Around the Horn

NPB Primer

With the Mariners opening the season in Tokyo and playing a couple of exhibitions against the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants beforehand—M's 2, Yomiuri 0, thank you very much—I thought it might be fun to take a look at not only those Giants, but the Japanese Majors in general. In this modern Internet age, it isn't terribly hard to follow Nippon Professional Baseball during the season, though it does help if you can read a little Japanese—at least enough for the box scores. Some games are even "televised" online, though one would have to do a little work to get around a geoblock to watch from North America.

The NPB season roughly follows the local Major League season, starting in late March/early April and continuing to October, culminating in the Japan Series for the NPB championship. The season lasts 143 games with each team playing six games per week with a day off.

The two NPB leagues, the Central League (CL) and the Pacific League (PL), each consist of six teams from cities spanning the country. Teams are heavily identified with their corporate ownership, most even using the owning company's name in the team branding. The CL, like the National League here, disdains the Designated Hitter rule, while the PL uses it. Games are limited to a maximum of 12 innings—if a score remains tied after 12, the game ends in a tie, which counts in the standings. (The stated rationale for ending after 12 innings is transportation: the Japanese depend heavily on rail transit and the trains stop running at midnight.) With ties a possibility, the Japan Series can therefore last longer than seven games, even though like the World Series it ends when one team wins four games; if a Japan Series extends to Game 8 or beyond, the extra inning limit is lifted for those games. Like the Major Leagues, NPB teams have an active roster of 25 players per game, but in a slight twist carry 28 players, three of whom are declared ineligible before game time. This rule makes it easier for the standard starting rotation to be six pitchers rather than the five customary over here; with the sixth rotation slot and a day off each week, this means NPB starting pitchers take the mound just once every seven days.

In 2004, the PL added a round of playoffs before the Japan Series, and the CL followed suit in 2007. As neither league is broken into divisions, the playoffs are held between the top three finishers from each league: the second- and third-place teams play a best two out of three playoff, the winner of which faces the first-place team in the "Climax Series," a best-of-seven series that the first-place team enters with one win already credited to them to give a substantial advantage to finishing in first place.

Other differences between NPB and MLB include the baseball itself—the NPB ball is slightly smaller and has a different surface that is slightly tackier than a Major League ball—and the fields of play, to some extent. Given the propensity for rain in the summer months all over Japan, half the teams play in domed stadiums, while half of the others utilize field turf to better withstand the wet weather. (The grass-and-dirt field in Nishinomiya's historic Koshien Stadium looks odd to American eyes because of its all-dirt infield.) Five parks have dimensions that would be too small under Major League regulations for parks built or renovated after 1958. Like in the Majors, there is a recently-adopted video replay rule allowing managers to request a review for safe/out calls and home run calls. Mascots are a bigger deal with NPB teams than they are here, and each club has a goofy cartoonish mascot used in their graphics and as a cheerleader ala the Mariner Moose.

Central League

Hiroshima Toyo Carp


Location: Hiroshima
Owner: Matsuda family and Mazda Motor Company
Home park: Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium (outdoor, grass, opened 2009)
Mascot: SLYLY, smilar to Phillie Phanatic
2018 finish: 1st
Pennants: 1975, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1991, 2017, 2018
Japan Series titles: 1979, 1980, 1984
Retired numbers: 3 (Sachi Kinugasa), 8 (Koji Yamamoto), 15 (Hiroki Kuroda)
Mariner connections: Pitcher Casey Lawrence, a Mariner in 2018, now plays for the Carp.
MLB connections: Several Major Leaguers have played for Hiroshima, including Alfonso Soriano, Colby Lewis, and Hiroki Kuroda.

The Carp are the reigning CL champs, finishing 82-59-2 and defeating the Yomiuri Giants in the Climax Series. Established when Japanese pro baseball split into two leagues in 1949, the Carp have always called Hiroshima home. Hiroshima joined the new Central League as part of their reconstruction and recovery effort after World War II and the atomic bombing of that city. The club was municipally owned until purchased by the Matsuda family, who also established the Toyo Kogyo automotive company, which has since become the Mazda Motor Company. The Matsudas still own the club with Toyo/Mazda as a minority shareholder.

