Things to know about Japanese Pro Baseball

Table of Contents





Contacting Japanese teams


The pro draft takes place in November. It is a complex arrangement which considers each team's finishing order, a lottery to decide top draft picks, and the rights of selected top amateurs to pre-select the teams they wish to be drafted by.

In 2001, the draft underwent its first major revision in nearly 10 years. For the first time, teams interested in negotiating beforehand with corporate and college players had to forgoe a shot at the cream of the high school crop. Teams used to be able to compete for one top high school player  with their first round picks while using the second to secure the rights to a corporate or college player they had already negotiated with.
Realizing that the second-round pick was as good as a first-round choice, the establishment changed the draft to allow teams to take up to players prior to the draft. Teams making one prior selection were penalized by having to sit out the first round, when high schoolers become available. These clubs drafted in the second round, which was not open to the clubs making two free picks or those who abstained from taking a player prior to the draft.

The third round was open only to teams who made no pre-draft picks, and from the fourth round, all teams joined in the action.

During the first round, the draft order is meaningless. Each team chooses a player and lots are drawn to pick the lucky team if more than one covets the same amateur. Teams failing to draw the player of their dreams then make an alternate selection, which may or may not also be subject to a lottery. Once every choosing team has the rights to one player, the draft proceeds to the next round. From the 2001 draft, all picks after the first are taken in order of finish or the reverse of that order (the last place team of the Japan Series losers' league picking first).

Essentially the draft lasts until no one wants any more players. In 2001, the Orix BlueWave picked 14 players, including two prior to the draft. All 12 teams drafted as far as the fifth round, but after the Hiroshima Carp dropped out at the conclusion of the 10th round, the BlueWave continued to pick until the 15th round.

Normally, a team gains the exclusive signing rights to any player it drafts for a limited number of years (three years for high school players and one year for college and corporate leaguers). However, from November 1993 to November 2000, amateurs with three years of college or industrial league ball who are drafted in the first two rounds, had the right to veto any team's signing rights. In effect, these players had the right to pre-select the team they will be drafted by--provided that team drafted them in one of the first two rounds.

 It is against the rules to draft and sign a player with the intention of trading him to another team, although this has occurred once in the past. (See the Egawa Affair.)

Until 2000, players in the first two rounds may be selected by multiple teams, with one team being assigned negotiating rights by lottery. Teams failing in the lottery are allowed an alternate pick, who might also be selected by more than one team. In the 1997 draft, the Yakult Swallows were involved in lottery selections in each of the first two rounds and lost them both.

The Egawa Affair

In 1973, High School phenom Suguru Egawa had a tough year. He desired badly to play for the Giants, but was drafted by the Hankyu Braves. Egawa refused to sign with the Braves, opting to enter Keio University instead. Unfortunately, Egawa was not accepted at Keio in the spring of 1974, but was admitted to cross-town rival Hosei University.

Egawa pitched brilliantly in college and in 1997, he was again drafted in the first round, this time by the Crown Lighter Lions, based in Fukuoka. Egawa refused them as well and left the country to play for two months for the Glacier Pilots, an Anchorage-based team in the Alaskan summer league in 1978.

That fall, Egawa reentered the draft. However, the day before the 1978 draft, 366 days after being drafted by the Lions, Egawa announced that the Lions' rights to him having expired, declared himself a free-agent, and signed a contract with the Giants. All hell broke loose.

The Giants were criticized from every direction. The commissioners' office refused to accept the contract, and the Giants' boycotted the next day's draft in protest. The Tigers drafted Egawa the next day but Egawa vowed that he would never sign with them. To resolve the issue, the commisioner engineered a trade between the Giants and the Tigers. The Tigers got the Giants' best starting pitcher, Shigeru Kobayashi, and the Giants got to keep Egawa. There was such an uproar about the settlement that the commissioner resigned and the Giants suspended Egawa (with pay, I presume) for the first two months of the season.

Note: Thanks to Takao Tsukuda, who along with his father, became acquainted with Egawa during his two-month stay in Alaska and corrected some of the information in this section.


