Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
This article is missing information about response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. (April 2011)
The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (東北楽天ゴールデンイーグルス, Tōhoku Rakuten Gōruden Īgurusu), often shortened as the Rakuten Eagles (楽天イーグルス, Rakuten Īgurusu), are a baseball team based in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. It has played in Nippon Professional Baseball's Pacific League since the team's formation in 2005. The team is owned by the Internet shopping company Rakuten.
|Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles|
|League||Nippon Professional Baseball
|Location||Miyagino-ku, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan|
|Ballpark||Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi|
|Nickname(s)||Inuwashi (イヌワシ, golden eagles)|
|Pacific League championships||1 (2013)|
|Japan Series championships||1 (2013)|
|Mascot||Clutch, Clutchina, and Switch|
|Playoff berths||4 (2009, 2013, 2017, 2019)|
|General Manager||Kazuhisa Ishii|
2004: Origins and formationEdit
In June of Nippon Professional Baseball's 2004 season, the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave announced that, due to financial difficulties, the two teams planned to merge into one for the start of the 2005 season. Both teams were in the Pacific League (PL), and a merger between the two would result in a team imbalance with the PL's opposing league, the Central League (CL). As a large number of players were expected to lose their jobs when the merger was finalized, the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association (JPBPA) organized a players' strike in an attempt to force the postponement of the merger for at least one year. When team officials definitively announced that a one-year freeze on the merger was impossible, the players conducted a two-day strike on September 18–19, 2004. With the threat of further strikes looming, team representatives agreed to ease the rules of entry for new teams into NPB and that one would be allowed to join the following season.
That same month, Takafumi Horie, president of the Internet services company Livedoor, established a new professional baseball team and applied for team ownership with NPB, hoping to fill the void left by the merger of the BlueWave and the Buffaloes. Horie intended the team to be composed of players who were left jobless after the merger and planned for it to be based in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. One week later a second Internet services company, Tokyo-based Rakuten, also submitted a formal application to Japanese professional baseball to form a team. Like Horie, Rakuten president Hiroshi Mikitani also expressed a desire to locate his new team in Sendai.
In early October, the public screening process to select one of the two companies and allow them form a new NPB team began. Both Livedoor and Rakuten were given an hour and a half to discuss their team and budget propositions before a panel of five Japanese baseball executives. The panel consisted of Central League chairman Hajime Toyokura and the head officials of the Yomiuri Giants, the Yokohama BayStars, the Seibu Lions and the Chiba Lotte Marines. The screening standards include the adequacy of the applications, the prospective continuity and stability of the planned baseball teams, the prospective financial standings of the applicants and planned teams, and their planned baseball facilities. As screenings were held weekly through October, more details about each potential new team emerged. Rakuten, announced Marty Kuehnert and Yasushi Tao as general manager and manager, respectively, of their newly named "Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles" baseball club.
A telephone survey conducted by Kyodo News during the selection period of 300 people living in the Tōhoku region indicated that Livedoor was the early fan favorite to win the right to start a new team in Sendai. In the survey, forty percent of the respondents supported Livedoor's bid compared to only seven percent supporting Rakuten. Rakuten, however, was considered the more likely of the two companies to be chosen by NPB. Rakuten president Mikitani had extensive connections in established Japanese business circles and already operated another sports team, the soccer club Vissel Kobe in Japan's J.League. On November 2, NPB selected Rakuten over Livedoor to create a new Pacific League team to be based in Sendai. The team would play its home games in Miyagi Stadium, which was being renovated by Rakuten. It was the first time a new team, excluding cases of mergers or acquisitions, joined NPB since the creation of the now-defunct Takahashi Unions in the Pacific League in 1954.
Team owner Mikitani was looking for someone that didn't have a relationship with the old Japanese business community to run the team. In hiring Kuhnert, NPB's first foreign general manager, he hoped to bring "new blood" and "innovative ideas" to Japanese baseball. Kuhnert's approach to the team was analytic and sabermetrics-minded. He was known for his criticisms of Japanese baseball's traditionally intense training methods and hired a like-minded managers and coaches. The Eagle's budget for the year was $22 million, the lowest in NPB.
Instead of allowing the Eagles to draft players from all 11 NPB teams in an expansion draft, the team had to construct their roster from the 107 players left over from the dissolved Kintetsu and original Orix teams during a special dispersal draft held on November 8. Futhermore, Orix was allowed to select 25 players that would be protected from the distribution process before the draft, thus giving them preferential signing rights. Included in these selections were all free agents and foreign players. Rakuten was only then allowed to select 20 unprotected players, not including any first- or second-year players. After that, the first- and second-year players were unprotected and Orix and Rakuten alternating selecting 20 more players for the last round of the draft. Of the 40 players the Eagles selected, 17 were pitchers and 23 were position players. The league's decision to employ an unequal dispersal draft to build the Eagles roster was blamed for the team's struggles to come. An expansion draft would have better allowed for the new team to be more competitive. Mikitani believed the draft to be "unfair".
