Tokyo and Yokohama Get Some Ink in the Japan Times

Japanese baseball reporter and insider, Wayne Graczyk, posted an interesting article about the fall of the Tokyo and Yokohama clubs over the last several seasons. He compares them unfavorably to the state of affairs in the 80’s and says that they are two of the “worst franchises in Japanese pro baseball, in terms of both player talent and attractiveness to their respective fan bases”.

Even though some of the numbers he uses to support his thesis were surprising for me (for example, I was not aware that Meiji Jingu stadium could ever hold more than 45,000 spectators; also, he was right about how far behind first place Yokohama is, but was slightly off on Tokyo’s tally), he levels a decent indictment of the two clubs in question while highlighting mismanagement as one of the key culprits in terms of this season’s unsuccessful campaign.

Another interesting point, which is definitely worth some discussion, is his analysis of Tokyo’s power-hitting drought:

“We just had bad luck with our gaikokujin this season,” said Takada.

There may be some truth to that, but it appears more as if the non-Japanese guys were not given the chance to play up to potential.

Read the rest of the article here.

About Christopher Pellegrini

Christopher is a budding sabermetrician and long-time supporter of Tokyo's more lovable team, the Swallows. He has publicly volunteered, several times, that he plans to buy the team at some point in the future. When he finally runs the joint, it is likely that he will fine any player who swings at the first pitch or sac bunts (unless it's a pitcher, of course). Follow him on Twitter: @chrispellegrini

  • I don’t want to defend a team that starts Katoh on a make-or-break day of the season even though he hasn’t pitched top level ball since July 3rd (when he took the loss at Tokyo Dome), but there are a couple of points in this article that I think are a little misleading.

    I don’t understand the assertion that the September 5-7 home series versus Yomiuri averaged “less than 15,000” spectators per game. I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion, but I suspect he’s including the game on the seventh in his calculations even though it was rained out before it started. If you count the third game of the series as have zero spectators, then the average for the three game series is 15,526 spectators. However, as that third game was never played, the actual average for the two game series was 23,289. Yomiuri and Tokyo took a game each in that series.

    Additionally, even though I know Mr. Graczyk wasn’t directly criticizing Hatakeyama (it was more of an assessment of the lack of power in the Tokyo lineup), I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss him as ineffective or weak. While Hatake’s power doesn’t match up with the cleanup hitters on other teams (Ramirez, Morino, Kanemoto, etc.), he does compare favorably in terms of OBP, total bases and rbi’s. Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that Hatakeyama was only very recently given a chance on our first team, and in that light his numbers are surprisingly good. Hatake didn’t start consistently until the second half of May (hence an at-bat total still below 400), and he was moved to clean-up just before the inter-league portion of the season started.

    Therefore, while he’s only hit 9 home runs so far this season, Hatakeyama is still a decent middle-of-the-order hitter.

    And at 26 years of age, look for him to develop some power in the near future.

  • I took offense to the assertion that the BayStars weren’t willing to pay for Kroon’s services. This is a misleading statement being circulated in the Japanese press as well. The Giants matched the BayStars in terms of money, but they were willing to give Kroon a guaranteed two years, which Yokohama was only willing to guarantee one year.

    And while in hind sight it looks like the BayStars blundered on not wanting to guarantee two years, I thought it was the right move at the time myself. Yes, I (and the BayStars) turned out to be wrong on this one, but after watching Kroon’s left leg give out on him numerous times at the end of 2007, I was seriously concerned whether or not he’d be able to even take the mound at the start of 2008.

    If Kroon stayed healthy (which he did), the offer that the BayStars gave him (an optional second year on that condition) was the same as the Giants. This was not a case of the BayStars being cheap (although there are many other examples of that in the past).

  • Yep Chris, as you pointed out his figures are way off. Just to break it down further:

    9/5 (Fri) : 18,856
    9/6 (Sat): 27,722
    9/7 (Sun): Rain Out

    So I don’t know where he’s getting the averaging less than 15,000 part from.

    As for all this “20 years ago” stuff, I’m pretty sure 20 years ago a lot of things were different in the game. In the eight or so years I’ve been regularly going to Jingu, the Swallows support has been roughly the same throughout. The thing that has changed is the number of visitor fans for Yomiuri. They used to pack out 3/4 of Jingu but now they bring a smaller contingent with them, much the same as a Hiroshima or Chunichi. They are no longer the all-powerful team of old.

    As he says:

    Twenty years ago, a Central League team in the Kanto area — even if it was not the Yomiuri Giants — was a hot ticket. The Swallows, playing at Jingu Stadium smack dab in the center of the capital, could always expect a crowd in excess of 45,000 against the crosstown-rival Giants, regardless of their standing in the league or when during the season each game was played.

