Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

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.[1]

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
Rakuteneagleslogo.png Rakuten eagles insignia.png
Team logo Cap insignia
Information
LeagueNippon Professional Baseball
Pacific League (2005–present)
LocationMiyagino-ku, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan
BallparkRakuten Seimei Park Miyagi
Year founded2005
Nickname(s)Inuwashi (イヌワシ, golden eagles)
Pacific League championships1 (2013)
Japan Series championships1 (2013)
ColorsCrimson, Gold
         
MascotClutch, Clutchina, and Switch
Playoff berths4 (2009, 2013, 2017, 2019)
Retired numbers
OwnershipHiroshi Mikitani
ManagementRakuten, Inc.
ManagerHajime Miki
General ManagerKazuhisa Ishii
Uniforms
RakEagles Uniforms2020.png

HistoryEdit

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] As screenings were held weekly through October,[4] 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.[5][6][7]

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[6]

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.[10]

Instead of allowing the Eagles to draft players from all 11 NPB teams in an expansion draft,[11] 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.[12] 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".[13]

In the draft, Rakuten was able to pick up former Buffaloes outfielder Koichi Isobe.[12] Isobe was left unprotected by Orix as he refused to play for their newly formed team because of their involvement in the merger.[12][14] 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.[15] Rakuten also signed five foreign players before the start of the season to help fill out its debut-season roster.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[10] Over the course of the season, the team posted two separate 11-game losing streaks[19] and last place in the PL was ensured after a loss on August 29, a month before the end of the regular season.[20] The Eagles finished 51.5 games out of first place[21] 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,[22] and Tao was dismissed despite being signed to a three-year contract.[19]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

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,[26] signing him to a three-year contract.[27] Third baseman José Fernández was also acquired from the Seibu Lions in the off-season.[28] The team improved slightly over its first season,[29] and Fernández went on to receive the Eagle's first Best Nine Award in his first season with the team.[30] However, the 2006 season also brought the Eagles' their first no-hit loss,[31] and they still finished last in the Pacific League.[32] 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.[33]

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.[34] 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.[35] Nomura was critical of the fans' selections, stating that not all of his players selected were worthy of being named All-Stars.[36] Rakuten finished the season with a losing record, however, for the first time they did not finish the season last, instead finishing fourth.[29] 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.[37][38] In the off-season, Nippon Paper acquired the naming rights to Miyagi Stadium, and the park was renamed Kleenex Stadium.[39] 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.[40][41] At season's end, he was presented with his and the team's first PL Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Eiji Sawamura Awards.[40]

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

Hall of Fame pitcher Senichi Hoshino was brought in to replace Brown as manager for the 2011 season.

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.

2014-presentEdit

Following the 2013 season, Masahiro Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million-dollar contract with Major League Baseball's New York Yankees.

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.

RosterEdit

First squad Second squad

Pitchers

Catchers

Infielders

Outfielders


Manager

Coaches

Pitchers

Catchers

Infielders

Outfielders


Manager

Coaches

Development Players

Updated June 30, 2020
All NPB rosters


Former playersEdit

Retired numbersEdit

  • 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

MLB playersEdit

Active:

Retired:

Honors and recordsEdit

HonorsEdit

Japan Series Championship (1): 2013

Former managersEdit

RecordsEdit

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
Year Manager Games Wins Losses Ties Pct. GB BA ERA Finish Postseason
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)
2018 Masataka Nashida
Yosuke Hiraishi
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)
Total -- 2139 960 1129 50 .460 -

Golden Eagles Fan Club honorary membersEdit

See alsoEdit

GalleryEdit

External linksEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Rakuten Golden Eagles (Sendai) Team Information. JapanBall.com. Retrieved on 2013-09-19.
  2. ^ Uranaka, Taiga (17 September 2004). "Livedoor establishes pro baseball club". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 25 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  3. ^ "Rakuten applies to create new club". The Japan Times. Associated Press. 25 September 2004. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  4. ^ a b "NPB begins hearings on Rakuten, Livedoor bids". The Japan Times. 7 October 2004. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  5. ^ Armstrong, Jim (6 October 2004). "Kuehnert to head Rakuten team". The Japan Times. Associated Press. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Rakuten awarded pro baseball team". The Japan Times. Associated Press. 3 November 2004. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Livedoor Phoenix". The Japan Times. 27 October 2004. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  8. ^ "Livedoor emerges as early fan favorite to own new team". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. 3 October 2004. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  9. ^ Graczyk, Wayne (12 December 2015). "Can upgraded home stadiums give boost to BayStars, Eagles?". The Japan Times. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  10. ^ a b Whiting, Robert (6 June 2005). "Lost in Translation". Sports Illustrated. Vol. 102 no. 23. Time.
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  12. ^ a b c "New teams choose 107 players in distribution draft". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. 9 November 2004. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  13. ^ Sakai, Takayuki (11 April 2016). "【あの時・楽天屈辱からの日本一】(3)田尾解任、野村退任の真相" [Best in Japan from Rakuten disgrace at the time (3) The truth of Tao's dismissal and Nomura's retirement]. Sports Hochi (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
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  21. ^ "9/3(火)初代監督・田尾安志氏来場!2005年の創設メンバーが集結!" [9/3 (Tues) The first manager, Yasushi Tao, is here! The 2005 founding members come together!] (in Japanese). Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. 13 August 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  22. ^ "Eagles to release seven players". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. 28 September 2006. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  23. ^ Gallagher, Jack (6 April 2005). "Triumph in Tohoku: Staff of Eagles works miracle". The Japan Times. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  24. ^ "Rakuten Eagles not whiffing -- at profit". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. 29 September 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  25. ^ Graczyk, Wayne (23 July 2006). "Marty K. still alive and well in Eagles' nest". The Japan Times. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
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  28. ^ Graczyk, Wayne (22 January 2006). "Roster of foreign players nearly complete for 2006 season". The Japan Times. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  29. ^ a b Graczyk, Wayne (23 September 2007). "Nomura deserves credit for making Eagles respectable". The Japan Times. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  30. ^ Nagatsuka, Kaz (15 November 2006). "Ogasawara, Fukudome given MVP awards for 2006 season". The Japan Times. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  31. ^ "Guttormson pitches no-hitter for Yakult". The Japan Times. 26 May 2006. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  32. ^ "2006年度 公式戦成績" [2006 Official Results] (in Japanese). Nippon Professional Baseball. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  33. ^ "Tanaka tapped". The Japan Times. 26 September 2006. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  34. ^ "Yamasaki wins PL MVP award". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. 6 June 2007. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  35. ^ "Rakuten dominates All-Star voting". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. 3 July 2007. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  36. ^ "【ノムさん語録】「月見草」「ID野球」「マー君、神の子、不思議な子」…". Sankei Sports (in Japanese). 2 February 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  37. ^ "2007 Japan Pacific League Batting Leaders". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  38. ^ Coskrey, Jason (10 March 2008). "Pair of rookie hurlers could make big impact for their teams this season". The Japan Times. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  39. ^ Graczyk, Wayne (6 January 2008). "Hara, Giants should have it easy with stacked roster in 2008". The Japan Times. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  40. ^ a b Coskrey, Jason (22 November 2008). "Iwakuma, Ramirez earn MVP honors". The Japan Times. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  41. ^ Coskrey, Jason (12 September 2008). "Stellar in Sendai: Iwakuma bright spot for lowly Eagles". The Japan Times. Retrieved 22 September 2020.