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Japanese Baseball Timeline
Written by Joseph Reaves and Rob Fitts   
Friday, 31 December 2010 01:01
  • 1853 - Commodore Matthew Perry and his Black Ships arrive in Japan, forcing the opening to the West and leading to the Meiji Restoration.
  • 1867 to 1873- Some time in the early years of the Meiji Era (1867-1912), Horace Wilson, a young American teaching history and English at Tokyo’s Kaisei Gakko [now Tokyo University], introduces his Japanese students to the fundamentals of baseball.
  • 1873 - Albert Bates, an American teacher at Kaitaku University in Tokyo, organizes the first formal baseball game in Japan.
  • 1878 - Railway engineer Hiroshi Hiraoka, an ardent Boston Red Sox fan from his days as a student in the United States, organizes the first Japanese baseball team, the Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics.
  • 1878 - Englishman F. William Strange, a lecturer at Tokyo University, becomes the first person to write down the rules of baseball for the Japanese in a book entitled Outdoor Games.
  • 1896 - For the first time, baseball teams from the United States and Japan meet. To the great shock of both sides, the American team – the Yokohama Country Athletic Club Nine – loses, 29-4, at home to a team from First Higher School of Tokyo (Ichiko).
  • 1905 - A team from Waseda University in Tokyo tours the West Coast of the United States, compiling a 7-19 record against collegiate competition. Among the teams they play are Stanford, the University of Southern California, and Washington University
  • 1908 - A team comprised of Major League reserves and players from the Pacific Coast League tours Japan to promote the products of the Reach Sporting Goods Co. The Reach All-Americans compile a 17-0 record against Japanese college teams. The tour then goes to Manila where, in November, the All-Stars compile a 10-2 record, with both losses against U.S. military teams.
  • 1912 - Waseda University becomes the first Japanese collegiate baseball team to visit the Philippines.
  • 1913 - The New York Giants and Chicago White Sox play three games in Japan on the first leg of a world tour.
  • 1915 - An Osaka newspaper, Asahi Shinbun, sponsors a national tournament for high school teams that eventually becomes one of the most-popular sporting events in Japan.
  • 1917 - Japan wins the baseball competition at the third Far Eastern Games in Tokyo.
  • 1920 - Herbert Harrison Hunter, a marginal Major Leaguer, organizes the first of a series of barnstorming tours of the Orient by professional players. He recruits part-time big leaguers and members of the Pacific Coast League to tour Japan. The Hunter All-Americans win all 20 games against mostly collegiate teams.
  • 1922 - Another group of Hunter All-Americans, this one featuring future Hall of Famers Casey Stengel, Herb Pennock, and Waite Hoyt, becomes the first American professional team to lose to the Japanese when they are beaten 9-3 by the Mita Club of Shibaura. Catcher Zensuke Shimada, batting third, hits an out-of-the-park homer against Hoyt. The tour also stops in Seoul, Shanghai, and Manila. The Hunter All-Americans defeat a team of Korean All-Stars, 21-3. They play a team of U.S. Marines in Shanghai and defeat the Manila Americans, a team of U.S. servicemen, 12-5, on Christmas Day in the Philippines. The University of Chicago baseball team goes 7-7-1 on a 15-game tour of Japan that draws crowds of up to 70,000 for some games.
  • 1927 - A team called the Royal Giants, made up of players from the Negro League, tours Japan and goes 23-0-1.
  • 1931 - Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove, Rabbit Maranville, and Mickey Cochrane are among the “Major-League All-Stars” who compile a 17-0 record on a tour of Japan.
  • 1934 - Babe Ruth joins a tour of Japan sponsored by Yomiuri. Sixty-five thousand fans cram Jingu Stadium in Tokyo to see the first game. Ruth hits fourteen homers and his team wins all seventeen games, but the highlight for Japanese fans is when a right-handed pitcher from Kyoto, Eiji Sawamura, strikes out Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx in succession en route to a thrilling 1-0 loss. Sawamura, an outspoken anti-American, later is courted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but refuses to sign, saying: “My problem is I hate America and I cannot make myself like Americans.” Sawamura dies in the Pacific War during the Battle of the Ryukus. After the war, the Japanese Baseball Commissioner establishes the Sawamura Award – Japan’s Cy Young – to honor the best pitcher each year. The U.S. All-Stars travel on to Shanghai and defeat the “Pandas,” Shanghai's top team formed by Liang Fuchu, who is known as the “grandfather of Chinese baseball.” The Americans also defeat a team of U.S. Marines in Korea. The tour goes on to the Philippines where the Major Leaguers play three games in two days. On December 2, 1934, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth hit the first two home runs out of new Rizal Baseball Stadium in Manila.
  • 1934 - [December] Matsutaro Shoriki, owner of the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, establishes Japan’s first professional baseball team, the Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Kurabu [the Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club]. During its winter meetings, Major League Baseball bans future off-season tours of the Orient.
  • 1935 - While on a successful tour of the United States during which they win 93 games against semi-pro squads and teams from the Pacific Coast League, the Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Kurabu are renamed the Tokyo Giants.
  • 1935 - Major League executives float the idea of a World Series between the United States and Japan. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gives his support, saying victory in athletic competition could produce as much national pride as a military win with far less risk.
