record for hits with 262. He had ten consecutive 200-hit seasons, the longest streak by any player in history. Between his career hits in Japan's and America's major leagues, Ichiro has the most all-time top-flight hits.
- Hideki Matsui – the slugger played ten seasons for the Yomiuri Giants, and then in 2003 moved to MLB, where he starred for the New York Yankees for seven more seasons, including being named the Most Valuable Player for the 2009 World Series. He was the first power hitter from Japan to succeed in Major League Baseball.
- Kazuhiro Sasaki - a closer famed for his splitter, known as "The Fang". In 2000, he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award after saving 37 games for the Mariners. In 2001, he was a vital contributor to the Mariners' extremely strong team that won an American League record 116 games, of which he saved 45. In 2001 and 2002, he was an All-Star. After 2003, he returned to Japan to pitch in the NPB until his retirement in 2005.
- Kazuo Matsui – after eight stellar seasons with the Seibu Lions, Matsui signed with the New York Mets on December 15, 2003, in 2004 becoming the first Japanese infielder to play with a Major League Baseball team. His seven seasons in Major League Baseball were not as successful, and he later returned to NPB.
Merger and strike of 2004Edit
In September 2004, the professional Japanese players went on strike for the first time in over 70 years. The strike arose from a dispute that took place between the owners of the 12 professional Japanese baseball teams and the players' union (which was led by popular Yakult Swallows player-manager Atsuya Furuta), concerning the merging of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix Blue Wave. The owners wanted to get rid of the financially defunct Buffaloes, and merge the two baseball leagues, since teams in the Central League saw much higher profits than the Pacific League, having popular teams such as the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers. After negotiations, the owners agreed to guarantee the survival of the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, leaving the Central League with six teams and the Pacific League with five.
A battle escalated between the players union and the owners, and reached its height when Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe controversially remarked that Furuta was "a mere player," implying that players had no say in what league would look like the next year. The dispute received huge press coverage (which mostly favored Furuta and the players' union) and was dubbed one of the biggest events in the history of Japanese baseball. Proposals and amendments concerning interleague games, player drafting, and management were also discussed between the players union and the owners during this period.
The strike was originally planned for all Saturday and Sunday games that month, starting from September 11, but was pushed back due to the agreement of another meeting between the union and the owners on September 10. The players decided to strike on September 18–19, 2004, when no progress was made in the negotiations, as there was insufficient time left in the season to hold discussions.
The dispute officially ended after the two groups reached consensus on September 23, 2004. As part of the agreement, the Buffaloes were allowed to merge with the Blue Wave (forming into the Orix Buffaloes); in addition, the Rakuten Golden Eagles were newly created (at a reduced "entry fee") to keep the former six-team league structure. Other agreements included the leagues adopting interleague play to help the Pacific League gain exposure by playing the more popular Central league teams. All these changes took place before the 2005 season.
The two leagues began interleague play in 2005, with each team playing two three-game series (one home, one away) against each of the six teams in the other league. This was reduced to two two-game series in 2007. All interleague play games are played in a seven-week span near the middle of the season.
As of the end of the 2017 season, the Pacific League has won the most games in interleague play since it began in 2005 twelve times, with 2009 being the only time that the Central League has won more games.
League championship series/Climax SeriesEdit
After 2004, a three-team playoff system was introduced in the Pacific League, dubbed the "Pacific League Championship Series." The teams with the second- and third-best records play in the three-game first stage, with the winner advancing to the five-game final against the top team. The winner becomes the representative of the Pacific League to the Japan Series.
Since the Pacific League won every Japan Series after introducing this league playoff system, an identical system was introduced to the Central League in 2007, and the post-season intra-league games were renamed the "Climax Series" in both leagues. Player statistics and drafting order based on team records are not affected by these postseason games.
The 2013 season featured a livelier baseball which was secretly introduced into NPB, resulting in a marked increase in home runs league-wide. Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder Wladimir Balentien broke the NPB single-season home run record of 55, previously held by professional baseball's all-time home run leader Sadaharu Oh in 1964, Tuffy Rhodes in 2001, and Alex Cabrera in 2002. Balantien finished the season with 60 home runs. Three-term NPB commissioner Ryōzō Katō was forced to resign over the scandal when the changed baseball was revealed.
Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has proposed expanding NPB to 16 total teams by adding two expansion franchises in each of the country's top-tier professional baseball leagues. The goal of such a move would be to energize the economies of the regions receiving the new teams. Okinawa, Shizuoka, Shikoku, and Niigata have been identified as regions that could play host to said teams.
Expatriate baseball players in JapanEdit
For most of its history, NPB regulations imposed "gaijin waku", a limit on the number of non-Japanese people per team to two or three — including the manager and/or coaching staff. Even today, a team cannot have more than four foreign players on a 25-man game roster, although there is no limit on the number of foreign players that it may sign. If there are four, they cannot all be pitchers nor all be position players. This limits the cost and competition for expensive players of other nationalities, and is similar to rules in many European sports leagues' roster limits on non-European players.
Nonetheless, expatriate baseball players in Japan have been a feature of the Japanese professional leagues since 1934. Hundreds of foreigners — particularly Americans — have played NPB. Taiwanese nationals Shosei Go and Hiroshi Oshita both starred in the 1940s. American players began to steadily find spots on NPB rosters in the 1960s. American players hold several NPB records, including highest career batting average (Leron Lee, .334), highest single season batting average (Randy Bass, .389), and the dubious record of most strikeouts in a season by a hitter (Ralph Bryant, 204). Americans rank #3 (Tuffy Rhodes, 55) and #5 (Randy Bass, 54) on the list of most home runs in a season, and #2 in single-season RBI (Bobby Rose, 153). Curaçaoan–Dutch outfielder Wladimir Balentien holds the NPB single-season home run record with 60 round-trippers in 2013. Venezuelans Alex Ramírez, Alex Cabrera, Bobby Marcano, and Roberto Petagine all had long, successful NPB careers.
Since the 1970s, foreigners have also made an impact in Nippon Professional Baseball's managing and coaching ranks, with Americans Bobby Valentine and Trey Hillman managing their respective teams to Japan Series championships.
|Chunichi Dragons||Nagoya, Aichi||Nagoya Dome||40,500||1937||1950|
|Hanshin Tigers||Nishinomiya, Hyōgo||Hanshin Koshien Stadium||47,757||1935||1950|
|Hiroshima Toyo Carp||Hiroshima, Hiroshima||MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima||32,000||1950|
|Tokyo Yakult Swallows||Shinjuku, Tokyo||Meiji Jingu Stadium||37,933||1950|
|Yokohama DeNA BayStars||Yokohama, Kanagawa||Yokohama Stadium||30,000||1950|
|Yomiuri Giants||Bunkyō, Tokyo||Tokyo Dome||46,000||1934||1950|
|Chiba Lotte Marines||Chiba, Chiba||ZOZO Marine Stadium||30,000||1950|
|Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks||Fukuoka, Fukuoka||Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome||38,561||1938||1950|
|Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters||Sapporo, Hokkaidō||Sapporo Dome||40,476||1946||1950|
|Orix Buffaloes||Divided between Osaka and Kobe||Kyocera Dome Osaka and Hotto Motto Stadium Kobe||36,477 and 35,000||1936||1950|
|Saitama Seibu Lions||Tokorozawa, Saitama||MetLife Dome||33,921||1950|
|Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles||Sendai, Miyagi||Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi||30,508||2005|
Note: Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are planning to build new home stadiums in home cities after the 2020 Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo, Fighters plan to finish the stadium in 2023 and Swallows plan to finish the new stadium in 2027.  
Locations are listed from north to south. Only the most prominent names of each franchise are listed.
|Saitama Seibu Lions||13||8|
|Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks||9||9|
|Tokyo Yakult Swallows||5||2|
|Chiba Lotte Marines||4||2|
|Hiroshima Toyo Carp||3||4|
|Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters||3||4|
|Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles||1||0|
|Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes||0||4|
- Nippon Professional Baseball Most Valuable Player Award
- Nippon Professional Baseball Rookie of the Year Award
- Nippon Professional Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award
- Eiji Sawamura Award (starting pitcher of the year)
- Mitsui Golden Glove Award
- Golden Spirit Award
- Matsutaro Shoriki Award
- Japan Series Most Valuable Player
- Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Game Most Valuable Player
Single season battingEdit
Single season pitchingEdit
|Masaru Kageura||0.79||1936 fall|
|Eiji Sawamura||0.81||1937 spring|
|Shingo Takatsu||286||1991–2003, 2006–2007|
|Kazuhiro Sasaki||252||1990–1999, 2004–2005|
- †: 5th game of Japan Series; In NPB, no-hitters or perfect games achieved by multiple pitchers in one game are considered unofficial. However, it is recognized by the WBSC (international governing body of baseball) as a perfect game.
Since 1986 an All-Star team from Major League Baseball (MLB) is sent to a biennial end-of-the-season tour of Japan, dubbed as MLB Japan All-Star Series, playing exhibition games in a best-of format against the All-Stars from NPB or recently as of 2014 the national team Samurai Japan.
The latest series also celebrated the 80th anniversary of the establishment of Japan's professional baseball by holding an exhibition game of a joint team of Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants against the MLB All-Stars at the Koshien Stadium on November 11, 2014.
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引き分け試合があったことにより、第7戦を行ってなお優勝が決定しない場合には翌日第7戦を行った球場で第8戦を行う。さらに第9戦が必要な場合には、1日移動日を設け、もう一方のチームの球場で行う("If there is a tie game and the champion is not decided in Game 7, it should be noted that Game 8 is played in the ballpark where Game 7 was played. Further, if Game 9 is required, one moving day is provided, and is played in the ballpark of the other team.")
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