Saitama Seibu Lions

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Albert Flores

The Saitama Seibu Lions (埼玉西武ライオンズ) are a professional baseball team in Japan's Pacific League based north of Tokyo in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture. Before 1979, they were based in Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture in Kyushu. The team is owned by a subsidiary of Prince Hotels, which in turn is owned by the Seibu Group. The team experienced a recent period of financial difficulty, but the situation brightened when the team received a record ¥6 billion (about $51.11 million) posting fee from the Boston Red Sox for the right to negotiate a contract with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Between 1978 and 2008, the team logo and mascot were based on the adult version of Kimba the White Lion, a classic Japanese anime and manga series by Osamu Tezuka. In 2004, former Seibu Lions player Kazuo Matsui became the first Japanese infielder to play in Major League Baseball.

Franchise history

Nishitetsu Clippers (1950)

In 1950, the team became a founding member of the Pacific League. It was then owned by Nishi-Nippon Railroad, which was based in Fukuoka. +moreThe Clippers name was chosen as Nishitetsu was in charge of Pan American Airlines' Japanese operations (back then, Pan Am's jets were known as "Clippers" due to them being aeronautical). The team finished sixth that year, and at the end of the season was merged with the Nishi-Nippon Pirates to form the Nishitetsu Lions. Thus the Lions name was adopted and has been retained up to today as the name of the franchise.

Nishitetsu Lions (1951-1972)

The Nishitetsu Lions called Heiwadai Stadium home for their entire existence. They were one of a dominant team in the Pacific League during the 1950s, winning four pennants, including three straight Japan Series against the Yomiuri Giants behind famed manager Osamu Mihara; their last championship in Fukuoka came in 1958.

The team struggled through the following decade and did not witness much success on the field. In 1969-1970 the team was caught up in the infamous Black Mist game-fixing scandal, which resulted in four Lions pitchers being banned from NPB for life, as well as other players receiving lesser punishments. +more These losses decimated the team, which finished the 1970 season in last place.

After a third straight last-place finish, in November 1972 the franchise was sold to the Fukuoka Baseball Corporation, also a part of Nishi-Nippon Railroad. Following the sale, the team was renamed the Taiheiyo Club Lions.

Taiheiyo Club Lions (1973-1976)

Nishi-Nippon Railroad, founded by Nagayoshi Nakamura, then owner of Lotte Corporation and the Orions, sold the team's sponsorship rights to Taiheiyo Club, a golf course and resort developer in 1973. The Lions, still smarting from the after-effects of the Black Mist Scandal, finished no higher than third throughout the 1970s.

Crown Lighter Lions (1977-1978)

At the end of the 1976 season, the Fukuoka Baseball Corporation announced that the team's new sponsor was Crown Gas Lighter. With this, the team's name for the upcoming season was changed to the Crown Lighter Lions. +more At the end of the 1978 season, the team was sold to Kokudo Keikaku (later Kokudo), and then merged into Prince Hotels.

Seibu Lions (1979-2007)

Following the sale of the Crown Lighter Lions and their merging into Prince Hotels, the team was renamed the Seibu Lions and relocated to a new ballpark in Tokorozawa, Saitama. Fukuoka would be left without an NPB team until , when the erstwhile Nankai Hawks were bought by Daiei and moved to the Lions' previous stadium, Heiwadai Stadium.

Golden Age (1982-1994)

The Lions finished in last place in (something the team would not do again until ), and finished in fourth place in and . However, the following seasons would mark the beginning of a period of sustained success for the team under new manager Tatsuro Hirooka and with star players such as Osamu Higashio and Kōichi Tabuchi. +more Tatsuro Hirooka told the players that meat and other animal foods increase athletes' susceptibility to injury, and decrease their ability to perform. He required all players to take up a strictly vegetarian diet. The club won consecutive Japan Series in and , and went to the Japan Series again in , but lost to the Hanshin Tigers, who won their first and so far only Japan Series title in team history.

Following the 1986 season, the club replaced Hirooka with Masaaki Mori, who was able to sustain the team's prolonged success. Mori won eight league championships, between 1986 and 1988 and 1990-1994, and six Japan Series championships in his nine-year managing career, winning the Japan Series in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992.

