The Yakult Swallows were founded in 1950 and first owned by Kokutetsu (now JR – Japanese National Railways), who used a swallow as its emblem. The club’s early years were filled with futility, as it took until 1961 to finish in the league’s top 3 and 1978 to win its first pennant. By then, ownership had transferred hands several times (it became property of current owners, Yakult, in 1970) and one of the most renowned players in team history, Masaichi Kaneda, changed loyalties and went on to win five Japan Series titles with the Yomiuri Giants.
The team continued to mire in mediocrity (to put it kindly) until 1990, when legendary catcher/manager Katsuya Nomura took over the reins, and, led by prodigy backstop Atsuya Furuta, won 4 Central League titles and 3 Japan Series championships in a six-year span from 1992-97. They added one more in 2001, after Nomura had moved on to the Hanshin Tigers.
For much of the first twenty years of the 21st century, the Swallows were cellar dwellers, though they did put together some surprising seasons (2015 pennant, 2018 2nd place). Two years in the basement (2019, 2020) seem to have put an end to this team’s irrelevance: the Swallows won the Japan Series in 2021 and came one game short of repeating in 2022.
In spite of this, the Swallows have a strong following and do two things better than any other NPB team: run celebrations and mascot activity. Fans in the stands come to games with umbrellas regardless of the weather, and bob them up and down in rhythm with the team song every time they score runs. The original idea was started when umbrellas were becoming more prevalent in the 1960s. Oendan (Cheering squad) leader Masayasu Okada suggested people bring items from home and use them to cheer the team on. Umbrellas were said to make the sparse crowds look more plentiful. Now, brandishing a Swallows-designed small umbrella at home games is becoming a must.
As for their mascot, Tsubakuro, he is definitely not going to win any awards for acrobatics or gymnastics, but he sure has a good sense of humor. Frequently seen walking around with a large notepad, he “speaks” through his marker pen, writing almost exclusively in hiragana (phonetic Japanese). He also has a blog and a fairly developed persona, and the club publishes his annual salary along with that of its players. In 2019, he made a whopping ¥30,000 (approximately $300 USD) plus an unlimited supply of Yakult 400 and Tough Man drinks.
Team Slogan 2023: さあ、行こうか! Team Swallows 2023- Sa- iko-ka! (Ready to Go?)
Current Standout Player: Munetaka Murakami (23, 3B): .318/.458/.710, 56 HR, 134 RBI, Triple Crown, Best Nine, CL MVP in 2022
Current Manager: Shingo Takatsu (since 2020)
Franchise Established on: January 12, 1950
Central League Pennants Won: 9 (1978, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2015, 2021, 2022)
Championships Won: 6 (1978, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2021)
Notable MLB Exports: Masato Yoshii (Mets, etc.), Kazuhisa Ishii (Dodgers, etc.), Shingo Takatsu (White Sox), Akinori Iwamura (Rays, etc.), Ryota Igarashi (Mets, etc.), Norichika Aoki (Brewers, etc.)
Spring Training Location: Urasoe, Okinawa