Welcome To The NPB: Yomiuri Giants

Hideki Matsui (right) with Giabbit (pronounced Jabbit), Yomiuri's mascot of sorts. Giabbit is a combination of a rabbit and the team's YG logo.

This is the second story in a thirteen-part feature on the twelve teams in Nippon Professional Baseball.

If you’ve heard of a team in Japan, you’ve probably heard of this one.

The Yomiuri Giants are by far the most historically successful team in Japan. They also have the largest fanbase both domestically and internationally, so you may have seen them around. Yankee fans might note that at one time there was an ad in the Yankee Stadium outfield for the Yomiuri Group’s newspaper (the Yomiuri Shimbun). It was there when Hideki Matsui, a former Giant, took the field for New York.

Actually, Yomiuri is Japan’s equivalent of the Yankees. Let’s explain that a little bit.

History

Yomiuri was the first team to incorporate in Japan, with the initial group being brought together in 1936 as the Tokyo Kyojin (Giants). Since then, Yomiuri has won a staggering amount of titles (nine in the JBL, twenty-one in the NPB). To put it in perspective, the NPB was established in 1950. Between 1950 and 2010, Yomiuri won twenty-one times. That’s over a third of the championships in that time span.

The team was named by American Lefty O’Doul, who dubbed them the Tokyo Giants, borrowing the name from a baseball team in New York that moved to San Francisco. Guess which one. To this day, Yomiuri’s colors and uniforms take their cues from the San Francisco Giants, right down to the lettering on the jerseys.

Sadaharu Oh's batting stance was unique even by Japan's standards. It has since been frequently mimicked. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Famous Players

There are two that immediately come to mind here. When I think of notable people who have played for Yomiuri, Sadaharu Oh instantly springs to mind. Japan’s home run champion, he actually has more career homers than Barry Bonds (and he did it without the alleged use of steroids). Although he now manages the Hawks in the Pacific League, Oh’s career with the Giants is so legendary (as both a player and a manager) that he easily goes down in their history as their all-time best.

The other player that comes to mind is Eiji Sawamura. Sawamura was such a pitching luminary in Japan that the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award is named for him (as is one of my favorite fictional pitchers, Eijun Sawamura). Although I have struggled to find his full career statistics, as he was pitching at a somewhat tumultuous time in Japanese history, from what I can gather his ERA never hit a higher mark than 2.38. Typically, it was significantly lower than that. Sawamura died far too young when he enlisted in the military and was on a ship torpedoed off the Ryukyu Islands in 1944.

Giants players who are currently in the United States include Hideki Matsui, Koji Uehara, Hideki Okajima and Hisanori Takahashi.

Fanbase

When I said Yomiuri was Japan’s equivalent of the Yankees, I meant it. Check out how Wikipedia explains it:

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.

If you like a team that other people hate because it has a lot of money and therefore typically manages to land the best players in the league, then Yomiuri is definitely for you!

Mascot

Mascots are a huge part of Japanese baseball. It’s because they’re super-cute. Japan has named ‘cute ambassadors‘ and an anime ambassador (an adorable robotic cat named Doraemon, a wildly popular character) to further promote this part of its culture. Japan, simply put, adores cute things. Look at all the cat videos on YouTube. Chances are at least half of them are from cat owners in Japan. Why? Japan loves cats because they’re adorable. (Well, that and since a lot of people live in small apartments, cats are easier to take care of than dogs.) Anyway, Yomiuri’s mascot is a strange merger of the YG logo and a rabbit, which the team has dubbed ‘Giabbit’ (pronounced ‘Jabbit’). Giabbit, which is a portmanteau of ‘giant rabbit,’ is a large orange creature that is oddly cute despite the fact that its face is essentially a Y and a G with eyes, a nose and a mouth.

Image courtesy of Japanese Baseball Cards.

Why You Should Root For Them

In my opinion, you shouldn’t, but that’s because I’m a Yakult fan and we don’t really like the Giants because we share a city with them and they get all the attention. If they really are your kind of team, though, by all means, jump right in. If you like large fanbases and lots of attention focused on your team, they’re probably a good fit for you. They’ll also fit like a glove if you’re used to expecting a large degree of success every year. As I write this, they’re in third place, and that’s really confusing to me because I’m so used to them being pretty far out in front. They also have a pretty strong fanbase in America, as they’re the most well-known team in Japan, and they’re the only Japanese team televised nationally in Japan all the time (most teams get regional broadcasts, like they do in the United States). Basically, you can’t escape Yomiuri no matter where you are in Japan. If you like them, that makes the inability to escape them a lot easier.

On Deck: Hanshin Tigers
In The Hole: Yakult Swallows

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