The team gained the moniker "Invincible Seibu" during the 1980s and 1990s due to their sustained domination of the league. The Lions had a powerful lineup in this period, loaded with sluggers such as Koji Akiyama, Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Orestes Destrade. +more Their defense also benefited from the services of skilled players such as Hiromichi Ishige, Romeo Calhoun, Hatsuhiko Tsuji and catcher Tsutomu Ito. Among the pitchers employed by the Lions in this period was "The Oriental Express" Taigen Kaku, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Hisanobu Watanabe, and relievers Yoshitaka Katori and Tetsuya Shiozaki.

Saitama Seibu Lions (2008-)

In order to reinforce the affiliation between the team and their home region, the Lions added the prefecture name "Saitama" to their team name in 2008. They were Pacific League Champions that year and went on to win the Japan Series. +more The team logo and uniforms were further modified for the 2009 season, with the team trading in their traditional light-blue colour scheme for a dark blue design similar to that employed during the Nishitetsu Lions era in the 1950s and 1960s. Between 2010 to 2019, the Lions made the Pacific League Climax Series 1st stage 5 times, (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017) but lost to the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2010 and 2013, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2017, and to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2011 and 2012. They made the Final Stage twice in back to back years in 2018 and 2019, but lost to the Hawks on both occasions. In 2020, the team finished in 3rd place, but was unable to make the playoffs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pacific League removed the First Stage of the playoffs; only the top 2 teams in Pacific League made the playoffs, while Central League removed it entirely, instead opting to send the regular season champion (Yomiuri Giants) straight to the Japan Series. In 2021, the Lions finished in 6th and last place for the first time since 1979 with a 55-70-18 record.

Season-by-season records

YearTeam NameFinishPlayoffs
1950Nishitetsu Clippers5th, PacificDid not qualify
1951Nishitetsu Lions2nd, PacificDid not qualify
1952Nishitetsu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1953Nishitetsu Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
1954Nishitetsu Lions1st, PacificLost Japan Series (3-4, Dragons)
1955Nishitetsu Lions2nd, PacificDid not qualify
1956Nishitetsu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-2, Giants)
1957Nishitetsu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-0, Giants)
1958Nishitetsu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-3, Giants)
1959Nishitetsu Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
1960Nishitetsu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1961Nishitetsu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1962Nishitetsu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1963Nishitetsu Lions1st, PacificLost Japan Series (3-4, Giants)
1964Nishitetsu Lions5th, PacificDid not qualify
1965Nishitetsu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1966Nishitetsu Lions2nd, PacificDid not qualify
1967Nishitetsu Lions2nd, PacificDid not qualify
1968Nishitetsu Lions5th, PacificDid not qualify
1969Nishitetsu Lions5th, PacificDid not qualify
1970Nishitetsu Lions6th, PacificDid not qualify
1971Nishitetsu Lions6th, PacificDid not qualify
1972Nishitetsu Lions6th, PacificDid not qualify
1973Taiheiyo Club Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
1974Taiheiyo Club Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
1975Taiheiyo Club Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1976Taiheiyo Club Lions6th, PacificDid not qualify
1977Crown Lighter Lions6th, PacificDid not qualify
1978Crown Lighter Lions5th, PacificDid not qualify
1979Seibu Lions6th, PacificDid not qualify
1980Seibu Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
1981Seibu Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
1982Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-2, Dragons)
1983Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-3, Giants)
1984Seibu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1985Seibu Lions1st, PacificLost Japan Series (2-4, Tigers)
1986Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-3, Carp
1987Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-2, Giants)
1988Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-1, Dragons)
1989Seibu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1990Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-0, Giants)
1991Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-3, Carp)
1992Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-3, Swallows)
1993Seibu Lions1st, PacificLost Japan Series (3-4, Swallows)
1994Seibu Lions1st, PacificLost Japan Series (2-4, Giants)
1995Seibu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1996Seibu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
1997Seibu Lions1st, PacificLost Japan Series (1-4, Swallows)
1998Seibu Lions1st, PacificLost Japan Series (2-4, BayStars)
1999Seibu Lions2nd, PacificDid not qualify
2000Seibu Lions2nd, PacificDid not qualify
2001Seibu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
2002Seibu Lions1st, PacificLost Japan Series (0-4, Giants)
2003Seibu Lions2nd, PacificDid not qualify
2004Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-3, Dragons)
2005Seibu Lions3rd, PacificLost CS First Stage (0-2, Marines)
2006Seibu Lions2nd, PacificLost CS First Stage (1-2, Hawks)
2007Seibu Lions5th, PacificDid not qualify
2008Saitama Seibu Lions1st, PacificWon Japan Series (4-3, Giants)
2009Saitama Seibu Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
2010Saitama Seibu Lions2nd, PacificLost CS First Stage (0-2, Marines)
2011Saitama Seibu Lions3rd, PacificLost CS Final Stage (0-4, Hawks)
2012Saitama Seibu Lions2nd, PacificLost CS First Stage (1-2, Hawks)
2013Saitama Seibu Lions2nd, PacificLost CS First Stage (1-2, Marines)
2014Saitama Seibu Lions5th, PacificDid not qualify
2015Saitama Seibu Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
2016Saitama Seibu Lions4th, PacificDid not qualify
2017Saitama Seibu Lions2nd, PacificLost CS First Stage (1-2, Golden Eagles)
2018Saitama Seibu Lions1st, PacificLost CS Final Stage (2-4, Hawks)
2019Saitama Seibu Lions1st, PacificLost CS Final Stage (1-4, Hawks)
2020Saitama Seibu Lions3rd, PacificDid not qualify
2021Saitama Seibu Lions6th, PacificDid not qualify
2022Saitama Seibu Lions3rd, PacificLost CS First Stage (1-2, Hawks)

