This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (February 2013)
|Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters|
|League||Nippon Professional Baseball
|Location||Toyohira-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan|
|Nickname(s)||Nichiham (, Nippon-ham)|
|Pacific League championships||7 (1962, 1981, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2016)|
|Japan Series championships||3 (1962, 2006, 2016)|
|Colors||Teal, Gold, Black|
|Mascot||BB, Polly Polaris, and Frep the Fox|
|Playoff berths||13 (1981, 1982, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018)|
|Management||Nippon Ham Co., Ltd|
|General Manager||Hiroshi Yoshimura|
The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (?, Hokkaid? Nippon-Hamu Fait?zu) are a Japanese professional baseball team based in Sapporo, Hokkaid?. They compete in the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball, playing the majority of their home games at the Sapporo Dome. The Fighters also host a select number of regional home games in cities across Hokkaid?, including Hakodate, Asahikawa, Kushiro, and Obihiro. The team's name comes from its parent organization, Nippon Ham, a major Japanese food-processing company.
Founded in 1946, the Fighters called Tokyo home for 58 years, as co-tenants of the Tokyo Dome with the Central League's Yomiuri Giants near the end of their tenure in the capital city. The franchise has won three Japan Series titles, in 1962, 2006, and, most recently, 2016.
In 1946, Saburo Yokozawa, manager of the Tokyo Senators in 1936-1937 (and later a prominent umpire), looked to revive the franchise and soon founded the new Senators. He assembled a team of ready and able players like Hiroshi Oshita, Shigeya Iijima and Giichiro Shiraki, but as a newly formed team the Senators faced strict fiscal management and resorted to using hand-me-down uniforms from the Hankyu Railway's pre-war team (who would eventually become the modern-day Orix Buffaloes). Former Japanese statesman Kinkazu Saionji, grandson of the influential Kinmochi Saionji, became the team's owner, and Noboru Oride, borrowing heavily from a Ginza cabaret proprietor, became the team's sponsor. Eventually, trapped by a lack of funds, Yokozawa was forced to resign as the team's manager.
For a time, the team was even mockingly nicknamed "Seito" (Bluestockings) after a Japanese feminist magazine of the same name. As the Yomiuri Giants' pet name was "Kyojin", baseball personality Soutaro Suzuki thought that other teams should also have pet names like the Giants, and names such as the Osaka Tigers' alias "Mouko" (fierce tiger), the Senators' "Seito" and the Pacific's "Taihei" (tranquility) began to be used by the press. However, the other teams rejected the use of these pet names, so they were not fully adopted.
On January 7, 1947, the team was sold to the Tokyu Corporation. The Tokyu baseball club was inaugurated into the league, and the team's name became the Tokyu Flyers. At that time Tokyu dominated the Japanese transportation sector, owning several other railway companies, although it was faced with troubles and the possibility of a breakup. Tokyu purchased the team to act as a banner of solidarity for the swelling company, and managing director Hiroshi Okawa assumed ownership of the club. The newly born Flyers, with Hiroshi Oshita becoming one of the most popular players in the league, began to attract many fans, but the team's administration still went into a deficit.
With the formation of the National Baseball League drawing nearer, in 1948 the not-yet-affiliated Daiei club, which had played a few exhibition games against the Otsuka Athletics, joined with Tokyu to create the Kyuei Flyers ("Kyuei" being a portmanteau of the two companies' names). However, Daiei decided to purchase a separate team, the Kinsei Stars, and after only one year the Flyers reverted to their former name.
During the off-season of 1949, the Flyers joined the Pacific League after the former league split. In September 1953, the team completed a new ballpark--Komazawa Stadium--along one of Tokyu's train lines in Setagaya, Tokyo, moving from Bunkyo ward's Korakuen Stadium. The Flyers' wild play on the field eventually earned them the nickname, "Komazawa's hooligans."
On February 1, 1954, Tokyu entrusted the management of the Flyers to the Toei Company, of which Okawa had newly become president. Toei transferred control of the club to a subsidiary company, Toei Kogyo (industrial enterprise). The team's name was changed to the Toei Flyers, and its legal name consequently became the Toei Flyers Baseball Club. This name stuck for nineteen years.
