The Yomiuri Giants (読売ジャイアンツ Yomiuri Jaiantsu?) are a professional baseball team based in Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan. The team competes in the Central League in Nippon Professional Baseball. They play their home games in the Tokyo Dome, opened in 1988. The team's owner is the Yomiuri Group, a media conglomerate which includes two newspapers and a television network.
The Giants are the oldest team among the current Japanese professional teams. Their main rivalry is with the Hanshin Tigers, a team especially popular in the Kansai region. The Yomiuri Giants are regarded as "The New York Yankees of Japan" due to their widespread popularity, past dominance of the league, and polarizing effect on fans. (Baseball fans who feel ambivalent about teams other than their local team often have an intense dislike for the Giants; on the other hand, the Giants have a large fan base even in areas with a local team.)
The English-language press occasionally calls the team the "Tokyo Giants," but that name has not been in use in Japan for decades. (Lefty O'Doul, a former Major League Baseball player, named the team "Tokyo Giants" in the mid-1930s.) Instead, the team is officially known by the name of its corporate owner, just like the Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes. The team is often referred by fans and in news headlines and tables simply as Kyojin (巨人, the Japanese word for "giant(s)"), instead of the usual corporate owner's name or the English nickname.
The Yomiuri Giants name and uniforms were based on the New York (now San Francisco) Giants. The team's colors (orange and black) are the same colors worn by the National League's Giants (both in New York and San Francisco). The stylized lettering on the team's jerseys and caps is similar to the fancy lettering used by the Giants when they played in New York in the 1930s, although during the 1970s the Yomiuri Giants modernized their lettering to follow the style worn by the American Giants.
Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club
The team began in 1934 as The Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club (大日本東京野球倶楽部 Dai-Nippon Tōkyō Yakyū Kurabu?), a team of all-stars organized by media mogul Matsutarō Shōriki that matched up against an American All-Star team that included Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Charlie Gehringer. While prior Japanese all-star contingents had disbanded, Shōriki went pro with this group, playing in an independent league.
In 1936, with the formation of the Japanese Baseball League, the team changed its name to Tokyo Kyojin. It won eight league championships under that name from 1936–1943, including at one point six championships in a row.
Pitcher Victor Starffin, nicknamed "the blue-eyed Japanese," starred for the team until 1944. One of the league's premier pitchers, he won two MVP awards and a Best Nine award, and won at least 26 games in six different years, winning a league record 42 games in 1939. He followed his record-setting performance with another 38 wins in 1940. Pitcher Eiji Sawamura co-starred with Starffin on the Kyojin. He pitched the first no-hitter in Japanese pro baseball, on September 25, 1936, as well as two others. In 1937, he went 33-10 with a 1.38 earned run average. From 1937 to 1943 Sawamura had a record of 63-22, 554 strikeouts, and a 1.74 ERA. Sawamura enlisted in the Japanese Imperial Army in 1943, and was killed in battle when his ship was torpedoed near the end of World War II.
Outfielder Haruyasu Nakajima was a featured hitter during the franchise's first decade-and-a-half, and as player-manager led the Kyojin to a championship in 1941. Tetsuharu Kawakami was a team fixture from 1938–1958, winning the batting title five times, two home run crowns, three RBI titles, and had six titles for the most hits in a season. He was the first player in Japanese pro baseball to achieve 2,000 hits and was named the league's MVP three times. Leadoff man Shosei Go starred for the team from 1937–1943, winning league MVP in 1943. Only 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, he was nicknamed "The Human Locomotive" due to his speed.
Pitcher Hideo Fujimoto (also known as Hideo Nakagami) pitched for the team for 12 seasons from 1942–1955. He holds the Japanese records for lowest career ERA (1.90) and seasonal ERA (0.73 in 1943), as well as best all-time winning percentage (.697). He threw two career no-hitters, including the first perfect game in professional baseball. In addition, he served as the Giants' player-manager in 1944 and part of 1946.
In 1947 the team became the Yomiuri Giants, winning the final JBL championship in 1949 (again under player-manager Haruyasu Nakajima). From 1949–1987 the Giants played at Korakuen Stadium, moving to their current home the Tokyo Dome in 1988.
Hawaiian Wally Yonamine was the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II when he joined the Giants in 1951. A multi-skilled outfielder, as a Giant Yonamine was a member of four Japan Series Championship teams, the Central League Most Valuable Player in 1957, a consecutive seven-time Best Nine Award winner (1952–58), an eleven-time All-Star, and a three-time batting champion.
The team was the Central League champion every year from 1955–1959, winning the Japan Series championship in 1955, but losing four consecutive Japan Series thereafter.
World career home run record holder Sadaharu Oh starred for the Giants from 1959–1980, and fellow Hall of Famer Shigeo Nagashima played for the team from 1958–1974. The Giants lineup, consisting of Oh batting third and Nagashima batting fourth, was nicknamed the ON Hou, (translated to: Oh-Nagashima Cannon) as the two players emerged as the best hitters in the league. Now the team's manager, Tetsuharu Kawakami led the Giants to nine consecutive Japan Series championships from 1965–1973, and Oh and Nagashima dominated the batting titles during this period. During his career, Oh was a five-time batting champion and fifteen-time home-run champion, and won the Central League most valuable player award nine times. Nagashima won the season MVP award five times, and the Best Nine Award every single year of his career (a total 17 times). Future Hall of Famer Tsuneo Horiuchi pitched for the team during its heyday, from 1966–1983. The renowned left-hander Masaichi Kaneda pitched for the team from 1965–1969, later having his number retired by the Giants.