Currently, they boast a roster featuring power-hitting outfielder Seiya Suzuki and slick-fielding second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi. Kikuchi has declared an intention to play in the Majors in 2020.


Tokyo Yakult Swallows


Location: Tokyo, Shinjuku area
Owner: Yakult Beverage Co.
Home park: Meiji Jingu Stadium (outdoor, field turf, opened 1926)
Mascot: Tsubakuro, a red-faced swallow
2018 finish: 2nd
Pennants: 1978, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2015
Japan Series titles: 1978, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001
Retired numbers: 1 (Tsutomo Wakamatsu), 8 (Katsuo Osugi), 27 (Atsuya Furuta)
Mariner connections: Former Mariner Norichika Aoki played for the Swallows for eight years before coming to the Majors and returned to play for them again in 2018.
MLB connections: Major Leaguers that have donned the Yakult uniform include Joe Pepitone, Charlie Manuel, Bob Horner, Floyd Banister, Rex Hudler, Hensley Meulens, Masato Yoshii, Shingo Takatsu, Kazuhisa Ishii, Akinori Iwamura, Tony Barnette, and Aoki.

The Swallows have been around from the inception of the Central League, always in Tokyo and always subservient in the cultural hierarchy to Tokyo's other squad, the Yomiuri Giants. Originally the Kokutetsu Swallows, they were first owned by the Japanese National Railway ("Kokutetsu") before changing hands and becoming the Sankei Atoms, owned by the Sankei newspaper. Probiotic milk maker Yakult bought the team in 1970 and returned the Swallows name to the club in 1974. It might seem funny to name a team owned by a milk company the "swallows," but the nickname refers to the bird rather than than the bodily function.

The Swallows fell to their more-beloved citymates the Giants in the first round of last year's playoffs. Their current roster includes Tetsuto Yamada, the 2015 CL MVP and first player to ever lead the league in both homers and stolen bases. In Game 3 of that year's Japan Series, Yamada hit home runs in three consecutive at-bats.


Yomiuri Giants


Location: Tokyo
Owner: Yomiuri Shimbun
Home park: Tokyo Dome (indoor, field turf, opened 1988)
Mascot: Gabbit, an orange rabbit
2018 finish: 3rd
Pennants: 1951-53, 1955-59, 1961, 1963, 1965-73, 1976-77, 1981, 1983, 1987, 1989-90, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2008-09, 2012-14
Japan Series titles: 1951-53, 1955, 1961, 1963, 1965-73, 1981, 1989, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2009, 2012
Retired numbers: 1 (Sadaharu Oh), 3 (Shigeo Nagashima), 4 (Toshio Kurosawa), 14 (Eiji Sawamura), 16 (Tetsuharu Kawakami), 34 (Masaichi Kaneda)
Mariner connections: Mariners past that have played for the Giants include Phil Bradley and Roberto Petagine. Former Mariner pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is on the current Giants roster.
MLB connections: Many ex-Major Leaguers have suited up for the Giants over the years; the most notable Giants to shift the other way, to MLB, are Hideki Matsui, Koji Uehara, and Hideki Okajima.

Often called the Japanese Yankees, the Giants are the oldest professional baseball club in Japan, having existed since 1934. Then known as The Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club, they played against American touring All-Stars and in an independent league before the 1936 formation of the first true Japanese professional baseball league, which they joined as the Tokyo Kyojin ("giants"; Major Leaguer Lefty O'Doul is credited with first dubbing the team the Giants during one of the All-Star tours). For much of their existence they have been the dominating team of their league, winning nine JBL titles and 36 Central League pennants. Owned by the Yomiuri media conglomerate since 1947, the Giants' influence is vast. Like the Yankees, the Giants are popular throughout the country and are generally hated by fans of other CL teams.

