This is the seventh story in a thirteen-part feature on the twelve teams in Nippon Professional Baseball.
The Yokohama BayStars have what might be the most name changes in the history of an NPB franchise. Like, seriously. There were five prior names before the team became the BayStars. In fact, they’ve only been the BayStars since 1993. For simplicity in this article, I’m going to mostly refer to them as Yokohama, especially since they’re the only team in NPB that doesn’t have their corporate sponsor anywhere in their name whatsoever.
Although Yokohama has not been very successful as of late, they’ve traditionally had more success than the Hiroshima Carp over the years, so I definitely wouldn’t call them the worst team in NPB by far. However, they’re currently a bottom-feeder team, so I suppose it’s worth talking about their former successes and how they got to where they are today (which is, unfortunately for them, low in the standings).
Yokohama started out as an amateur team in the 1930s made up of employees from the Taiyo Fishing Company (today known as the Maruha Corporation). After their success at this level, when NPB was founded in 1950, the team joined the Central League as the Maruha Team, but almost immediately changed their name to the Taiyo Whales. They promptly proceeded to finish in the lower half of the standings each year. In 1953, the Shochiku Robins, who I discussed at length in my article on the Carp, merged with Maruha, and the team became known as the Taiyo-Shochiku Robins. For a brief period, the franchise moved to Osaka and became the Yo-Sho Robins, but Shochiku backed out soon after and the team’s name returned to Taiyo Whales. Upon becoming the Whales again, the team was relocated to Kanagawa Prefecture and finally gained a true home stadium, but then proceeded to finish in last place from 1954 until 1959. A managerial change, however, finally gave the Whales an NPB championship in 1960.
Of course, the next year they came in last place again. Such is life. The team found some degree of success in the 1960s, however, at least remaining competitive for the most part, but by the 1970s they had returned to their losing ways. In 1977, the team moved to Yokohama for the 1978 season and became the Yokohama Taiyo Whales. In 1993, the name was changed to BayStars, namely because of new restrictions on whaling. Some Yokohama fans were extremely superstitious, believing that dead whales cursed the team, as the Maruha Corporation had been previously noted for its whale meat products. BayStars stuck, and in 1998, the team won its second of two Japan Series. Sadly, Yokohama has not had this sort of success since. Those dead whales are still up and at ‘em.
I’m pretty sure most Americans are familiar with Kazuhiro Sasaki, a pitcher who came over to the Mariners in 2000 and remained there through 2003, after which point he returned to Yokohama for two years and then retired. Sasaki , if we overlook his personal life, was a pretty darn good reliever.
Some notable MLB players who journeyed to Japan to take the field for the BayStars include Felix Millan, Dan Johnson and I-95′s own Lou Merloni. Players who started off with Yokohama and then decided to try their luck in MLB – besides Sasaki – include Takashi Saito, who is still in MLB as far as I know right now, and Tomo Ohka, who has since returned to Yokohama after 2009 (spending a total of ten years in MLB, 1999-2009).
You don’t hear much about Yokohama’s fanbase. The team has moved around so many times over the years that they likely haven’t had as much time to create traditions as other teams, but nevertheless they, like all NPB teams, have vocal supporters and, naturally, ouenka (cheer songs). My personal favorite is this one, namely because the singer yells, in English, “Let’s reach for the stars! You know, because we are the BayStars!” around 0:45.
Yokohama has a few of these fellows running around, but they all look mostly identical to the main one. The main mascot’s name is Hossy. I am not sure why. At any rate, he’s a fellow with a star for a head (a bit like if Mr. Met was a star and not a baseball).
Why You Should Root For Them
Yokohama is one of the so-called ‘ignored franchises’ in NPB. Americans tend to ignore them, and they have a smaller fanbase in Japan, as well. Do you like close-knit fandoms? Yokohama’s definitely the team for you if so!
On Deck: Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
In The Hole: Saitama Seibu Lions