Current roster

Managers

Years in officeManagersPacific League championshipsJapan Series championshipsPlayoff berths
11Kaname Miyazaki12051672. 432
2-9Osamu Mihara1,18968045851. +more5984 times (1954,1956, 1957,1958)3 times (1956,1957,1958)
3-2Tokuji Kawasaki2761511169. 566
4-8Futoshi Nakanishi1,11753154145. 4951 (1963)
5-5Kazuhisa Inao65024637034. 399
61Shinichi Eto130586210. 483
70Leo Durocher
-
-
8-2Masaichi Kito2609314918. 384
9-4Rikuo Nemoto52021926536. 452
10-4Tatsuro Hirooka52029520421. 5913 times (1982,1983,1985)2 (1982,19831 (1982)
11-9Masaaki Mori (baseball)1,17067343859. 6068 times (1986,1987,1988, 1990,1991,1992, 1993,1994)6 times (1986,1987,1988, 1990,1991,1992)
12-7Osamu Higashio93748942523. 5352 (1997,1998)
13-2Haruki Ihara (1st)2801671103. 6031 (2002)
14-4Tsutomu Itō5492872575. 5281 (2004)1 (2004)3 times (2004,2005,2006)
15-6Hisanobu Watanabe86443839531. 5261 (2008)1 (2008)5 times (2008,2010,2011, 2012,2013)
161Haruki Ihara (2nd)14463774. 450
17-2Norio Tanabe2861331458. 478
18-6Hatsuhiko Tsuji83543237231. 5372 (2018,2019)4 (2017,2018,2019,2022)
19-1Kazuo Matsui
-
-. ---
Totals71 seasons17 managers9,5644,8824,313369. 53123 times13 times12 times
* Statistics current through the end of the season.

Former players of note

1952-1959 * 1953 * Mateo Alou 1974-1976 * 1981-1983 * 1979-1984 * 1980-1985 * 1986-1987 * 1969-1988 * 1987-1990 * 1977-1991 * 1981-1993 * 1981-1994 * 1989-1995 * 1993-1998 * 1986-1996 * 1995-1996 * 1985-1997 *1998-2000 * 2000 * 1999-2001 * 1994-2003, 2018 * 1990-2004 * 1997-2005 * 1999-2006, 2020-present * 2002-2006 * 2001-2007 * 2001-2012 * 2006-2011 * 2008-2013 * 2010-2018

Retired number

Team announced Kazuhisa Inao's No.24 was the first retired number of the Lions on May 1, 2012.

MLB players

Yusei Kikuchi (2019-)

Retired From MLB: *Frank Howard (1974) *Kazuhisa Ishii (2002-2006) *Kazuo Matsui (2004-2010) *Shinji Mori (2006-2007) *Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007-2014)

Kikuchiyusei. jpg|Yusei Kikuchi Daisuke Matsuzaka on March 25, 2008. +morejpg|Daisuke Matsuzaka Kazuo_Matsui_on_April_11,_2010. jpg|Kazuo Matsui Lions_Hotaka_Yamakawa. JPG|Hotaka Yamakawa.

Further reading

Whiting, Robert. "The Emperor's Team," You Gotta Have Wa (Vintage Departures, 1989), pp. 220-238.

Notes

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