    I’m pretty sure those 45,000 fans consisted of 35,000 Giants fans.

    So while he’s going on about the “once proud” Swallows falling on hard times, his example of the Giants series is a bad one, as it is the Giants fall from their old untouchable pedestal that has affected the attendance when they visit. He even mentions this again:

    Attendance figures this season have reflected the poor on-field performances of both clubs, and they can’t even draw well when Yomiuri is the visiting team.

    You would think at least the Kyojin fans would take the Metro across town to Jingu or the 40-minute train ride from Tokyo to Yokohama and cheer for their hard-charging club, but, no.

    When the BayStars hosted the hot-as-a-pistol Giants on Sept. 30, only 8,923 fans paid to get in. Empty seats were aplenty as well when Yomiuri last visited Yakult for a three-game weekend series Sept. 5-7, with the “crowds” averaging less than 15,000, a far cry from those golden days two decades ago.

    Here he’s blaming the poor attendance on the Kyojin fans not turning up.

    This is more of a reflection of the “normalisation” of the Giants than the fan pulling power of the Swallows or Baystars, but he then moves on to talk about his percieved troubles with the two smaller teams.

    He is absolutely right about the Swallows front office being generally useless, both in signing/holding onto top players and marketing, and the strange treatment of the foreign contingent at times by Takada.

    Things are far from rosey looking at the organisation as a whole and it could and should be much more successful given the things it has going for it.

    But overall it’s a pretty uneven article, if not downright flawed as he’s using examples of a decline in the numbers Giants fans turning up at Jingu (and Yokohama) to argue that the two smaller teams are in decline.

  • What I’m wondering is where those few thousand fans in excess of Jingu’s capacity were when 45,000+ was the norm. That would be a Tokyo Dome-packing crowd (unless you believe the bizarre and debunked notion that the TD seats 56,000.) That’s a Koshien-filler. Jingu’s big, but not that big.

    Furthermore, as he hints, it’s my understanding that attendance in general is on the decline. While some clubs, like Chiba, have achieved gains, what we’re looking at is a tripartite change: First, NPB is no longer the only big show in the land – there are more television options and it is no longer a given that everyone is a de facto baseball fan.
    Second, The PL has done well in closing the gap, most notably in popularity.
    Third, as Mr. Watkins points out, the Giants are no longer the be-all and end-all of baseball, much less sports in general, as they once were.

    As both of my colleagues pointed out above, I’ve seen no big changes in attendance since the Swallows last won the Japan Series. The only other stadium I’m at often enough to have any sense of perspective is the Tokyo Dome and that has looked much the same to me over the years as well.

    All of that said, the CL desperately needs to flip the boat over a few times, rocking it won’t be enough. Big changes in business model are necessary. On this point, I will freely admit that the Swallows are one of the worst-offending clubs. At times it almost seems as though they’d like to push the baseball to the back burner and focus on dippy promotions aimed at preteen girls. I’m just not sure that preteen girls are the demographic a pro ball club needs to be courting.

  • True true. But those dippy promotions are a sign that the club is actually trying to do something (even if it’s the wrong thing) to induce fans to return for another game at Jingu. This is obviously a point that was overlooked in the article that we are referring to.

    And on a different note: I think that Mr. Graczyk’s statement that the non-Japanese players on the roster didn’t get the chances that they deserved this season should be discussed in a little more detail.

    I, for one, think that the team has benefited (long-term) from the absence of the non-Japanese sluggers. Like everyone else, I love Guiel (and Riggs), but I’m thinking bigger-picture here. In their stead, we’ve seen a lot of good stuff from guys that have languished in the shadows for years (Hatakeyama!), and guys that were quickly headed down that same path (Kajimoto, Takeuchi and Kawabata).

    We wouldn’t have seen this forgotten talent if Guiel and Riggs had remained healthy and quickly worked through their respective batting slumps. Of course, the neglect of home-grown talent is not the non-Japanese players’ collective fault–why the hell do we have only one minor league team?!?

    Anyway, just wanted to hear what the rest of you guys thought about this issue. Feel free to disagree!

  • John

    Sad article. I think something else that has hurt Yakult is the pull of the MLB. Iwamura will advance to the ALCS with the Rays this week. Just think what he could have done in a Swallows uniform. Will Aoki depart next? I wish them well in their shots at the majors but it’s a shame when they leave. Also, with retirement of fan fave Furuta, going to Jingu just didn’t seem the same anymore in recent years. Still, a great place to see a game and pull for a likeable team.

  • Good point, John. Unfortunately, if NPB wants to keep players here or attract top notch players from overseas, they’re going to have to be able to compete in terms of money. Money will make it easier for players to stay or foreign players to make the move to Japan, the level of play could rise accordingly once the players are here.

