Swallows History

This is a brief overview of the history of the Tokyo Swallows (and, for a time, Atoms.) It will likely never be as complete as we’d like it to be, but it will be added to and expanded often. If you have a question and don’t see the answer here, leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

1950:
The Japanese Baseball League was reorganized as Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and the Kokutetsu Swallows started play in NPB’s Central League under manager Norio Nishigaki.

The Kokutetsu Swallows joined the Central League along with the Taiyo Whales (now the Yokohama BayStars.)

On August 23rd, just three weeks after his seventeenth birthdayMasaichi Kaneda and barely out of Kakuei Shogyo High School, zainichi Korean left-handed pitcher Masaichi Kaneda made his NPB debut. Kaneda went on to strike out 4,490 batters and win an NPB-record 400 games in his career. “The Emperor”, as he was called due to his dominance on the mound, remains the only Japanese pitcher with 400 wins, most of them with the Swallows, yet he also had wretched control when he was first starting out and holds the record for most walks, walking over 190 batters in his first two full seasons – 1951 and 1952.
Despite having an ERA under 2.00 in many seasons, Kaneda lost over ten games in each of his fifteen seasons with Kokutetsu and over twenty games in six of them.

Also a rookie with the new Kokutetsu Swallows in 1950 was 35-year-old first baseman and right fielder Soichi Fujita. Despite winning a 1936 college batting title with Hosei University, Fujita never found his swing in NPB and retired in 1953 after three years of declining numbers at the plate.

1954:
Former Swallows player Soichi Fujita was made Kokutetsu’s second manager. The Swallows finished in fifth place in both of his seasons at the helm.

1956:
Mitsuo Uno was named the Swallows’ third manager, replacing the unsuccessful Soichi Fujita.

On September 19th, Yoshitomo Miyaji pitched the Swallows’ first perfect game, the third in NPB, a 6-0 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Kanazawa Stadium – a tie for the highest-scoring perfect game in Japan. (Yomiuri’s Hiromi Makihara pitched a 6-0 perfect game against the Hiroshima Carp at the Fukuoka Dome on May 18, 1994.)

1957:
On August 21st, Masaichi Kaneda pitched the Swallows’ second perfect game, the fourth in NPB, a 1-0 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Chunichi Stadium.

1961:
Kuninobu Sunaoshi became the Kokutetsu Swallows’ fourth manager, replacing Mitsuo Uno.

On June 20th, Yoshimi Moritaki pitched the Swallows’ third and most recent perfect game, the seventh in NPB, in another 1-0 win over the Chunichi Dragons, this time at Korakuen Stadium. Swallows hurlers have pitched three of the fifteen official perfect games in NPB history – more than any other team.

1963:
The diminutive 61-year-old Keio University graduate Shinji Hamazaki replaced Kuninobu Sunaoshi to become Kokutetsu’s fifth manager. He had played for the Mantetsu Club of the Industrial League prior to being signed by the Hankyu Braves in 1947.

1964:
Still not finding the man they wanted at the helm, Kokutetsu signed the club’s sixth manager, Giichi Hayashi, a Meiji University graduate and former All-Star submariner with the Daiei Stars then, briefly, the Hankyu Braves.

1965:
After a disappointing 2-10-1 start, Giichi Hayashi resigned and was replaced by the returning Kuninobu Sunaoshi as skipper.

In the middle of the season, Sankei Newspaper bought the club and the team became the Sankei Swallows, who finished the 1965 season 44-91-5.

1966:
Sankei changed the name of the club to the Sankei Atoms, inspired by the popular Tezuka animation character Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy).

Tokuji Iida took over as the Sankei Atoms’ first manager, the club’s eighth manager (or 7th, depending on how you count.)

1968:
Takehiko Bessho took the helm as the team’s ninth manager. Bessho had been a record-breaking pitcher with the Nankai Hawks and Yomiuri Giants, with whom he won multiple Japan Series titles. He first came to fame in 1941, when, as a high school ace, he pitched fourteen innings with a broken left arm at the spring Koshien tournament.