Today's Giants are led by pitching ace Tomoyuki Sugano, the 2014 CL MVP and two-time Sawamura Award winner. Sugano pitched a no-hitter against the Swallows in the 2018 playoffs. Sugano had initially been drafted by another team, but instead took a year off from baseball in order to re-enter the draft the next year in hopes of being taken by the Giants. Other notables for Yomiuri include shortstop Hayato Sakamoto and infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima, who in 2013 and '14 tried to break into the Majors with the Oakland A's, but played both seasons in the minors.


Yokohama DeNA BayStars


Location: Yokohama
Owner: DeNA e-commerce corporation
Home park: Yokohama Stadium (outdoors, field turf, opened 1978)
Mascot: D.B. Starman
2018 finish: 4th
Pennants: 1960, 1998, 2017
Japan Series titles: 1960, 1998
Retired numbers: none
Mariner connections: The BayStars were the original team of ex-Mariner closer Kazuhiro Sasaki; since 2015, it has also been the team of former Mariner second baseman José López.
MLB connections: Notables to come from Yokohama to the Majors include Yuri Gurriel, Tomokazu Ohka, and Takashi Saito.

Originally based in Shimonoseki, in southwestern Honshu, the franchise was then known as the Taiyo Whales, owned by the Taiyo fishing company. In 1953, the team merged with the disbanding Shochiku Robins and became the Yo-Sho Robins, based in Osaka. That lasted a brief two years and the team reclaimed the Taiyo Whales name and moved to Kawasaki. Yokohama lured the club to that city in 1978 and the team added Yokohama to their official name to reflect the new home. The Taiyo company became the Maruha Corporation in 1992, but rather than change the team's name from Taiyo to Maruha, the club took the unusual step of dropping the sponsor name from their branding altogether and began calling themselves the Yokohama BayStars to distance the team from bad press about Maruha's whaling practice. Maruha sold the team to the DeNA mobile phone and software company in 2011.

The BayStars are currently led by 27-year-old slugging left fielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who in over 3,400 NPB plate appearances has a career OBP of .381 while bashing 176 homers.


Chunichi Dragons


Location: Nagoya
Owner: Chunichi Shimbun
Home park: Nagoya Dome (indoors, Astroturf, opened 1997)
Mascot: Doala the Koala
2018 finish: 5th
Pennants: 1954, 1974, 1982, 1988, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011
Japan Series titles: 1954, 2007
Retired numbers: 10 (Tsugohiro Hattori), 15 (Michio Nishizawa)
Mariner connections: Onetime Mariner infielder Darnell Coles played for the Dragons in 1996; former M's farmhand Alonzo Powell joined the Dragons in 1992.
MLB connections: Kosuke Fukudome, Wei-Yin Chen, Leo Gomez, and Akinori Otsuka all played for the Dragons at one time or another. Ex-Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka now pitches for the Dragons as well.

In the US the Dragons are best known as the team Tom Selleck played for in the movie "Mr. Baseball," but in Japan they are the pride of Nagoya. A pro team since 1936, the Dragons have been based in Nagoya from the start and owned by the Chunichi newspaper since 1946, competing first in the nascent Japanese Baseball League and then in the Central League upon the formation of NPB. Until they won the Japan Series in 2007, the Dragons had suffered the longest drought between championships in NBP history; they did it after finishing second that season and defeating the first-place Yomiuri Giants in the Climax Series to win the pennant.

The Dragons' roster currently features All-Star right fielder Ryosuke Hirata, a rare power hitter that doesn't strike out, and former Kansas City pitcher Onelki Garcia, who went 13-9 with a 2.99 ERA for Chunichi last year.