Shigeo Nagashima was appointed manager of the Giants almost immediately after his retirement in 1974, staying in that position until 1980. After a couple of down years the Giants re-assumed their dominant position in the Central League, winning league championships in 1976 and 1977. Sadaharu Oh rejoined the team as manager from 1984 to 1988. Nagashima returned as Giants manager from 1993–2001, winning Japan Series championships in 1994, 1996, and 2000.
Outfielder Hideki Matsui starred for the Giants for ten seasons in the 1990s and early 2000s before migrating to Major League Baseball. He was a three-time NPB MVP, leading his team to four Japan Series, winning three titles (1994, 2000 and 2002), and earning the popular nickname "Godzilla." He also made nine consecutive All-Star Games and led the league in home runs and RBIs three times.
Players of note
"Japan's team" and allegations of corruption
Due to the Yomiuri company's vast influence in Japan as a major media conglomerate, the Giants are successfully marketed to the Japanese people as "Japan's Team." In fact, for some years the Giants' uniforms had "Tokyo" on the jersey instead of "Yomiuri" or "Giants," seeming to imply that the Giants represent the vast metropolis and geopolitical center of Japan, even though the Yakult Swallows are also based in Tokyo and three other teams play in the Greater Tokyo Area. This bandwagon appeal has been compared with the marketability of the New York Yankees and Manchester United, except that support for the Giants nearly exceeds 50% of those polled, while in the United States and England, support is judged to be between 30 to 40 percent for the New York Yankees and Manchester United, respectively. Correspondingly, fans of other professional baseball teams in Japan are often openly derisive and contemptuous of the Giants' bandwagon marketing tactics, and an "anti-Giants" movement exists in protest of the near hegemony established by the Yomiuri Giants.
It has also long been alleged that the Giants rely on underhanded tactics to recruit the best players, involving bribes to players and amateur coaches, or using their influence on the governing council of Japanese professional baseball to pass rules that favors their recruiting efforts. This may be one explanation for the Giants' abundance of success in league play. In August 2004, Yomiuri president Tsuneo Watanabe resigned after it was revealed that the club had violated scouting rules by paying ¥2 million to pitching prospect Yasuhiro Ichiba. Ten months later, Watanabe was hired as chairman of the Yomiuri corporation. In 2012, Asahi Shimbun discovered that the Giants had violated NPB rules by secretly paying pitcher Takahiko Nomaguchi while he was still an amateur playing in Japan's corporate league.
Oh home run controversy
In 1985, American Randy Bass, playing for the Hanshin Tigers, came into the last game of the season against the Oh-managed Giants with 54 home runs, one short of manager Sadaharu Oh's single-season record of 55. Bass was intentionally walked four times on four straight pitches each time, leading Bass to famously hold his bat upside down. Bass reached over the plate on the fifth occasion and batted the ball into the outfield for a single. After the game, Oh denied ordering his pitchers to walk Bass, but Keith Comstock, an American pitcher for the Giants, later stated that an unnamed Giants coach had threatened a fine of $1,000 for every strike that any Giants pitcher threw to Bass. The magazine Takarajima investigated the incident and reported that the Giants front office had likely ordered the team not to allow Bass an opportunity to tie or break Oh's record. For the most part the Japanese media remained silent on the incident as did league commissioner Takeso Shimoda. A similar situation to this was presented in the 1992 movie Mr. Baseball.
2011 Kiyotake controversy
On 18 November 2011, Giants' general manager Hidetoshi Kiyotake was fired by the Yomiuri organization for "defamation of the team and Yomiuri newspaper group." Kiyotake had recommended that Kaoru Okazaki be retained as the team's 2012 head coach. After Yomiuri chairman Tsuneo Watanabe ordered Kiyotake to replace Okazaki with Suguru Egawa, Kiyotake called a public press conference on 11 November 2011 to complain about Watanabe's interference in the club's decision-making processes. Yomiuri's response was to fire Kiyotake.
Okazaki was eventually selected to remain as the next season's coach. The story made major headlines in the Japanese media. On 13 December 2011, Kiyotake sued Yomiuri for ¥62 million for unfair dismissal and defamation and demanded that the company issue him a formal apology, printed in the Yomiuri Shimbun. Yomiuri counter-sued Kiyotake for ¥100 million, saying that he had damaged the team's image. The suits, combined into one case, opened in Tokyo District Court on 2 February 2012.
2012 Hara controversy
In 2012 Japanese weekly Shukan Bunshun reported that current team manager Tatsunori Hara had paid ¥100 million to a former Yakuza gangster in response to a threat to go public on an extra-marital affair that Hara had been involved in. The Yomiuri corporation admitted that the payout had been made, but sued Shukan Bunshun for insinuating that the incident had underworld connections. The suit is pending.