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Japan Baseball

Powered by major leaguers Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka, Japan won the first World Baseball Classic in 2006, showing it deserves to be considered among the top baseball countries in the world. Matsuzaka, now with the Red Sox, was crowned the Classic MVP after compiling a 3-0 record with a 1.38 ERA.

In international competition, Japan has won medals in three of the last four Olympic Games, taking a silver medal in 1996 and bronze medals in 1992 and 2004. In 2005 and 2006, Japan also won the first two Konami Cup Asia Series, a round-robin tournament among the winners of the professional leagues of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, and a team of China baseball All-Stars.

According to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, baseball was introduced to Japanese students by Horace Wilson, a professor of English and mathematics at Tokyo University, in 1872. It continued to grow in popularity among high school and college students into the twentieth century. In 1931 and 1934, all-star teams headed by American legends Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth played a series of games against local teams in Japan. In 1936, a five team Japanese professional league was organized, which was discontinued eight years later due to World War II. After the war, baseball resumed play at both the school and professional levels. In 1950, a two league system developed—the Central and Pacific leagues—leading up to the first Japan Series between the two league winners.

Each league currently consists of 6 teams, known by their corporate owners or sponsors rather than, as in the United States, the cities or regions they play in. Currently, the Pacific League plays a 136-game schedule and the Central League plays 146 games, with 36 inter-league games, culminating in a playoffs and the 7-game Japan Series. Notable differences from play in the United States are that the strike zone is generally larger, the ball slightly smaller and wound tighter, and a game ends in a draw if the scored is still tied after 12 innings. Each team is limited to three foreigners. As can be seen in the video below, Japanese fans are often louder and more animated than those in the states:

Sadaharu Oh amassed a total of 868 home runs over 22 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, surpassing Hank Aaron’s record 755 home runs in 1977. Oh also led the Central League in batting 5 times, won 2 triple crowns, and 9 league MVP awards. Oh still holds the Japan single season home run record at 55, which has been challenged by Randy Bass’s 54 homers in 1985 and tied by Tuffy Rhodes in 2001 and Alex Cabrera in 2002. When these players faced teams managed by Oh late in the season, pitchers refused to throw hittable pitches to them to preserve Oh’s record. Although some dispute his home run crown because of Japan’s smaller ballparks, Oh’s 868 home runs remains the world record.

In 1987, Sachio Kinugasa of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp played in his 2,131st consecutive game, surpassing Lou Gehrig’s record, on his way to 2,214 straight games. Kinugasa’s mark later was passed by Cal Ripken, Jr., who went on to play in 2,632 games in a row for the Baltimore Orioles.

Since Masanori Murakami debuted with the San Francisco Giants in 1964, there have been 34 Japanese-born players in the major leagues through 2006, including such stars as Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, and Ichiro Suzuki. But the exchange of players between the United States and Japan has not been a one-way street. After his career with the Dodgers ended, pitcher Don Newcombe’s debut in 1962 started a long-line of major leaguers to play in Japan. Other major leaguers who have played in Japan include Larry Doby, Frank Howard, Bill Madlock, Bob Horner, Cecil Fielder, Kevin Mitchell, and Alfonso Soriano. Randy Bass holds the highest single-season batting average in Japan with a .389 average in 1986.

Despite the popularity of professional baseball, the most popular baseball event in Japan is the All-Japan High School Baseball Tournament. Founded in 1915, the tournament consists of regional finalists from local tournaments involving more than 4,000 schools. It regularly draws almost a million spectators to Hanshin Koshien Baseball Stadium near Osaka each August. Widely considered the best pitcher in Japan when the Red Sox signed him in 2006, Daisuke (pronounced “Dice-K”) Matsuzaka first earned national fame in this Koshien tournament when he threw an astonishing 250 pitches for Yokohama High School over 17 innings in a complete game victory over powerhouse PL Gakuen. Two days later in the final game, he had 11 strikeouts in hurling a no-hitter over Kyoto Seisho. Watch his 14 strikeouts in a game on June 8, 2006 for the Seibu Lions below.


Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Official Site of the Nippon Professional Baseball League

Available for Sale

  Daisuke Matsuzaka Boston Red Sox Home White MLB Replica Jersey     The Physics of Baseball (3rd Edition)     Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game (Writing Baseball)


Players Born in Japan

Name Birthdate Birthplace First Game
Jim Bowie 2/17/1965 Tokyo 8/3/1994
Steve Chitren 6/8/1967 Tokyo 9/15/1990
Shigetoshi Hasegawa 8/1/1968 Kobe 4/5/1997
Craig House 7/8/1977 Okinawa 8/6/2000
Tadahito Iguchi 12/4/1974 Tokyo 4/4/2005
Hideki Irabu 5/15/1969 Hyogo 7/10/1997
Kazuhisa Ishii 9/9/1973 Chiba 4/6/2002
Kenji Johjima 6/8/1976 Nagasaki 4/3/2006
Takashi Kashiwada 5/14/1971 Tokyo 5/1/1997
Masao Kida 9/12/1968 Tokyo 4/5/1999
Satoru Komiyama 9/15/1965 Chiba 4/4/2002
Hideki Matsui 6/12/1974 Kanazawa 3/31/2003
Kazuo Matsui 10/23/1975 Osaka 4/6/2004
Jeff McCurry 1/21/1970 Tokyo 5/6/1995
Keith McDonald 2/8/1973 Yokosuka 7/4/2000
Masanori Murakami 5/6/1944 Otsuki 9/1/1964
Mike Nakamura 9/6/1976 Nara 6/7/2003
Norihiro Nakamura 7/24/1973 Osaka 4/10/2005
Hideo Nomo 8/31/1968 Osaka 5/2/1995
Takahito Nomura 1/10/1969 Kouchi 4/3/2002
Tomokazu Ohka 3/18/1976 Kyoto 7/19/1999
Akinori Otsuka 1/13/1972 Chiba 4/6/2004
Stephen Randolph 5/1/1974 Okinawa 3/31/2003
Dave Roberts 5/31/1972 Okinawa 8/7/1999
Takashi Saito 2/14/1970 Miyagi 4/9/2006
Kazuhiro Sasaki 2/22/1968 Sendai City 4/5/2000
Tsuyoshi Shinjo 1/28/1972 Fukuoka 4/3/2001
Ichiro Suzuki 10/22/1973 Kasugai 4/2/2001
Mac Suzuki 5/31/1975 Kobe 7/7/1996
Kazuhito Tadano 4/25/1980 Tokyo 4/27/2004
So Taguchi 7/2/1969 Hyogo Prefecture 6/10/2002
Shingo Takatsu 11/25/1968 Hiroshima 4/9/2004
Keiichi Yabu 9/28/1968 Mie 4/9/2005
Masato Yoshii 4/20/1965 Osaka 4/5/1998

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