Hanshin Tigers


Location: Nishinomiya
Owner: Hanshin Railway
Home park: Koshien Stadium (outdoors, grass/dirt, opened 1924)
Mascot: Toh Lucky (lucky tiger)
2018 finish: 6th
Pennants: 1962, 1964, 1985, 2003, 2005
Japan Series titles: 1985
Retired numbers: 10 (Fumio Fujimura), 11 (Minoru Murayama), 23 (Yoshio Yoshida)
Mariner connections: Former Mariner catcher Kenji Johjima played for Hanshin after leaving Seattle. Ex-Mariners Darnell Coles, Mike Blowers, Andy Sheets, and Alonzo Powell have all been Tigers.
MLB connections: Lots of MLB players have been with Hanshin, including Cecil Fielder, Ryan Vogelsong, Glenn Davis, and Marvell Wynne. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Kei Igawa, and Seung-hwan Oh all played for Hanshin before coming to the Majors.

Born in 1936 as the Osaka Tigers, the club won four Japanese Baseball League titles before the advent of NPB in 1950. Since then, they've become the second-most popular team in Japan despite a legacy of losing. Sometimes thought of as Japan's answer to the Chicago Cubs because of their years of failure as well as their ancient ballpark, Koshien Stadium, the Tigers were the only team in the 2000s to draw 3,000,000+ fans to their games (and they did it four times). Though called the Osaka Tigers until 1961, their home park of Koshien is in the town of Nishinomiya, roughly halfway between the cities of Osaka and Kobe in the Kansai region. The name Hanshin refers to the area between the two large cities and is written with one kanji character from the word Osaka and one from the word Kobe. In addition to the railway that owns the club, a department store chain and highway network also go by the Hanshin name.

 The Tigers' one NPB championship came in 1985, and long-suffering Tiger fans celebrated by getting people who resembled Tiger players to jump into the Dotonbori canal in Osaka; since no available fans resembled American star first baseman Randy Bass, a group lifted a statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken eatery and chucked it into the canal. After more subsequent seasons of futility it was said that the Tigers were plagued by the Curse of the Colonel, and would never again win a championship until the Colonel Sanders statue was removed from the river. Workers constructing a new boardwalk retrieved pieces of the statue in 2009 and the reassembled statue now resides in a KFC headquarters in Yokohama. When Hanshin returned to the Japan Series in 2003, KFCs in the Kansai region moved their Colonel Sanders figures indoors to protect them from Tiger fans in case the team won (they didn't).


Pacific League


Saitama Seibu Lions


Location: Tokorozawa (suburban Tokyo)
Owner: Seibu Holdings
Home park: MetLife Seibu Dome (covered open air, field turf, opened 1979)
Mascot: Leo & Lena Lion
2018 finish: 1st
Pennants: 1954, 1956-58, 1963, 1982-83, 1985-88, 1990-94, 1997-98, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2018
Japan Series titles: 1956-58 ,1982-83, 1986-88, 1990-92, 2004, 2008
Retired numbers: 24 (Kasuhisa Inao)
Mariner connections: New Mariner pitcher Yusei Kikuchi was a star for the Lions, playing for them from 2011-2018. M's pitcher Wade LeBlanc played for Seibu in 2015.
MLB connections: Major Leaguers coming from Seibu include Orestes Destrade, Kazuo Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Kazuhisa Ishii. Going the other direction have been Alex Cabrera, Steve Ontiveros, Darren Jackson, Tony Fernández, and Ty Van Burkleo.

A founding member of the Pacific League, the Lions began existence as the Nishitetsu Clippers in Fukuoka. After their first season, they merged with the failed Nishi-Nippon Pirates franchise and were renamed the Nishitetsu Lions. Owned by the Nishi-Nippon Railroad, the club sold sponsorship rights in 1973 to golf course developer Taiheiyo and they were known for four years as the Taiheiyo Club Lions; sponsorship was bought by Crown Gas Lighter in 1977 and they were the Crown Lighter Lions for two years. After the '78 season, the club was sold to the Kokudo company, which merged with Prince Hotels, a subsidiary of the Seibu Group. Seibu moved the team to a new covered stadium in Tokorozawa, outside of Tokyo.

In their first year as the Seibu Lions, the team finished in last place, something that has yet to happen again. In the 1980s and '90s, they were known as "Invincible Seibu," a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut in the PL that won 13 pennants. Since then they have been contenders more often than not, missing the playoffs only five times since playoffs were established in 2005.

