A Resurgent Pacific League
As the sport has struggled to retain fans and TV audience ratings, it has largely been the efforts of the "little guy" Pacific League that have proved most effective. The 1999 Japan Series was won by the Fukouka Daiei Hawks, led by the legendary Oh Sadaharu, and when the Hawks went on to repeat their Pacific League victory the following year, it brought about a dream come true for baseball supporters all over the country - a Japan Series against the Nagashima Shigeo-led Giants. The Hawks spurted to a two-game lead but then succumbed to the sheer power of the best-team-that-money-can-buy.
But the resurgent Hawks did win the series in 2003, and the following years saw fellow PL teams Seibu and the Chiba Lotte Marines take the title. It was the first 3-in-a-row for the PL since Seibu's heyday in the early 90s. 2005 champs Lotte were led by popular American Bobby Valentine, the first manager born outside Japan to clinch the title. The following year saw the Nippon Ham Fighters, led by another American, Trey Hillman, take the PL crown. Their roster included Shinjo Tsuyoshi, finishing his flamboyant career on a high note as a Japan Series winner for the first time.
The commercial success and fan popularity of the PL's playoff system, introduced in 2004, also proved that life could be pumped back into the game. The Central League was carried by the tide of opinion and introduced playoffs in 2007, ironically putting an extra hurdle in front of the Giants, who had reversed a slump to win their first CL crown in five years. But they were swept by 2nd-place finishers the Chunichi Dragons, who went on to beat the Fighters for their first Japan Series title in 53 years.
Related content: check out our many profiles of Japan's top sports stars.
Official team sites
(most are still only in Japanese):
- Yokohama DeNa BayStars
- Yomiuri Giants
- Yakult Swallows
- Hiroshima Toyo Carp (Japanese only)
- Hanshin Tigers (Japanese only)
- Chunichi Dragons (Japanese only).
- Seibu Lions (Japanese only)
- Chiba Lotte Marines (Japanese only)
- Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
- Orix Buffaloes (Japanese only)
- Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (Japanese only)
- Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles