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Who are the Yomiuri Giants?

The most dominant franchise in Nippon Professional Baseball history, the Yomiuri Giants are termed the New York Yankees of Japanese baseball. Read on to discover who they are and how they reached the pinnacle of Japanese Baseball.

Origin of the Giants

Matsutaro Shoriki
Matsutaro Shoriki, the founder of the Yomiuri Giants – 朝日新聞社 / Public domain

The Yomiuri Giants were founded in 1934 by Matsutaro Shoriki, known as the father of Japanese professional baseball. The Giant’s original team name was the Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Club, which played in a league called The Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club. In 1936, the Japanese Baseball League was formed, where the team became known as the Tokyo Giants, where they won eight league championships from 1936 to 1943, including six in a row.

The owner of the Yomiuri Giants, Matsutaro Shoriki additionally owned the Yomiuri Shimbun, a newspaper in Japan that is recognized as the most comprehensive newspaper in the world. Shoriki also founded Japan’s first mass-produced TV channel, Nippon Television Network Corporation.

Tokyo Giants team photo from 1936
Tokyo Giants team photo from 1936 – Credit: https://www.sportscollectorsdaily.com/1930s-tokyo-giants-signed-photo-hits-block/

Shoriki became the original commissioner of the NPB in 1949, where he was credited with establishing the Japan Series. In 1959, Shoriki became the first member inducted into the Japanse Baseball Hall of Fame. Due to the importance Matsutaro Shoriki had on Japanese baseball, Nippon Professional Baseball designated an award after him, which is given to the person who contributes the utmost to Japanese baseball each year.

The Tokyo Dome 

Tokyo Dome - Homeplate view
Tokyo Dome – Homeplate view – Credit: https://www.stevenonthemove.com/yomiuri-giants/

The Yomiuri Giants have called the Tokyo Dome home since it opened on March 17, 1988, where it became Japan’s first indoor baseball stadium. With the installation of the Tokyo Dome, the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame relocated to the stadium the same year, where it prides itself on contributing to the growth and advancement of baseball throughout Japan.

The first Major League Baseball game in Asia took place at the Tokyo Dome back in 2000 when the New York Mets played the Chicago Cubs. Since then, the Tokyo Dome has hosted four MLB series, including the New York Yankees versus Tampa Bay Rays in 2004, where Hideki Matsui, a former Yomiuri Giants legend was in the lineup for the Yankees.

Tokyo Dome at night
Tokyo Dome at night – Credit: Lukas / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

When the Tokyo Dome opened, the baseball field’s surface featured AstroTurf, which is a synthetic alternative to grass that is resistant to wear and tear, which minimizes costs for maintaining the field. In 2003, the Yomiuri Giants switched over to FieldTurf, which is also an artificial playing surface but improves upon AstroTurf, while providing a cushioned surface for the players that enhance player safety.

While the Tokyo Dome’s primary purpose was for the Yomiuri Giants, the Tokyo Dome evolved into a well-known landmark in Japan, where they also host substantial concerts and events. One week after the Tokyo Dome opened in 1988, the renowned musician Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones performed a solo show at the Tokyo Dome. The most concerts performed by one artist at the Tokyo Dome is Michael Jackson, who played 20 shows throughout his three tours in Japan.

The Babe Ruth Effect

Babe Ruth in Japan (1934)
Babe Ruth in Japan (1934) – Credit: https://japantoday.com/category/features/lifestyle/babe-ruth-the-sultan-of-swat-visits-japan#:~:text=Ruth’s%20efforts%20to%20play%20in,home%20run%20during%20the%20tour.

In 1934, Matsutaro Shoriki organized a comprehensive exhibition with major league players to grow the success of Japanese professional baseball. Legendary Major League Baseball manager Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack, was asked to build the most skilled roster possible to compete in an 18-game exhibition in Japan. Connie Mack is credited with the most extensive managerial experience in MLB history. Mack holds the record for most wins with 3,731, losses with 3,948, and games managed with 7,755. Over his 53 years of managing major league clubs, he recorded an overall win percentage of .486.

Some of the players’ Mack included on his roster were Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, and Jimmie Foxx. The games were played in stadiums throughout Japan, where a vast number of fans came out to greet the major league players, especially Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth arriving in Japan
Babe Ruth arriving in Japan – Credit: https://www.mlb.com/cut4/photo-ruth-gets-warm-welcome-in-japan/c-157135980

The Americans ended up winning all 18 exhibition games versus the most experienced players Japan had to offer. 11 players from that Japan squad would be inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Over that 18 game span, Babe Ruth racked up 13 home runs, while invigorating the Japanese fans. Because the 1934 Japan Tour was successful, it led to the creation of The Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club.

Babe Ruth remains a prominent sports figure throughout Japan, where he is recognized as an ambassador for the game. Roughly 68 years after Babe Ruth hit his first home run during the exhibition, Japan created a statue of Babe Ruth in Yagiyama Zoological Park in Sendai City in 2002.

The Giants Dominance of NPB

Outside of the Tokyo Dome
Outside of the Tokyo Dome – Credit: https://www.tsunagujapan.com/6-ways-to-enjoy-tokyo-dome/

Since the inauguration of Nippon Professional Baseball, the Yomiuri Giants have captured 22 Japan Series titles, while securing 35 Central League pennants. The most prolific dynasty in NPB history occurred from 1965 to 1973, where the Giants dominated the league, where they won nine consecutive Japan Series.

While most Nippon Professional Baseball teams don’t have the capital to negotiate with top free agents, the Yomiuri Giants can sign some of the best free agents in Japan. However, while the team has the money to sign any player they desire, they sometimes spend it rather foolishly while giving players overvalued contracts or signing foreign players that don’t match the franchise’s needs. During the Amateur Draft each year, the Yomiuri Giants can sign the most skilled amateur players due to the “reverse designation” draft system where college players are entitled to indicate the franchise they wish to join.

The Seattle Mariners played the Yomiuri Giants of Japan in an exhibition game Sunday, March 17, 2019 at the Tokyo Dome in Japan
The Seattle Mariners played the Yomiuri Giants of Japan in an exhibition game Sunday, March 17, 2019 at the Tokyo Dome in Japan – Credit: https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/mariners/photos-mariners-play-yomiuri-giants-in-tokyo-exhibition/

On top of the fact that the Yomiuri Giants are the wealthiest team, players are influenced to play for the Giants because they are the only team in Nippon Professional Baseball where each game is televised throughout Japan. The team also receives more press than any other club because it owns three newspapers that are controlled by the same company that owns the Yomiuri Giants.

Because the Yomiuri Giants control the media, they have been successful at marketing the team as “Japan’s Team” to the people of Japan. For years, the franchise featured Tokyo on their uniforms, instead of the titles Yomiuri or Giants, which suggested the team represents all of Tokyo. Due to this improper marketing technique, members of other organizations and people throughout Japan have a movement designated the “anti-Giants” movement, which raises the tension of the game when anyone plays the Giants, which builds an intense atmosphere for both players and fans.

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