Currently, the Lions lack star power with the loss of Yusei Kikuchi to the Majors, though 31-year-old outfielder Shogo Akiyama is an excellent player and leads the Lions' pack with a career line of .300/.373/.451 over his nine NPB seasons.


Fukuoka Softbank Hawks


Location: Fukuoka
Owner: Softbank
Home park: Fukuoka Yahuoku Dome (retractable roof, field turf, opened 1993)
Mascot: A family of cartoon Hawks, led by Harry Hawk
2018 finish: 2nd
Pennants: 1951-53, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1964-66, 1973, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2010-11, 2014-15, 2017-18
Japan Series titles: 1959, 1964, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2014-15, 2017-18
Retired numbers: none
Mariner connections: Munenori Kawasaki, Kenji Johjima, and Dae-ho Lee were all Hawks before becoming Mariners. Kevin Mitchell was a problem child for the Hawks after leaving the Mariners, and Jolbert Cabrera had a good year and a half in Fukuoka following his season as a Mariner. Recent Mariner Ariel Miranda currently pitches for the Hawks.
MLB connections: Others to play for the Hawks and in the Major Leagues include Don Buford, Don Blasingame, Tony Bernazard, Willie Upshaw, Goose Gossage, Kevin Reimer, Bobby Thigpen, Wily Mo Peña, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tadahito Iguchi, Tony Batista, and Alex Cabrera.

The Hawks' roots go back to 1938, when as a member of the Japanese Baseball League they were known simply as Nankai, after the team's owner, Nankai Electric Railway. They adopted the name Hawks in 1947 and joined the PL as a charter member in 1950, with Osaka as their home town. Nankai won ten pennants in the 1950s and '60s, then fell on hard times in the ’70s. By the late '80s, Nankai found their investment in baseball to be past its usefulness and sold the club to the Daiei supermarket chain in 1988. Daiei moved the club to Fukuoka, which had been without a team since the Lions left in 1978, where they found solvency if not success on the field. Things turned around for them after Daiei hired NPB home run hero Sadaharu Oh to manage the Hawks, which he did from 1995-2008. In 1999 the Hawks won their first pennant in 26 years and first Japan Series championship since 1964.

Daiei was forced by economic concerns to sell the Hawks in 2005, and the club was acquired by the Softbank conglomerate. Softbank made the team the richest in the PL and they have been among the top NPB teams ever since. Current Hawks include veteran All-Star Seiichi Uchikawa, Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne, and walk machine outfielder Akira Nakamura. 

The Hawks were the team that sent the first NPB player to the big leagues when they arranged for three players to be loaned to the San Francisco Giants organization as "exchange students." One of them, Masanori Murakami, appeared in 54 games for San Francisco in 1964 and '65.


Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters


Location: Sapporo
Owner: Nippon Ham Foods
Home park: Sapporo Dome (indoors, Astroturf, opened 2001)
Mascot: Frep the Fox
2018 finish: 3rd
Pennants: 1962, 1981, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2006, 2016
Japan Series titles: 1962, 2006, 2016
Retired numbers: 100 (former Chairman Yoshinori Ohkoso)
Mariner connections: None
MLB connections: Current MLBers Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish are former Fighters, as are Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Hideki Okajima.

Founded in 1946 as the Tokyo Senators of the JBL, the club quickly was sold and became the Tokyu Flyers. The Flyers joined the PL for its first year in 1950 and the Tokyu company sold them to Toei Industries. The Flyers had just one championship in the Toei years, in 1962, and were sold in 1973 to a real estate company. They became the Nittaku Home Flyers for a single season before being purchased by the Nippon Ham meatpacking company.

