I missed Saturday’s news post with so much to do at the day job, and Sunday was much the same, so I’m going to take a different tack today, and talk about an important anniversary, in what is being touted as the important 150th anniversary of baseball’s introduction to Japan, although it’s an anniversary Nippon Professional Baseball prefers you not know about.
It’s the kind of post I tend to reserve as paid content, but I suspect you’ll like it.
We also had games on Saturday and Sunday, when the Yakult Swallows and Yomiuri Giants completed a slug fest series. We also had a record for Japanese home run hitters, and some coronavirus news so let’s get to it.
Happy 99th birthday pro baseball
I didn’t know this until Friday, when I got to the library at the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time in years, but last Tuesday was an important anniversary in Japanese baseball history, but not one NPB wants you to know about.
NPB, of course, is touting this year as the 150th anniversary of Horace Wilson translating the baseball’s Knickerbocker rules and teaching them to his students at Tokyo’s Kaisei Gakuen. The school, which went on to become the University of Tokyo, became a baseball hotbed, and its English language branch, the first higher school of Tokyo, made the sport popular throughout the nation.
Wilson was not alone in his efforts. Other educators were doing the same elsewhere in Japan and may have even done it before Wilson, with Samuel Hepburn, whose father created the Hepburn romanization method for transcribing Japanese in the Roman alphabet, considered a candidate to have done God’s work even before Wilson got around to it.
Anyway, Wilson likely began teaching the game in 1872, and that year is the basis for this year’s anniversary. The poster NPB puts out has a timeline with a number of important milestone dates in the game’s development in Japan.
It includes 1894, the first time baseball was called “yakyu” in Japan, and 1910 when the new rules were officially published, 1915, when the national middle school tournament, currently the summer high school tourney, began, 1934, when Babe Ruth toured Japan, and 1936, when seven teams played in the first official league games.
This is where the lies begin.
First of all, the Tokyo Giants are listed among the first seven teams, but because they were touring in America that spring, they missed the Japan Baseball League’s first spring season. So they didn’t take part in the first pro league games.
Since 2014, the 80th anniversary of the Yomiuri Giants’ founding, NPB and Yomiuri were busy proclaiming various pro baseball 80th anniversaries up until 2016, which was of course a lie, since Japan’s first pro team, the long defunct Tokyo Undo Kyokai, was founded in 1920 with 32 “employees” in Tokyo.
The second team, also based in Tokyo was known as “Tenkatsu” taking its name from the entertainment business that sponsored it in 1921, and wanted to use pro baseball as a way of promoting its theater acts, including that of the Tenkatsu Group’s star, a female magician known as Shokokusai Tenkatsu, whose husband ran the baseball team.
Starting on June 21, 1923, the Tenkatsu club and the Nippon Undo Kyokai played the first games between pro teams in Japan over three games, the first two in Seoul, then a colony of Imperial Japan, and the last at the Undo Kyokai’s ground in Shibaura, Tokyo.
Prior to that, a troop of Japanese entertainers touring 19th-century America found a way to supplement their revenue by learning how to play baseball and staging exhibitions for money, making them Japan’s first “pro” team.
Unlike the patently fraudulent pro baseball 80th-anniversary claims, NPB’s 150th anniversary poster, artfully dodges this inconvenient truth by labeling 1936 as the first “official league” games, since the genius of the Giants’ founder Matsutaro Shoriki was not creating a team, but creating a league for his team to play in.
Of course, this should come as no surprise, since pro baseball is 100 percent about promotion, and if anything can be promoted and sold, then the truth will often take a back seat, the way MLB celebrates “Jackie Robinson Day” as the day when one man’s courageous journey helped drag baseball out of the racist segregation.
MLB doesn’t dwell on the fact that discrimination remains a huge issue, and that MLB had championed racial segregation for decades because of its cowardice. That’s not stuff you can put on a T-shirt and sell, so MLB has no use for it.
The weekend games
Giants at Swallows: The Giants exacted a 19-5 pound of flesh on Saturday from Yakult after getting their butts kicked on Friday. And it looked for all intents and purposes like the Giants had figured out how to take advantage of Yakult’s first-strike capability by going after every first pitch in the zone on both days.