    This will require a massive restructuring of NPB’s business model and clubs will absolutely have to learn to work together instead of against each other and themselves. Yomiuri’s scraps are not going to raise the financial or ability level of NPB.

    Ironically, one of the best ways to keep top Japanese players in Japan might be to relax or rescind the limit on foreigners. If Japanese teams can sign and use whoever they want and use them, the competition will increase and fans will see that their league at least has a chance of being the world’s strongest some day.

  • One key aspect of the MLB business model that I don’t want NPB clubs to emulate is the hold-citizens-hostage-for-new-stadium-construction-costs model. If NPB clubs were able to do that, we’d have a lot of nicer ballparks in this country at largely tax payers’ expense (MLB’s sole exception is the park in SF). Though there are many other faults with the NPB business model, they can’t hope to compete equally with MLB when MLB abuses its powers like that. (Having a larger NPB minor league system could’ve prevented something like the Tazawa situation with its current bandage solution trying to control the future amateurs, a place where they have no business being in.)

  • Just to further illustrate how off base this article is (in some ways). The attendance for Friday October 10th’s game against Yomiuri – 26,984.

    Yomiuri fans couldn’t even fill the stadium for a game to watch them clinch the pennant. 20, or even 5 years ago, they would have been shoehorning fans into the stadium. Yomiuri are simply not the pull they once were. (And indeed, as has been mentioned above, Yakyu has a lot more competition these days for peoples time than 20 years ago.)

    So using the Yomiuri attendances as an indicator of Yakult’s decline is incorrect.

  • …there is a feeling of loneliness at BayStars and Swallows home games.

    This comment also made me chuckle.

  • Shumai Bento

    There are more people going to stadiums these days than 20 years ago. I have been following NPB for over 20 years. Whenever people talk about baseball being a dying sport it does not seem like it because I do not see the decline in popularity that people talk about.

    My first NPB game ever was in 1982 when I watched Yokohama Taiyo Whales vs Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Yokohama Stadium. I remember the attendance figures from that game and it was 11,000. Back then NPB did not give out accurate figures. They just looked at the stadium and gave “estimates” What they did was exaggerated the figures. So it is very much likely although I am guessing here that there were less than 10,000 at the game. Yokohama Stadium was very empty just like today. It would fill up sometimes on weekends or on national holidays such as Golden Week. But apart from that it would always be half empty with the exception of when Giants were playing there.

    The “official” attendace figures back then were. Korakuen could hold 50,000. Koshien 58,000. Jingu 52,000. Fukuoka Dome 47,000. Yokohama Stadium 30,000. Nagoya Stadium 35,000.

    My gut feeling say Korakuen could maybe hold 42,000. Koshien 48,000. Jingu 33500, Yokohama Stadium 28,000.

    Jingu Stadium is pretty much the same as it was in the 80s. There are more visitor fans than home fans. The big difference is that the tables have been reversed with Hanshin and Yomiuri. Hanshin would fill up Jingu quite a lot but it would never fill up Jingu completely. Where as now Hanshin fills up Jingu more than Yomiuri.

    Apart from that Chunichi’s popularity has increased where as Hiroshima, Yokohama, Yakult is pretty much the same as before.

    I have also seen Nipponham in Korakuen and Lotte Orions in Kawasaki. And you could almost count all the people who were watching those games. Both those teams popularity have exploded since the 80s.

  • Thanks, Shumai, it’s good to have some perspective. I’d heard about the atrendance inflation, with perhaps the most famous case being Bob Whiting being temporarily barred by the Giants for publishing his finding that the Tokyo Dome’s capacity was not 56,000, but more like 47,000 (I don’t remember the exact number he published off the top of my head.)

    As for Jingu, I know it’s capacity is now a bit under 37,000 and that’s down a bit from last year as they removed at least a few hundred seats (but probably not much more) to push the OF walls back to 101m at the sides.

    I should correct an error in my comments earlier in this thread: Ever Pacific League team except Fukuoka reported increased attendance this year over last year. Larry Rocca of the Chiba Lotte Marines told us Chiba had seen a huge boost in attendance over the past few years.

    I remember going to Nippon Ham games back when they were in Tokyo and it might have been possible to actually introduce yourself to every home fan there before the game finished. Looking at the official attendance figures at the Sapporo Dome, the Fighters have become a much bigger draw since they moved up to Hokkaido.

    Over the past eight years, I’d say attendance at Jingu and at Swallows games at the Tokyo Dome has been relatively constant, with the only noticeable difference being that both the Giants and Tigers draw more fans to Jingu when those teams are doing very well. The Tigers, especially, bring fewer fans to Jingu when they’re doing poorly.