Nippon Ham abandoned the Flyers name in favor of the similar-sounding but easier-to-pronounce Fighters ("Fai-tahs"). At this point and continuing until 2003, the Fighters shared a ballpark with the Yomiuri Giants, who commanded far more attention and prestige. Even in contending seasons, the Fighters were afterthoughts to the intimidating presence of the Kyojin, and also shared the Tokyo megalopolis with the Yakult Swallows and the nearby Seibu Lions. So when an opportunity to relocate came up, the Fighters took it, beating the Lions to the punch, and have achieved great success as the northernmost team in NPB. Playing in the Sapporo Dome since 2004 with a regional identity representing all of Hokkaido Island, Hokkaido's Fighters by 2005 were drawing more fans than any other PL team except the Hawks and in 2006 won their first championship in Hokkaido. 

The Fighters today are led by eight-time All-Star outfielder Sho Nakata, catcher/infielder Kensuke Kondo, pitcher Naoyuki Uwasawa, and ex-Texas Ranger pitcher Nick Martinez.


Orix Buffaloes


Location: Osaka
Owner: Orix Financial Services Group
Home park: Kyocera Osaka Dome (indoors, field turf, opened 1997)
Mascot: Buffalo Bull
2018 finish: 4th
Pennants: 1967-69, 1971, 1972, 1975-78, 1984, 1995, 1996
Japan Series titles: 1975-77, 1996
Retired numbers: none
Mariner connections: Ichiro was the star player for the Orix BlueWave, a predecessor team to the Orix Buffaloes. Shigetoshi Hasegawa also played for the BlueWave before coming to the Majors, and ex-Mariner Yuniesky Betancourt played a year with the Buffaloes. Onetime M's farmhand Stefen Romero has been with Orix since 2017.
MLB connections: Major Leaguers who also played for either the Buffaloes or the BlueWave include Hideo Nomo, Masao Kida, So Taguchi, Tuffy Rhodes, Chan Ho Park, and Ryan Vogelsong.

The Buffaloes are both an old and a new team in the Pacific League. The current team was formed by a merger of two former teams, the Orix BlueWave, based in Kobe, and the Kintetsu Buffaloes, based in Osaka, following the 2004 season. Kintetsu was cash-strapped and Orix was just treading water in the smaller market of Kobe, prompting the purchase of the Buffaloes by Orix and the merging of the teams. (This created a need for a new sixth team in the PL, which resulted in the expansion birth of the Rakuten Golden Eagles.) Orix claimed the Osaka market as its own and retained the Buffaloes nickname Osaka had been cheering since 1959. The modern Buffaloes play some home games in the former BlueWave city of Kobe with the majority at the Osaka Dome.

The original Buffaloes were a charter member of the PL, owned by the Kintetsu Railway. The Kintetsu Buffaloes were among the first NPB clubs to sign foreigners, first adding Americans Glenn Mickens, a former Brooklyn Dodger, and Ron Bottler, a former US minor leaguer, in 1959. Kintetsu was never a strong team on the field, winning only four pennants (1979, 1980, 1989, and 2001) and no NPB championships. American player Tuffy Rhodes became a superstar for the Buffaloes, playing eight years for the club and becoming responsible for a change in the NPB roster rules—NPB clubs were until 1998 permitted three foreign players on the roster, four since then, but now any foreign player to have nine years of service in NPB is no longer counted against the limit. Informally known as the "Tuffy Rhodes rule." Rhodes would play for Yomiuri for two seasons before returning to the new Buffaloes in 2007.

The BlueWave, meanwhile, began life as the Hankyu Braves, one of the first professional baseball clubs in Japan. With the formation of NPB, they joined the PL and operated out of Nishinomiya as a property of the Hanshin-Kyukyo Railway. The Braves were a perennial contender for most of their days, particularly in the 1960s and '70s. In 1988 Hankyu sold the club to Orient Lease, which would become known as the Orix Group. For three more years they remained in Nishinomiya as the Orix Braves, then the club moved to nearby Kobe and a superior ballpark, Kobe Green Stadium. With their new name of BlueWave, the Orix club would find great success with the arrival of Ichiro Suzuki in 1994. In seven full seasons with the BlueWave, Ichiro would win seven batting titles with an aggregate line of .353/.421/.522 and Orix would claim pennants in 1995 and '96.

