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.
Since then, despite occasional seasons of competitiveness (their surprise 2015 CL pennant was preceded by the cellar and followed with fifth place), the team has spent most recent years in the same place they spent the early years of their existence: out of contention.
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 2022: 熱燕 – Next Stage – Netsu-en (Passionate Swallows)
Current Standout Player: Munetaka Murakami (22, 3B): .278/.408/.566, 39 HR, 112 RBI, Best Nine, CL MVP in 2021
Franchise Established on: January 12, 1950
Central League Pennants Won: 8 (1978, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2015, 2021)
Championships Won: 6 (1978, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2021)
Spring Training Location: Urasoe, Okinawa