    I’ve never been to a Yomiuri home game that didn’t have good crowd. This year, as dismal as Yokohama was, the home gaiya was pretty full at all four of the BayStars home games I attended (3 at Yokohama Stadium, 1 at Sagamihara.)

    The question now is why we keep hearing that attendance is dropping. Is this purely a phantom fear or is it a relativity thing: that attendance is not keeping pace with what’s needed to maintain teams? (Or is it just that a real increase still doesn’t measure up to the wildly inflated numbers of the past?)

  • The question now is why we keep hearing that attendance is dropping.

    Jim Allen wrote an article a year or two ago alleging that the Chunichi Dragons deliberately scheduled their “home away from home” games during inter-league play to provide them with proof that inter-league was an attendance killer. Of course a full house at Kanazawa is going to attract less than half of what they draw at Nagoya Dome on average – or even at a minimum.

    The reason that the sky – I mean attendance – is falling in the Central League is because their old school gimmicks and promotion just don’t work any more. There are too many other things to do, and the attention span of the younger generation is getting to be shorter and shorter. Society is changing from group activities to lone activities (usually with a phone).

    The Pacific League (except for Seibu and Orix who stubbornly retain their corporate culture with the past) are much more aggressively marketing themselves, especially by promoting a sense of community where they have settled.

    There’s a whole bunch more to it than the few that I’ve listed above. I’ll try to go through them some time when I’m not so sleepy.

  • Good points all, Mr. Westbay. I suppose what I should do is try to track down comprehensive attendance figures, which is pretty damned difficult as numbers like 56,000 at the Tokyo Dome or 45,000 at Jingu show up.

    What you say about PL promotion vis a vis CL promotion definitely rings true. It’s the little things that really make a difference. While Chiba has a team museum and at least three large shops in the stadium or on the grounds selling everything you could want, including caps (Amazing!), one must go through the website to order a fitted Swallows replica cap and, for the last six weeks of this season, ordinary adjustable replica caps were not to be found – the choices were tacky “fashion” caps or a replica cap with blinking lights in the logo. It’s next to impossible to find key chains or other little trinkets without cutesy, childish Tsubakurou on them.

    While a pro baseball team apparently decided caps would not be in demand, they thought it a good idea to put together a second-rate pop group, have them record a mediocre pop song, change one line of the chorus to say “Take me Swallows”, and have them incompetently lip-synch before every game, flog the CD around the stadium, and follow them up with a pointless dance troupe. Oh, and how could I forget the dance troupe of little girls?

    Caps and investment in the team are apparently too much to ask, but three irritating pop groups, doing the same crap routines to the same crap songs every day are what’s going to draw people to baseball games.

    Sadly, if I listed all the similarly stupid and insulting things Yakult does with the team, I’d have a book on my hands and it seems that Yakult is not alone.

    Sometimes I really wonder why I continue to give these people my money.

  • While a pro baseball team apparently decided caps would not be in demand, they thought it a good idea to put together a second-rate pop group

    I believe the CD artist’s name is “DADS” (stands for Dynamic and Dramatic Swallows) and the track title is “Swallows Paradise”.

    Wrong on so many levels.

  • And are DADs and DDS separate entities? Man, some people reach such levels of idiocy and incompetence that there really needs to be a punishment for it. I’m not saying kill the Swallows’ marketing department, but I am saying fire them all immediately and publicly humiliate them on the way out. Maybe an old-fashioned tarring and feathering.

  • I think DDS are the dance troupe and DADS are the singing group?

  • flick

    How dynamic and dramatic can a swallow be??
    PRICELESS— and I thought telling my friends in America that my favorite team is the Swallows was bad enough.

    I think the Swallows’ main marketing ploy is to keep selling cheap umbrellas. Mine broke two years in a row, and I will have to get a new one next season…

  • I think the Swallows’ main marketing ploy is to keep selling cheap umbrellas.

    I wish that were so. Next year, it’s going to be fielding only eight men and trying to sell us DVDs of children holding green umbrellas for ?10,000.

    David, I think you’re right re: DDS and DAD’S. With DAD’S (don’t ask me why there’s an apostrophe, but there is) hanging out in front of the Fan Club window flogging their CD for the last couple weeks of the season, I kept wondering whether it would be worth it to have my picture taken with them for blog purposes, but decided I just didn’t have anything nice to say. (“Hey, girl ten years younger than me. You might be be hot, but I would pay to see you unemployed right now. Oh, and please never try singing again. Your ‘performance’ talents are apparently much better suited to porn than music.”)

    Damnit! Now that song is in my head. I should have worn earplugs until the first pitch of each game this season.

  • DAD’S Swallows Paradise is all the more wrong for the addition of the apostrophe.