The current Buffaloes include star outfielder Masataka Yoshida and strikeout pitcher Yuki Nishi.


Chiba Lotte Marines


Location: Chiba
Owner: Lotte Multinational Holdings
Home park: ZOZO Marine Stadium (outdoors, field turf, opened 1990)
Mascot: "Mystery Fish"
2018 finish: 5th
Pennants: 1950, 1960, 1970, 1974, 2005, 2010
Japan Series titles: 1950, 1974, 2005, 2010
Retired numbers: none
Mariner connections: Former Seattle manager Jim Lefebvre played for Lotte from 1973-1976.
MLB connections: Ex-Major Leaguer Bobby Valentine managed the Marines twice, in 1995 and from 2004-09; others to play in Chiba and in the Majors include Benny Agbayani, Darryl Motley, Julio Franco, Mel Hall, Pete Incaviglia, and Hideki Irabu.

Created in 1950 as a charter member of the Pacific League, the Marines were first known as the Mainichi Orions, playing in central Tokyo. on 1969 they were acquired by the Lotte company and became the Lotte Orions, and in 1973 moved to the city of Sendai. The Tohoku city couldn't maintain them, though, and they returned to greater Tokyo in 1978 playing in Kawasaki, where they stayed until 1991. The next year they moved into waterfront Chiba Marine Stadium in Chiba City on the other side of Tokyo Bay and became the Marines.

Never a consistent contender, the Marines have only had sporadic successes and suffer from an inhospitable home, often playing in foggy conditions. Currently the club is managed by former Major Leaguer Tadahito Iguchi.

Recently the Marines have gotten more attention for the antics of their new mascot than the baseball being played. "Mystery Fish" is supposed to be an anglerfish that has...swallowed a person? Anyway, it's this.


Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles


Location: Sendai, Tohoku region
Owner: Rakuten internet retailer
Home park: Miyagi Baseball Stadium (outdoors, grass, opened 1950)
Mascot: Clutch the Eagle
2018 finish: 5th
Pennants: 2013
Japan Series titles: 2013
Retired numbers: none
Mariner connections: Hisashi Iwakuma made his name as a star for the Golden Eagles before coming to Seattle. Former Mariners Travis Blackley and Carlos Peguero have also suited up for the Sendai club, and ex-Mariner farmhand Jabari Blash is a current member of the team.
MLB connections: Others to play for the Golden Eagles and an MLB squad include Kevin Youkilis, Andruw Jones, and Takashi Saito. Masahiro Tanaka was also a Golden Eagle before becoming a Yankee. 

The Golden Eagles were born of necessity. After the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes merged operations, only five teams were left in the Pacific League. This was a crisis moment for NPB, and the initial solution was to be a contraction into a single league with ten teams. This was not a popular idea among fans or among Central League teams. The CL clubs—except the Yomiuri Giants—banded together to oppose the proposal, and the argument made its way into national politics. Meanwhile, players for the BlueWave and Buffaloes were none too happy as half of them were apparently going to lose their jobs, and soon players from other teams joined them in registering official opposition to merging the leagues. When the Orix/Kintetsu merger was declared official, the players went on strike—the first work stoppage in NPB history and an unusual approach in Japanese culture. The players' union filed legal action trying to prevent the merger. Eventually, internet company Livedoor, which had previously tried to buy the Buffaloes, announced it would form a new professional team and apply to join the Pacific League. Internet retailer Rakuten thought that sounded good and also proposed forming a new team. Both companies thought Sendai was the best place to locate. After an intense period of competition, NPB selected Rakuten's proposal and the Golden Eagles were born, saving Japanese baseball from disaster.

The initial roster of the club was made up of those left out of the Kintetsu/Orix merger from the new Orix Buffaloes team, among them Hisashi Iwakuma. The current squad includes star pitcher Takayuki Kishi and veteran infielder Toshiaki Imae.



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