[FOUNTAIN]A new team giantThe Yomiuri Giants is the team that every Japanese baseball player dreams of joining. Last year, the team attracted 2.92 million baseball fans to the stadium, which is close to the number of spectators (3 million) for all the Korean professional teams combined. The audience share at the team’s baseball games, which in 2005 was its lowest ever, was still more than 10 percent. Whenever a player is scouted by the Giants, they receive the best treatment. In 2004, the average annual salary was 120 million yen or 1.2 billion won ($1.2 million). That is nearly twice the average of any other Japanese baseball team.
The Giants also have their own strong publicity system. The Yomiuri Shimbun, which has a circulation of over 10 million, and broadcaster Nippon TV are affiliated companies. The team’s home stadium is the Tokyo Dome. The team is a major reason why Yomiuri Shimbun sells the most newspaper copies in the world. Tsuneo Watanabe, the Yomiuri Shimbun chairman and chief editorial writer, is also chairman of the Giants. Mr. Watanabe is close to former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and considered the godfather of political news writers in Japan. Mr. Watanabe is said to be deeply involved in choosing its players and managers.
The Giants is a team of records. Since the team kicked off, its average winning rate has been 59 percent. It has won the central league 39 times. From 1965 to 1973, it wrote history by winning the Japanese series 9 years straight. Their winning powerhouse pair was Shigeo Nagashima and Taiwan-descended Wang Cheng Chih, or Sadaharu Oh. They were the number 3 and 4 hitters and known as the “ON battery.” Their plays remain legendary. Oh hit a total of 868 home runs and Nagashima won the batting title six times. These two shared the runs batted in title for seventeen years from 1962. In those days, the Japanese economy was growing rapidly and television sets were becoming popular, making Nagashima into a national hero. He was given the nickname “Mr. Professional Baseball.”
There are many star players on the team: Pitcher Kaneda Shoichi, who recorded a total of 400 wins, and Chang Hun or Isao Harimoto ― the Japanese-Korean slugger who had 3,000 career hits.
However, the team is going through its hardest times. Last year, it ranked fifth among the six teams in the league. Last Thursday, Lee Seung-yeop signed with the Yomiuri Giants. Chang Hun transferred to the Giants in 1976 when Nagashima retired and Oh Sadaharu’s batting started to get dull and filled the gap left by those players. Will Lee also be able to be the savior of the Giants?
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.