In 1961, when Yomiuri Giants manager Shigeru Mizuhara resigned from his position, Okawa attempted to woo him to join his team, bringing him to a bar in Kyoto and calling famous movie producer Koji Shundo to meet with them. Shundo, an old drinking buddy of Mizuhara's, convinced the four-time Japan Series champion manager to join the Flyers, and he solidified a strong relationship with Okawa and Toei Studios.
Komazawa Stadium was to be torn down to make way for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, so in 1962 the Flyers moved their base of operations to Meiji Jingu Stadium in Shinjuku. (At that time, college baseball teams had priority at Meiji Jingu, so during weekends or other times when school games were being played the Flyers had to use Korakuen or another field for their games.) In the same year, two star aces, Masayuki Dobashi and Yukio Ozaki, blossomed under Mizuhara's coaching and the Flyers captured their first league championship. They would go on to defy odds in the Japan Series and defeat the Hanshin Tigers for their first Japan Series title. This championship would be their only one in the Toei era. The Kokutetsu Swallows jointly occupied Meiji Jingu with the Flyers the following season, and in 1964 the Flyers went back to their old home, Korakuen, also home of the Yomiuri Giants; both the Fighters and Giants would share a home for the next 39 years.
The Flyers assembled a group of powerful sluggers over the next few years--among them: Isao Harimoto, Katsuo Osugi, Inchon Bek, and Shoichi Busujima--but on top of a declining movie industry and the "Black Mist" match-fixing scandal that rocked the professional baseball world in 1970 (after which Flyers ace Toshiaki Moriyasu was banned from the game for life), in 1971 Flyers owner Okawa died suddenly. Shigeru Okada, who did not view Okawa favorably, took over Toei after his death. Together with Noboru Goto, company president of Tokyu and loyal friend of Okada (and one who also thought unfavorably of Okawa), Okada let go of the unprofitable team.
The team was sold to Akitaka Nishimura of the Nittaku Home real estate enterprise, a common acquaintance of Okada and Goto, on February 7, 1973. The team's name became the Nittaku Home Flyers. Nishimura, in an attempt to inject life back into the unpopular Pacific League, developed seven different uniforms for his team and experimented in every aspect of the team's operation, but the effort failed to produce results. Believing that the Pacific League's chances of survival were grim, Nishimura was on the verge of partnering with the Lotte Orions, who were eyeing a league reunification. When the deal fell through, Nishimura, tired of the baseball establishment, resigned from his leadership position and abandoned the Flyers.
On November 19, 1973, meatpacking company Nippon Ham purchased the team. The club's name changed to the Nippon-Ham Fighters, its official name became the Nippon-Ham Baseball Corporation, Osamu Mihara became the team president and Futoshi Nakanishi its manager. After 27 years, the "Flyers" nickname was abandoned. The "Fighters" nickname was born from a public appeal by the team's management. A female high school student from Okayama prefecture submitted the winning name, giving the reasoning that "(former Fighters player) Katsuo Osugi has guts, so he's a fighter." Ironically, Osugi would be traded to the Yakult Swallows soon after the Fighters were rechristened.
Over the four seasons between 1974 and 1977, the Fighters dwelled at the bottom of the Pacific League, but after improving to finishing in third place for three straight years between 1978 and 1980, manager Keiji Osawa finally led the Fighters to their second Pacific League pennant in 1981. With saves leader Yutaka Enatsu and starter Shigekuni Mashiba (who went 15-0 over the season) forming the heart of the pitching staff, the Fighters shined with offensive sluggers Tony Solaita, Junichi Kashiwabara, and Tommy Cruz. The team that year also featured various important players of smaller stature, like Makoto Shimada and Nobuhiro Takashiro. They would go on to play the Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Series, where the Fighters lost in six games.
At the time, the franchise shared Korakuen Stadium with the Giants, so scheduling games throughout the season for both teams posed a problem. League schedulers tried to avoid putting the Fighters and the Giants at Korakuen on the same day, but when they both had home games scheduled, league officials made the implicit decision that the Giants would play during the day and the Fighters during the night. One novel aspect of the Fighters was that they attracted armies of grade-school boys to sit in the outfield stands on weekend games under a "Young Boys' Fan Club" promotion, starting the first organized fan club in Japanese professional baseball.