In the draft, Rakuten was able to pick up former Buffaloes outfielder Koichi Isobe. Isobe was left unprotected by Orix as he refused to play for their newly formed team because of their involvement in the merger. Despite also voicing that he no intention of playing for the merged team, Orix protected Hisashi Iwakuma, the Kintetsu Buffaloes' pitcher who led the league in wins the previous season. Iwakuma insisted that Orix team president Takashi Koizumi live up to his pledge that he would sincerely listen to the players involved in the merger regarding their futures. After four rounds of talks between Iwakuma and Koizumi, negotiations broke down and the JPBPA was brought in to mediate. Eventually, Orix agreed to trade him to the Eagles in exchange for cash. Rakuten also signed five foreign players before the start of the season to help fill out its debut-season roster.
2005–2009: Debut and the road to the Climax SeriesEdit
After winning the first game of their debut season behind starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles lost their second game to the Chiba Lotte Marines, 0–26. The loss tied the 1946 Gold Star record for losing by the highest run differential in Japanese professional baseball history. Following a 6–22 start, just over a month into the season, the Eagles removed Kuehnert as general manager and demoted the head and batting coaches. Eventually it was revealed that there had been friction between Kuehnert and higher-ups, and that he had been denied powers afforded to most general managers, such as being able to attend league or players' association meetings, having input in the budget, and being made a company director. Over the course of the season, the team posted two separate 11-game losing streaks and last place in the PL was ensured after a loss on August 29, a month before the end of the regular season. The Eagles finished 51.5 games out of first place and was the first NPB team in 40 years to lose over 90 games in a single season. As a result, ten players were released, and Tao was dismissed despite being signed to a three-year contract.
In an otherwise disastrous season, one highlight was team's home debut on April 1. A mere five months after being awarded a franchise and without even a preseason game as a dry run, Rakuten ran and operated the game smoothly in front of a packed, newly-named Fullcast Stadium. Isobe hit a home run in the team's first at-bat, and they went on to defeat the Seibu Lions, the defending Japan Series champion, 16–5. It was also was estimated that the economic impact of the team in the Tohoku region was $300 million in the first year. Furthermore, after the season, the team expected to post a profit of tens of millions of yen instead of the ¥1.5 billion loss that it had projected. Contributing factors were that the average home-game attendance for the year came close to the team's target of 15,000 per game, sales of Eagles' merchandise were strong, and players' performance-based pay was minimal. The team expected to post a loss the next season with plans to spend more than ¥1 billion on enhancing player training and about ¥3 billion on the continuing remodel of Fullcast Stadium. The stadium's off-season renovations expanded its seating capacity to allow for 23,000 spectators in addition to adding a sports bar, press seats, broadcast booths, a lounge, luxury boxes, and additional food concessions.
In an about-face from its nontraditional approach to its inaugural season, Mikitani instead looked to experience to lead the Eagles in its second season when he replaced first-time manager Tao with Hall of Famer and veteran manager Katsuya Nomura, signing him to a three-year contract. Third baseman José Fernández was also acquired from the Seibu Lions in the off-season. The team improved slightly over its first season, and Fernández went on to receive the Eagle's first Best Nine Award in his first season with the team. However, the 2006 season also brought the Eagles' their first no-hit loss, and they still finished last in the Pacific League. At the end of the season, Rakuten drafted pitcher Masahiro Tanaka in the first round of the 2006 amateur high school draft. They were awarded the opportunity to draft Tanaka after winning a four-team lottery against the Yokohama BayStars, the Orix Buffaloes, and the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, who also named him as their first-round selection.
The Eagles' first real signs of improvement came during the 2007 season, the team's third. First baseman and designated hitter Takeshi Yamasaki led the league in home runs through May and was named the Pacific League monthly MVP for the month, the team's first. Yamasaki, as the top vote-getter overall, went on to be selected by fans to the Pacific League All-Star team for the 2007 All-Star Series. With one of the All-Star games being played at the Eagles' home stadium that year, fans also voted in seven other Rakuten players, including rookie pitcher Tanaka. The Eagles were the first PL team to have eight players selected for the All-Star team since 1978. Nomura was critical of the fans' selections, stating that not all of his players selected were worthy of being named All-Stars. Rakuten finished the season with a losing record, however, for the first time they did not finish the season last, instead finishing fourth. At the end of the season, Yamasaki led the league in both home runs and runs batted in (RBIs) and Tanaka was awarded the Pacific League Rookie of the Year Award. In the off-season, Nippon Paper acquired the naming rights to Miyagi Stadium, and the park was renamed Kleenex Stadium. The team finished fifth next season, however, Iwakuma finished with the best earned run average (ERA) and most wins in the league after struck by injuries the previous few years. At season's end, he was presented with his and the team's first PL Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Eiji Sawamura Awards.
After posting losing records in their first four seasons, the team finished second behind the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in the 2009 pennant race under the leadership of manager Katsuya Nomura, the oldest manager in NPB history. In the Climax Series Final the Eagles lost the six-game series against the Fighters 1–4 and Nomura announced his retirement. In 2010 the team was managed by American Marty Brown, the former manager of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Brown was fired after a single season after the team had slumped back to last place.