This worked on Saturday, when they hammered out six early runs against Cy Sneed (4-2) and on Sunday when they took a 5-1 lead against Andrew Suarez. On Saturday, the Swallows’ middle relievers coughed up a week’s worth runs over four innings. On Sunday, Swallows rookie Reiji Kozawa pitched out of a no-out bases-loaded jam in the third to right the ship and Yakult came back to win the see-saw game 11-10, clinching it on Munetaka Murakami’s third homer of the series, a three-run, eighth-inning tiebreaker.
Scott McGough, pitching for the first time in over a week, allowed two runs before tying Giants rookie Taisei Ota for the league lead with his 22nd save.
The Swallows’ series win was their 12th straight and left the Giants 11 games out with just a one-game lead over the Hiroshima Carp.
Carp at BayStars: After shutting out DeNA 7-0 on Friday, the Carp continued on to a series sweep, scraping out a 5-4 win Saturday after overcoming a 2-0 deficit in a five-run third.
On Sunday, Ryan McBroom had four hits, including a two-run sixth-inning double that overturned DeNA’s first-inning lead, but Ryoji Kuribayashi blew a one-run save opportunity before Ryutaro Hatsuki doubled and scored the winning run in the 10th in a 4-3 win.
Dragons at Tigers: Masashi Ito (4-2) juggled nine hits and stranded a ton of Dragons runners over eight innings in a 10-0 win with Yusuke Oyama reaching base four times, scoring twice and driving in two.
On Sunday, the Dragons overturned a 3-0 first-inning deficit, only for reliable setup man Yariel Rodriguez to blow the visitors’ two-run eighth-inning lead. Takumu Nakano, who singled and scored in the first, singled in two in the eighth. Teruaki Sato threw out a runner at the plate to end the 10th, and Takahiro Kumagai singled in the game winner in the 11th for a 6-5 Tigers win that kept Hanshin two back of the Carp.
Buffaloes at Marines: On Saturday, Yoshinobu Yamamoto (8-3) followed his no-hitter by throwing eight shutout innings, Masataka Yoshida drove in a pair of runs in Orix’s 3-0 win and Yoshihisa Hirano needed two pitches to end the ninth with his 19th save as the Buffaloes shut out the Marines for the second straight day.
On Sunday, Kotaro Kurebayashi doubled in one run and scored the tying run for the Buffaloes in the sixth before Akito Takabe, who reached four times scored and scored once, singled in the game winner in the 12th off Jacob Waguespack (1-4).
Lions at Eagles: It was not a happy weekend for Rakuten in Sendai, where the Eagles were swept at home by the Lions. Jantzen Witte’s first home run in Japan drove in both runs in Saturday’s 2-0 win as Katsunori Hirai (4-4) and three relievers combined on a three-hit shutout.
On Sunday, Hotaka Yamakawa hit two homers, his 23rd and 24th of the year. His first made him the 113th player with 200 homers in Japan. He reached the milestone in his 697th career game, breaking the record among Japanese players for the fewest games needed to get to 200. Hall of Famers Koichi Tabuchi and Koji Akiyama both managed it in their 714th games.
Kaito Yoza (5-2) and two relievers combined on the five-hit shutout that moved Seibu to within 2-1/2 games of second place.
Fighters at Hawks: Former developmental roster guy Tomohisa Ozeki (5-3) threw a four-hitter on Saturday in a 3-0 win for his second shutout of the season–his other came against Lotte, not a big surprise.
On Sunday, 25-year-old Daigo Kamikawabata, the Fighters’ ninth draft pick last year, did everything but double. He singled, tripled, homered and walked, driving in one and scoring two, including the game-winner in the 10th as Nippon Ham won its first game since the end of interleague, 3-2.
Hawks lose 3 key players to COVID
Tsuyoshi Wada, Yurisbel Gracial and infielder Isami Nomura were all sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19 along with one staff member and first base coach Yuichi Honda. The Hawks said that at least one of the players had developed a fever, was complaining of aches.
Tuesday’s game against Lotte at Tokyo Dome is expected to go ahead as scheduled, although Wada’s place as starting pitcher will be taken by Kotaro Otake.