Their are four types of rosters for each Japanese pro club. The first is the organizational roster. Each club is limited to having 70 players under contract at one time. The second roster is for the first team. Each club is limited to 40 players who may be called up to play in first team (Central or Pacific League) games. Players may only be added or removed from the first team roster on a few specified dates throughout the season or to make room for a new player joining the organization

The third roster is the 28 players registered to be on the first team bench. Players who are sent to the second team, cannot be re-activated for ten days. The final roster is the 25 players chosen by the team from the 28-man bench roster to participate in a given game. Players whose health status is day to day and starting pitchers between starts can be kept active and not requiring a 10-day delay that being sent down to the farm club would require.

 Because of the 25/28 man active roster, Japanese teams to use lots of pinch hitters and almost never use position players as emergency pitchers.

For many years, Japanese teams were limited to two foreign players each, with foreigners who played amateur ball in Japan--and thus eligible for the draft--not included. The first move to broaden this restriction came in the 1990's, when three foreign players were allowed on each team, with up to three on the field at one time, provided one was a pitcher. The next change allowed each team to sign an unlimited number of foreigners, while holding the three-man limit on the PL and CL 28-man rosters. Currently, each team is allowed four foreigners on the bench but still only three on the field at one time.


There is no single, official ball sanctioned by either league or by the Commisioners office. Rather, the commissioners office certifies that the balls of different sporting goods manufacturers are eligible to be used in official games, provided they meet the commissioner's specifications. Each team is allowed to use balls, from up to three different makers, during each season for their home games. The home team must select the balls from one maker only to be used during each series and must supply the visiting team with samples of the balls to be used in advance.

The use of different maker's balls causes lots of difficulty in comparing the stats of different teams, since no manufacturer's balls are identical. In 1980, things got very wierd when one manufacturer's balls, which were particularly lively, were adopted widely by four Pacific League teams: the Hawks, Buffaloes, Braves and the Lions. This particular lively ball had been used for a few years, but when it went into wide spread use in 1980, home run totals jumped by 28% and while the total number of hits remained stable, doubles and triples were way down but homers were way up. Perhaps a lot of hard hit balls that would have hit the fences, were gliding over them. The home run explosion which swept the league, did not occur in the home parks of either the Lotte Orions or the Nippon Ham Fighters--who had opted not to use the juiced ball.

At the conclusion of that season, the commissioner's office instituted a much stricter testing regime with "random" testing taking place twice a year at by an independent testing agency in Saitama Prefecture. The balls are then tested for coefficiency of restitution, the measure of how much energy the ball retains from a collision. It is uncertain how random this testing is as the makers are asked to supply balls for testing, rather than having them taken from those already supplied to teams for game use.

Other than twice monthly tests in Osaka and Tokyo for weight and whiteness, which are conducted by umpires and performed prior to stamping each ball with the commissioner's seal, all other testing is done by the makers themselves. This system appears open for abuse.The fact that the Nippon Ham Fighters, playing in a decent home run park--but not a band box--see 70% more home runs in their home games suggests that the balls are a factor.


The Pacific and Central leagues began playing a 140-game schedule in 2001 after a couple of seasons with a 135-game calendar. 130 games were the norm from 1969 to 1996. The next four years saw each team play 135 games. Currently there are no replays for games that are declared a tie after 12 innings.
Until 2001, league winners were always decided by winning percentage, with ties counting as no game. (Actually in some seasons, a tie counted as half a win and half a loss in calculating winning percentages--which made perfect sense.

In 2001, the CL decided to list teams in the standings, based on the number of total wins. This coincided with a decision to have a playoff between the best two teams in the league should one win more games but the other have a higher winning percentage after playing a full schedule. The playoff was a great idea; the standings by wins were not. The Giants, by virtue of playing more games indoors than any other team, played more games than anyone until rainouts were made up at the end of the season and thus were in first place for most of the year. At some point in August, the Swallows, who were leading the Giants in winning percentage for almost the entire season, finally had enough wins to become official league leaders.

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