  • 1936 - The Japanese Professional League is formed and dedicates itself to the lofty ideals of fair play and improving the national spirit. Nagaoya defeats Daitokyo 8-5 in the inaugural game.
  • 1936 - The Tokyo Giants come to the United States for part of their spring training and play two games in April against Tulsa.
  • 1941 - In the summer, a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, militarists who control the Japanese government disband the professional league. Baseball is out of favor.
  • 1941-45 - Baseball is played across war-torn Asia by U.S. and Japanese troops and among captives in the opposing Prisoner of War camps much as it was during the U.S. Civil War.
  • 1949 - Manager Lefty O’Doul leads the San Francisco Seals on a 10-game tour of Japan. The Seals go 9-1 and attract 430,000 fans.
  • 1950 - Japanese professional baseball adopts a two-league system modeled on the U.S. Major Leagues.
  • 1951 - Wally Yonamine goes to Japan and becomes the first post-war gaijin superstar.
  • 1952 - The St. Louis Browns loan two black minor league players to the Hankyu Braves of the Japanese Pacific League. Abe Saperstein, owner of the world famous basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters, negotiates the unusual transfer and says sending third-baseman John Britton and pitcher Jim Newberry to Japan is a “lend-lease” deal that benefits both Japan and the U.S.
  • 1957 - Los Angeles Dodgers host three members of the Yomiuri Giants at Dodgertown during spring training.
  • 1958 - Shigeo Nagashima’s rookie season.
  • 1964 - Masanori Murakami becomes the first Japanese-born player to reach the Major Leagues when he makes the roster of the San Francisco Giants. Legal squabbles between the Giants and Nankai Hawks prompt U.S. baseball commissioner Ford Frick to suspend relations with Japanese baseball. Relations are restored when Japanese commissioner Yushi Uchimura agrees Murakami belongs to the Giants. Murakami eventually returns to Japan under intense pressure from his countrymen after the 1965 season. He wins only nine games his first two seasons back in Japan and, although he goes 18-4 in 1968, his career fades in disappointment.
  • 1965 - Yomiuri Giants win their first of nine straight championships.
  • 1969 - Six Japanese players are banned for life for fixing games in the Yakusa-inspired “Black Mist Scandals.”
  • 1971 - Former New York Yankee third-baseman Clete Boyer, now with the Pacific Coast Hawaii Islanders, is traded to the Taiyo Whales of Japan for John Werhas in what is billed as a “history-making deal … the first time that players were exchanged by American and Japanese teams.”
  • 1972 - For the first time in history, on May 5, two Japanese-born pitchers start for opposing sides in a U.S. professional baseball game. Toru Homaura, pitching for Lodi, California, defeats Masao Sato of Fresno. Lodi also has a Japanese starting catcher, Masaji Ishizuka.
  • 1973 - Bowie Kuhn, commissioner of U.S. baseball, says he can see the day when an international league will be formed with a Pacific division that includes teams from Japan, Honolulu, and the West Coast.
  • 1974 - Yomiuri Giants streak of nine straight championships ends as the Chunichi Dragons win the Central League pennant.
  • 1974 - Shigeo Nagashima retires.
  • 1977 - Sadaharu Oh breaks Hank Aaron record for lifetime homeruns.
  • 1980 - Sadaharu Oh retires.
  • 1983 - After being ordered to go on a diet of vegetables and soy by manager Tatusro Hirooka, the Seibu Lions climb from last place the year before to win the Pacific League Championship. They beat the Nippon Ham Fighters in a series sportswriters dub the “Vegetable-Meat War.”
  • 1984 - Greg “Boomer” Wells becomes the first gaijin to win a Triple Crown.
  • 1985 - Randy Bass wins the Central League Triple Crown as the Hanshin Tigers win the Japan Series.
  • 1988 - The Tokyo Dome, modeled after the Metrodome in Minnesota, opens.
  • 1995 - Los Angeles Dodgers sign Japanese professional baseball star Hideo Nomo to a Major League contract. Nomo goes on to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, despite being twenty-seven years old and having experience in the Japan League. Nomo’s starts are broadcast live on giant television screens throughout Tokyo.
  • 1997 - Kenchiro Kawabata, an eighteen-year-old outfielder from Tokyo’s Tenri High School, signs with the Boston Red Sox. He is the first position player from Japan to sign with a Major League team.
  • 1998 - The Chicago Cubs sign catcher Takaai Kato, a graduate of Keio University, out of the Japanese Industrial League and send him to Class A Williamsport, where he bats .253 in fifty-eight games.
  • 1998 - Daisuke Matsuzaka becomes a national hero while leading his Yokohama High School team to victory in both the spring and summer Koshien national high school baseball tournaments. Matsuzaka, who will go on to become a professional star, throws 250 pitches under a broiling sun in one 17-inning game and throws a no-hitter in the championship game.
  • 2000 - The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs open the season with a pair of games at the Tokyo Dome in Japan, the first time a regular season Major League game is played outside North America. Both games draw sellout crowds of 55,000. The Cubs win the opener 5-3, then lose 5-1 in 11 innings.
  • 2000 - Kazuhiro Sasaki, then Japan’s all-time saves leader after ten seasons with Yokohama, joins the Seattle Mariners after undergoing elbow surgery. Sasaki records thirty-seven saves, third best in the American League, to lead the Mariners into the playoffs.
  • 2001 - Ichiro Suzuki signs with the Seattle Mariners and leads the league in batting as he captures the AL ROY and MVP awards.
  • 2003 - Hideki Matsui leaves the Yomiuri Giants for the New York Yankees.

This timeline has been reproduced from Joseph Reaves' book Taking in a Game: A History of Baseball in Asia with the permission of the author.

Last Updated on Monday, 03 January 2011 17:17


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