2011-2012: Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and aftermathEdit
On March 11, 2011, The Tōhoku Region of Japan was struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami. The Eagles' home stadium in Sendai was severely damaged as a result. The start of the NPB season was postponed until April 12, and the Eagles had to move their season opener against the Chiba Lotte Marines to QVC Marine Field. The team finished the regular season fifth in the Pacific League and missed the playoffs. The next year The Eagles finished the regular season in fourth place with a .500 record, but again did not advance to the postseason.
2013: Japan Series championsEdit
The Eagles had a breakthrough year in 2013. Led by ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who posted a record-setting 24-0 regular season record, the Eagles emerged as the top team in the Pacific League. They swept the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in the Climax Series Final to advance to the Japan Series, where they faced the Yomiuri Giants. The series went seven games, with the Eagles winning the deciding game on their home field for the franchise's first-ever championship. Tanaka got the final three outs for the save, and the Japan Series MVP was awarded to starting pitcher Manabu Mima.
The Eagles struggled in the years following their championship, finishing the 2014 season last in the Pacific League. Senichi Hoshino stepped down as manager after the season and was replaced by Hiromoto Okubo. However, the Eagles again finished in last place and Okubo stepped down after just one year.
Masataka Nashida was hired as the next manager, and after a fifth-place finish in 2016, the Eagles returned to the playoffs in 2017, where they defeated the Saitama Seibu Lions in the first stage of the Climax Series. However, they were ousted by the eventual-champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the Climax Series Final.
After a slow start to the 2018 campaign Nashida resigned and was replaced by Yosuke Hiraishi, and the Eagles once again finished at the bottom of the Pacific League. The Eagles qualified again for the postseason in 2019, but were defeated again by the Hawks. In the offseason yet another managerial change was made, with Hajime Miki taking over as skipper.
- Luis Lopez
- Andruw Jones
- Ryan Glynn
- Eric Valent
- Cedrick Bowers
- Kevin Hodges
- Gary Rath
- Andy Tracy
- Aaron Myette
- Matt Skrmetta
- Damon Minor
- Katsunori Nomura
- Tetsuya Iida
- Takeshi Nakamura
- Tadaharu Sakai
- Hideo Koike
- Koichi Oshima
- Kevin Witt
- Adam Bass
- Kevin Youkilis
- Toyohiko Yoshida
- Koichi Sekikawa
- Kazuo Fukumori
- Takeshi Yamasaki
- Norihiro Nakamura
- Masahiro Tanaka
- Takashi Saito
- Lin Ying-Chieh
- Domingo Guzmán
- Travis Blackley
- 10 – This number is worn by both team mascots, Clutch and Clutchina, and is considered the number of the fan, the 'tenth man' on the field. It is the first retired number in NPB involving a fan, inspired by some teams in other sports (such as football, which retires "12" for the "12th man", or basketball, which retires "6" for the "6th man"). There are ten starting players in the Pacific League as the league uses the designated hitter. The Chiba Lotte Marines has the No. 26 retired in similar fashion (MLB's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim has retired No. 26, in similar fashion, for the original owner Gene Autry).
- 77 - Senichi Hoshino
- Kazuo Fukumori (2008)
Honors and recordsEdit
|Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles|
|2005||Yasushi Tao||136||38||97||1||.281||51.5||.255||5.67||6th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2006||Katsuya Nomura||136||47||85||4||.356||33.0||.258||4.30||6th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2007||Katsuya Nomura||144||67||75||2||.472||13.5||.262||4.31||4th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2008||Katsuya Nomura||144||65||76||3||.461||11.5||.272||3.89||5th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2009||Katsuya Nomura||144||77||66||1||.538||5.5||.267||4.01||2nd, Pacific||Lost in Second Stage, 1–4 (Fighters)|
|2010||Marty Brown||144||62||79||3||.440||15.0||.265||3.98||6th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2011||Senichi Hoshino||144||66||71||7||.482||22.5||.245||2.85||5th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2012||Senichi Hoshino||144||67||67||10||.500||7.5||.252||2.99||4th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2013||Senichi Hoshino||144||82||59||3||.582||-||.267||3.51||1st, Pacific||Nippon Series champions, 4–3 (Giants)|
|2014||Senichi Hoshino||144||64||80||0||.444||17.0||.255||3.97||6th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2015||Hiromoto Okubo||143||57||83||3||.407||33.5||.241||3.82||6th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2016||Masataka Nashida||143||62||78||3||.443||25.0||.257||4.11||5th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2017||Masataka Nashida||143||77||63||3||.550||29.5||.254||3.33||3rd, Pacific||Lost in Final Stage, 2–4 (Hawks)|
|143||58||82||3||.414||15.0||.241||3.78||6th, Pacific||Did not qualify|
|2019||Yosuke Hiraishi||143||71||68||4||.511||15.0||.251||3.74||3rd, Pacific||Lost in First Stage, 1–2 (Hawks)|
Golden Eagles Fan Club honorary membersEdit
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.|
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