It is impossible to talk about Japanese baseball without mentioning the Yomiuri Giants. Not only were they the first professional team, they are the winningest and arguably most popular team in the land. In the early days of television, national broadcasts were almost exclusively Yomiuri games, which led to baseball fans from Hokkaido all the way down to Kyushu gaining familiarity with the Giants.
It also helped that the Giants won an unprecedented nine consecutive Japan Series titles from 1965 to 1973 (called the “V9” years). It was during this Golden Age that the team featured two of the most accomplished players in the history of the game: Sadaharu Oh (868 career home runs) and Shigeo Nagashima (444 career home runs, and charisma that made him even more beloved than Oh).
The Giants’ success began much earlier than this, though. They are owned by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, whose owner Matsutaro Shoriki was partially responsible for bringing over a team of MLB superstars in 1934, including hall of famers Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Charlie Gehringer. In order to have a competitive opponent for the Americans, Shoriki found all the best players in the land and formed the Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Kurabu (Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club), Japan’s first professional baseball team. With Lefty O’Doul’s guidance, the team simply became known as the Tokyo Giants (also sometimes Kyojin, which means Giants in Japanese). The Giants toured for two years in Japan and the U.S. and then became the charter members of the professional Japan Baseball League in 1936.
Thanks to superstars like Eiji Sawamura (after whom the NPB best pitcher award is named), Victor Starffin, and Tetsuharu Kawakami (the god of hitting), the Giants were the team to beat during the single-league era (1936-49), and even well into the late 1950s.
The aforementioned “V9” that ended with the Chunichi Dragons’ pennant win in 1974 also saw the Giants tumble into last place for the only time in team history the following season.
Still, the Giants put a quality, winning product on the field year in and year out because the franchise does what it takes to bring glory to the team.
In the years before the draft, the Giants aggressively signed the best players to lucrative contracts that other teams would not (and could not) match. After the draft was put into place, they tried to find loopholes in the system to bypass the draft, drawing players into the fold. With the advent of free agency, the Giants have (until recently) been able to outspend other teams, ensuring that the best talent in the league always made its way to the Tokyo Dome. Not to mention, once star players started to test their talent in the U.S., the Giants refused to post anyone to MLB clubs (this changed in the 2019 offseason when the team agreed to post pitcher Shun Yamaguchi).
Although not every star player becomes a star manager, the Giants have stayed in-house for the entirety of its existence, and seen many of its former superstars thrive as managers: Tetsuharu Kawakami, Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, and Tatsunori Hara have all experienced the glory of winning a Japan Series or ten (Oh’s only title as a coach came in 1981 as Assistant Manager).
While immensely popular, the Giants also have their share of detractors. It is not uncommon to hear the term “Anti-Kyojin” thrown around the rest of the NPB fan community, as those who cheer for the underdogs have grown weary of playing second fiddle to this storied club for the entirety of professional baseball history.
Team Slogan 2023: 奪回 – Giants Pride 2023 = Dakkai (Recapture)
Current Standout Players: Kazuma Okamoto (26, 3B): .252/.336/.469, 30 HR, 82 RBI, Golden Glove in 2022; Shosei Togo (22, RHP): 12 W, 8 L, 171.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 154 K in 2022.
Current Manager: Tatsunori Hara (since 2019, also 1999-2003, 2006-15)
Franchise Established on: December 26, 1934
Central League Pennants Won: 38 (Most recently in 2020)
Championships Won: 22 NPB (Most recently in 2012), 9 JBL (Fall 1936, Spring 1937, Fall 1938, 1939-43, 1949)
Notable MLB Exports: Hideki Matsui (Yankees, etc.), Hideki Okajima (Red Sox, etc.), Hisanori Takahashi (Mets, Angels, etc.), Koji Uehara (Orioles, Red Sox, etc.), Shun Yamaguchi (Blue Jays)
Spring Training Location: Miyazaki City, Miyazaki and Naha, Okinawa