This era of Japanese baseball, without question, belongs to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The Japan Series champions — the team first to win four straight titles since the V9-era Giants won nine in a row from 1965-73 and the first Pacific League team to do it — may be in the middle of an epoch-making run in Japanese baseball, writes Jason Coskrey. If other teams can emulate the way they operate on and off the field, the Hawks are likely to trigger a dramatic shift in the game.
Holding a Japan Series in the middle of a pandemic didn’t result in too many changes on the field. There, the NPB formula was largely the same — throw the ball, hit the ball, Hawks win. But there was something missing: the overall atmosphere of a normal, raucous Japanese baseball game.
While obvious winners emerged during the Japan Series, the Olympic organizers for Tokyo’s Summer Games also took home a victory of sorts. In that respect, the recently completed championship was perhaps the biggest test of Japan’s ability — and willingness — to host a major sporting event with fans since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted sports earlier in the year.
As they watched the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks ground the Yomiuri Giants into dust during the Japan Series, fans of the other five Pacific League teams might have been home asking themselves the same question: Could we have done this?
The answer is probably not. Yup, the Pacific League, once the little brother in NPB’s two-league hierarchy, is now head and shoulders above the Central League.
With the conclusion of the NPB season, at least three of the leagues’ stars are setting their sights on MLB: Yomiuri Giants ace right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano, who will move to the major leagues via the posting system should he request it; Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura, who will exercise his international free agency rights; and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters center fielder Haruki Nishikawa, who will be put up via the posting system. Will we be seeing more Japanese players in the majors? It’s a solid bet.