During the 1980s the Fighters hosted many of the Pacific League's leading pitchers, including Isamu Kida (led the P.L. with 22 wins in his rookie year in 1980; won MVP, Rookie of the Year the same year), Mikio Kud? (20 wins in 1982), Hiroshi Tsuno (recorded double-digit win totals in several years throughout the mid-eighties) and Yasumitsu Shibata (three-time All Star; recorded no-hitter in 1990). Yukihiro Nishizaki particularly stood out, recording 15 wins and an ERA under three in each of his first two years (though the Rookie of the Year title eluded him), racking up seven double-digit win seasons over the course of his eleven-year stay with the Fighters and gaining a considerable following from female fans due to his easy-going demeanor. In 1986 shortstop Yukio Tanaka joined the club; he remained with the team for 22 seasons, becoming known as "Mr. Fighters."
From 1988 until the move to Hokkaid?, the Fighters played their home games in Tokyo Dome, the stadium that replaced their longtime home Korakuen. After the Dome was finished, the pitching dominance of Yukihiro Nishizaki and Yasumitsu Shibata began to emerge. Keiji Osawa came out of retirement to manage the team for a third time in 1993, only to see his team sink to the bottom of the standings; he gained notoriety for kneeling to the fans at the end of that season, begging for their forgiveness. With the Fighters experiencing more managerial troubles in 1996, then-manager Toshiharu Ueda suddenly took a personal leave during a pennant race with the Orix BlueWave, eventually causing the Fighters to fade over the last month of the season. However, new life was born in Tokyo Dome in 1998. Hitters such as Nigel Wilson, Jerry Brooks, Yukio Tanaka, Atsushi Kataoka, Katsuhiro Nishiura and a young Michihiro Ogasawara formed what became known as the Big Bang lineup and subsequently shattered various batting records. They ran away with first place for the first half of the season, but a pitching collapse in the second half caused a fall of historical proportions. The Fighters would ultimately finish in second place to the Seibu Lions.
Prior to the 2002 season, the idea of moving the Fighters to Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaid? and Japan's fifth largest city, emerged. The Seibu Lions also had preliminary plans to move to the northern metropolis. Tokyo's Fighters fans voiced their opposition to the proposed relocation (though the franchise never drew as many fans as their co-habitual counterparts, the Giants, while playing in the capital), but it was eventually announced that the team would indeed call the Sapporo Dome its new home beginning in 2004. Aiming to build a grassroots relationship with its future fans, the team decided to change its name to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.
At first, with the unhappy Seibu Lions suddenly changing their approval vote, Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe and Seibu owner Yoshiaki Tsutsumi voiced their concerns over the move. They believed that Nippon Ham's choice to move the team would spur a decentralization in Japanese professional baseball, and they threatened that a decrease in the number of teams in the Kant? and Kansai regions should merit a one-league system instead of two. As a matter of fact, the question of reorganizing baseball's league structure eventually became a bigger issue than the sale and renaming of the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The issue eventually settled down, though, and the Fighter's relocation was eventually approved by the league. The response from the people of Hokkaid? was weak, but NPB fans welcomed the move, noting that the Fighters could now be free from the Tokyo Dome's high rent and perpetual second-billing to the Giants. Out of respect for the Tokyo-based Fighters fans, the team decided to schedule a few "home" games per season at the Tokyo Dome.
After the move finally was complete in 2004, the Fighters signed former-Tigers superstar Tsuyoshi Shinjo and a revitalized Fernando Seguignol. American manager Trey Hillman led the team to success in his second year on the job, and at the end of the season, the Fighters were in a fierce race with the Chiba Lotte Marines for the final spot in the new P.L. playoff system. With a vital win over the Orix BlueWave on September 24, the newly moved Fighters earned a trip to the postseason, advancing to play Seibu in a three-game series. Though they put up a strong effort against Seibu ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Fighters lost the first game of the series 6-5. They took Game 2 by a score of 5-4. In the decisive third game, the Fighters fought back in the ninth inning after trailing for the whole game but ultimately fell to a Kazuhiro Wada walk-off home run, losing 6-5. The Fighters would have to wait for another chance for the P.L. pennant.
