Note: Taking a break from the serious topics to talk about something fun, baseball. If you know nothing about Japanese baseball, maybe you’ll learn a little bit from this fun article. Keep in mind this article is supposed to be in good fun, so don’t take offense (especially if you are a Yakult Swallows diehard fan)!
Believe it or not, one of the greatest early challenges for me as I relocate to Japan is choosing what baseball team to root for. In America, it was never much of a decision. I was born in Oakland and grew up in the East Bay, so the Oakland A’s are my team for life. But when you move to a new country, you have no sentimental ties to any particular team. Therefore, you must choose.
Now I take baseball very seriously, so choosing the right team isn’t a matter of Eenie-meenie-miney-mo or, in Japanese terms, Jan-Ken-Po. As serious as the Oakland A’s are about applying sabremetrics to selecting players, I am just as serious about applying similar metrics to choosing a baseball team. So are you ready to dive in? Let’s go…uh, baseball.
There are, at the time of this writing, 12 teams in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). To keep from going totally crazy, I needed to narrow the field of potential teams down to a manageable number, say 4 teams. Based on my criteria, the number one most important criteria for me to root for a team would be proximity. Proximity plays an important role in a couple of ways. First, I think it’s a good idea to root for a team that plays near you because it potentially gives you something in common with the people you interact with on a daily basis. Second, I like to go to a baseball game once in a while, and if the home stadium of your favorite team is 5 hours away by bullet train, that’s probably not conducive to attending games.
So simply picking the 4 closest teams based on taking the train to their home stadium gives me:
- Saitama Seibu Lions (38 min)
- Tokyo Yomiuri Giants (40 min)
- Tokyo Yakult Swallows (53 min)
- Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars (1 hr. 38 min)
Since we spend a lot of time in Chiba because of the summer ministries we have been involved in for the past few years, I’ll throw in:
Chiba Lotte Marines (1 hr. 55 min)
We want to keep this at 4 teams, so I’m going to toss Yokohama in favor of Chiba.
Now that we have our candidates based on the primary criteria of proximity, we can begin the in-depth analysis of the teams. I will be assigning a point value for each criteria based on importance and scoring each team based on where they fall in the criteria rating like this:
- Best: Criteria x 100%
- Second: Criteria x 80%
- Third: Criteria x 60%
- Worst: Criteria x 40%
Criteria: Team Ownership (10 points)
Best: Chiba Marines. Lotte is one of the top 3 confectionery companies in Japan and number 1 in Korea. And who doesn’t love candy? (10 points)
Second: Saitama Lions. Seibu in this case refers to Seibu Railway company, not Seibu department store, Seibu electronics, or any of the half dozen other Seibu named companies. Since the Seibu-Ikebukuro line is our train line, where would we be without Seibu? Walking. Very far. (8 points)
Third: Tokyo Giants. My wife’s uncle used to work for Yomiuri, the New York Times of Japan. This is mainly a case of family loyalty. (6 points)
Worst: Tokyo Swallows. Okay I get it. Yakult is that yogurt drink that’s good for your health. You SWALLOW it. That doesn’t make it taste good. (4 points)
Criteria: Performance (10 points)
This is calculated simply as average winning percentage from 2008-2013. Unlike American baseball games, Japanese baseball games can end in a tie, so simply counting wins isn’t accurate enough.
Best: Tokyo Giants, .604 Unsurprising, considering the Giants payroll is nearly double of any other team. (10 points)
Second: Seibu Lions, .526 (8 points) Not bad at all, for the lowest payroll team of the bunch.
Third: Tokyo Swallows, .491 This was surprising. (6 points)
Worst: Chiba Marines, .482 One should keep in mind that the year the Marines won the Climax Series (2010), they finished third in their league.
Criteria: Underdoggedness (10 points)
Underdoggedness is a measurement of how well a team does in the face of adverse conditions: low payroll, smaller fan base, management turnover, etc. The Oakland A’s are the gold standard of Underdoggedness. Yes, it’s a real thing.
Best: Chiba Marines. The Marines struggled mightily for over 30 years until they finally reached the playoffs in 2005 for the first time since 1974. Since then, they have been a relevant team again, winning the Climax Series in 2010. (10 points)
Second: Saitama Lions. The Lions experienced a “Golden Age” from 1982-1994, when they won 11 league pennants. Since 2008, when they won the Climax Series, they have not won a pennant, though they have been strong contenders in recent years. (8 points)
Third: Tokyo Swallows. The Swallows have not won a pennant since 2001, when they last won the Climax Series. To call them underdogs would be a misnomer; they are simply a bad team. (6 points)
Worst: Tokyo Giants. The Giants are certainly contenders almost every year, but they are far from underdogs. Sporting the highest payroll and largest fan base of all Japanese teams, they are the NY Yankees of Japan. (4 points)
Criteria: Efficiency (10 points)
I’m basing efficiency off the formula: Payroll / Wins.
Best: Saitama Lions, Y30,305,400 per win. (10 points)
Second: Chiba Marines, Y33,668,200 per win. (8 points)
Third: Tokyo Swallows, Y41,863,200 per win (6 points)
Worst: Tokyo Giants, Y55,465,000 per win (4 points)
Criteria: Uniform Coolness (5 points)
Best: Chiba Marines. The Marines sport a nice blue pinstripe home uniform, which other than it’s similarities to the Yankees, is a pretty classy outfit. (5 points)
Second: Saitama Lions. Love the classic quality of the uniform, from the logo font to the style. (4 points)
Third: Tokyo Swallows. The YS logo is sort of weird and I’m not into the red pinstripes at all. (3 points)
Worst: Tokyo Giants. In colors and logo font, looks nearly identical to another Bay Area team with the same name, and I just can’t bear that. (2 points)
Criteria: Mascot Cuteness (5 points)
Best: Saitama Lions. The mascot is based on Simba The White Lion, an anime created by Osamu Tezuka. Lions are cute. White lions? Adorable! (5 points)
Second: Tokyo Giants. The Giants mascots are called Giabbits and there are 6 of them, because you all know what Giabbits are known for. (4 points)
Third: Chiba Marines. Cool is the Marines six foot tall seagull mascot. You don’t want a six foot seagull flying over your head, that’s for sure. They also have one Japanese pear looking thing called Funassyi, which is apparently the Funabashi city mascot, where the Marines play. Points go to Funassyi. (3 points)
Worst: Tokyo Swallows. When Google translates the name of the Swallows mascot, it comes up “Saliva Crow”. What else needs to be said? (2 points)
Conclusion: The Final Rankings
Last place: Tokyo Swallows (25 points). Let’s face it; this team didn’t have a lot going for it in the first place. They don’t win a lot and they play a stones throw from the Goliath in their league, Yomiuri. But Saliva Crow is their mascot? As Jimmy Fallon would say, Ewww.
Third place: Tokyo Giants (26 points). This team might make number one for anyone other than an Oakland A’s fan, but they have too much going against them, from the Halloween uniform to the huge payroll, that makes them an uncomfortable fit for someone who roots for the Oaktown crew.
Second place: Chiba Marines (37 points). There are a lot of good reasons to love the Marines, frankly. The problem is they play in the same league as the Lions, so you can’t really root for both. But with a 1 point difference between the Marines and the Lions (38 points), it may still be too close to call. Perhaps I need to do some in-depth investigation before I can make my final choice. Who has the most fanatic fans? The best ballpark food? The most creative cheers? The truth is still out there. A sequel is coming.