With spring training just around the corner (well, still over a week, but close enough!), there is plenty to catch you up on! Let’s get right down to business!
First of all, all the buzz last Friday surrounded the Hokkaido Nipponham (one word now) Fighters and the unveiling of their new uniforms and logo for 2022 onward. Fans expected the new threads would be flamboyant like new manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo (former NY Met and San Francisco Giant), but many were at a loss for words when they realized the uniforms looked eerily similar to the Seibu Lions’ uniforms from the mid-2000s, combined with the font used in some Toronto Blue Jays’ older gear. Shinjo himself admitted they did not turn out as he had expected them to, but that “a strong team will give the uniform a strong aura as well.” He is open to changing the font next year, at the very least, as he wants his #1 to be without hooks.
Last Monday, NPB announced that two all-time greats would be inducted into the Hall of Fame: Masahiro Yamamoto (left-handed pitcher for the Chunichi Dragons) and Shingo Takatsu (right-handed closer and current manager of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. Also, Shigeyoshi Matsumae, founder of Tokai University, will be inducted posthumously. Yamamoto pitched for an unbelievable 29 years, winning the Sawamura Award once and throwing a no-hitter at the age of 41. Takatsu spent 13 seasons with the Swallows before pitching in the majors for two seasons (Chicago White Sox and New York Mets). He ended his career with 286 NPB saves plus 27 in the majors. He has also won the Japan Series as a player and as a manager, and played professionally in Korea and Taiwan as well. For the record, legendary import hitter Randy Bass (Hanshin Tigers 1983-88) fell just four votes short of getting the nod in the experts’ category.
Spring training begins in just a week, but with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, every single team has had at least one player test positive for Covid-19 in 2022. Nevertheless, camps are set to start on schedule and even allow fans in. Here are the locations of each team’s camp:
Miyazaki Prefecture = Orix Buffaloes (Miyazaki), Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (Miyazaki), Saitama Seibu Lions (Nichinan), Yomiuri Giants (Miyazaki = Feb 1-12), Hiroshima Toyo Carp (Nichinan = Feb 1-13)
Okinawa Prefecture = Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters (Nago), Hanshin Tigers (Ginoza), Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Kin), Chunichi Dragons (Chatan), Yokohama DeNA Baystars (Ginowan), Hiroshima Toyo Carp (Okinawa City = Feb 15-28), Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Urasoe), Yomiuri Giants (Naha = Feb 14-27), Chiba Lotte Marines (Ishigaki = Feb 1-13; Itoman = Feb 15-20)
In other news, it appears the league is returning back to extra innings for games tied after nine! There will once again be a maximum of 12 innings on such games, so there will still be ties this year, just presumably fewer than there were in 2021. The import roster limitations will apparently stay the same as they were during the pandemic, so teams can carry 5 on the top squad with a maximum of four on the bench for any given game.
Finally, we say goodbye to two men who made a huge impact on baseball in Japan. First, longtime slugger Wladimir Balentien (Swallows, Hawks) announced that he was no longer pursuing baseball in Japan. He played 11 seasons, recorded a total of 301 home runs, including an NPB-record 60 during the 2013 season. No word on whether he will play elsewhere in 2022. The second farewell is a sad one, as renowned manga artist Shinji Mizushima passed away at the age of 82. The Niigata native worked for an incredible 62 years (1958-2020) and was best known for creating Dokaben and Abu-san. Rest in Peace, Mizushima-san.