During the pennant race, the Fighters began selling tickets for infield reserved seats at a low 1,500 yen price point, in an attempt to draw fans to the park. At and after 7:30 pm, usually well after the first pitch, the team began selling special child-fare tickets called "730 Tickets" (they started the same promotion at the Tokyo Dome in 2005). In addition to these, in 2005 they added extra-low priced tickets, discount parking passes and beer coupons to attract more fans. As a result of these promotions, and partially due to the rising popularity of young pitcher Yu Darvish, drafted the year before, the left field stands became constantly sold out for exhibition games, regular season games and playoff games, filled with loud and raucous ?endan. Even the right field stands, usually occupied by the visiting team's fans, began to fill with Fighters supporters. In 2005, the Fighters drew over 1,000,000 fans for the first time since 1993, ranking second in the P.L. after the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Also in 2005, a previously unknown manager, Shigeru Takada, became the club's first general manager. On April 27, owner Yoshinori Okoso died. The Fighters retired the number 100 in his honor, a first in club history (also the first retired number for owners in NPB). Yukio Tanaka reached a career 1,000 RBI total, and Makoto Kaneko joined the 1,000 hit club in the same year. On September 20 the Lions smashed the Fighters at home, crushing the Fighters' hopes of making the playoffs for the second year in a row. In the offseason, the Fighters acquired Major League veteran José Macías, and as former number one starter Yusaku Iriki tried his luck in America the club attempted to sign Kazuhisa Ishii, but failed. In the draft, the team selected pitchers Tomoya Yagi and Masaru Takeda. And, before the 2006 season Shigeyuki Furuki and Kazunari Sanematsu were traded to the Giants for pitcher Hideki Okajima.
The 2006 season would turn out to be a monumental one for the Fighters. After defeating the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on the final day of interleague play, the Fighters went on an eleven-game winning streak, the best such streak for the franchise in over 45 years and tying the team record. After achieving the feat, the team had a six- and a seven-game winning streak, demonstrating to the rest of the P.L. that they were a dangerous club.
A fierce struggle for first place developed between the Fighters, Lions and Hawks. On September 27, the Fighters emerged in first place, earning the title "Regular Season Champions." They also boasted the best team ERA (3.05) and the best team home run total (135) in the NPB. Yu Darvish had an especially impressive year, winning 12 games and posting an ERA of 2.89, establishing himself as the ace of the Fighters' staff.
The Fighters swept the Hawks in the second stage of the P.L. playoffs to earn their third pennant. In the Japan Series, the team won their first Japanese championship in 44 years, defeating the Chunichi Dragons in five games. Fittingly, Darvish pitched for the win in the final game of the series. The series' MVP honors went to Fighters' outfielder Atsunori Inaba, who hit for a .357 batting average during the series with one home run and six RBIs. The championship win was especially fitting for OF Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who was a longtime veteran of the Hanshin Tigers (who were perennial losers), and also had played for a brief time in the United States' Major League Baseball. It was Shinjo's ultimate desire to win a championship, and he did in the final year of his illustrious career in Japan with Nippon-Ham.
The 2006 offseason saw the departure of two of Nippon-Ham's best players, both via free agency. First baseman Michihiro Ogasawara was signed to a blockbuster contract with the Yomiuri Giants, and left-handed reliever Hideki Okajima departed to the Boston Red Sox. At the start of the 2007 season, Nippon-Ham had a lot of trouble scoring runs, relying far too much on their pitching, despite the continuing maturation of Yu Darvish, who had back-to-back complete game, 14-strikeout performances early in the season. At one point, Nippon Ham was second-to-last in the Pacific League, but recently has been able to turn it around. With the start of Interleague play, Nippon Ham began a 14-game winning streak, which ended on June 9 with a 3-2 extra inning loss to the Yakult Swallows, with the bullpen wasting another great performance by Darvish.
The Fighters went on to win the Pacific League championship and went through the Climax Series to earn a second consecutive trip to the Japan Series to once again face the Chunichi Dragons. But in a reversal of roles from last year, the Fighters took Game 1, but the Dragons took the next four games to defeat the Fighters; the last of which being a combined perfect game by Dragons pitchers Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase.
In 2012, the Fighters drafted Shohei Ohtani, who made his debut in 2013. Ohtani, with his ability to both pitch and hit, quickly became a star for the team. He was selected as an NPB all-star five times and was named Pacific League MVP in 2016. Behind Ohtani, the Fighters returned to the Japan Series in 2016. After dropping the first two games on the road, the Fighters rallied to win the next four games en route to their first championship since 2006.
In 2017, Ohtani left the Fighters to sign with the Los Angeles Angels.