Thursday, July 1, 2021

JWBL Players Move On

The Japan Women's Baseball League (JWBL) suspended operations after last season and I'm under the impression that their chances of resuming business as usual are pretty low.  This isn't a pandemic-related issue either - according to their Japanese Wikipedia page about half of the players in the league (36 out of 71) announced they wouldn't be returning at the end of the 2019 season.  They picked up eight new players and fielded their usual three teams in 2020 (with the players from Reia, the development team, also playing on the other three teams).   They were able to play a coronavirus-delayed season last year but at the end of it 26 of the 43 players quit on them, leaving them unable to continue this year.  I think the issue causing the players to leave had to do with how "professional" the league treated them (or rather didn't treat them) - they wanted to be paid during the offseason as well as during the season.  There also seems to be some issues with the players feeling that the league was trying to market them more as "Idols" rather than baseball players.  The league also appears to have been losing money ever since it first started in 2010.  But I may be wrong about this - I'm getting most of this from the Google translations of articles in the Asahi Shimbun and J-Cast.  But the key thing is that league lost most of its players since the end of the 2019 season.

Where have they gone?  It looks like many of the players who wanted to continue playing have gone to play for various club teams.  However, two NPB teams, the Saitama Seibu Lions and the Hanshin Tigers, have established/sponsored women's teams and both teams have a number of former JWBL players on their rosters. 

I want to stress that both teams are essentially run as club teams by the ball clubs and are not professional teams.  The teams play in women's club leagues in the Kanto (for the Lions) and Kansai (for the Tigers) regions.

The Lions established their team in 2020.  The team is managed by former Lions and Fighters pitcher Hiroshi Shintani and the coaching staff includes two other male former players - Masahiro Koda and Takeshi Nonogaki.  The third member of the coaching staff is former JWBL player Saho Taguchi.

2018 Epoch JWBL #29

As far as I can tell, four of the players on the Lions' roster played in the JWBL (or at least played in the JWBL in one of the years I have baseball cards from):

2015 AIAIO JWBL #A15-02-01

2018 Epoch JWBL #32

2015 AIAIO JWBL #D15-18-01

2018 Epoch JWBL #AG25

Additionally Ayako Rokkaku, who's been a staple on the Women's Samurai Japan team over the past ten years but who never played in the JWBL.  She did appear in one of BBM's "Shining Venus" sets, however, so I have a baseball card of her also:

2017 BBM Shining Venus #02

The Tigers team was not established until earlier this season but seems to have garnered more attention - I knew about them when they started but I didn't know about the Lions team until I saw a tweet Jason Coskey retweeted a few weeks ago,  The team is managed by former Tigers player Yuya Nohara and it doesn't appear to have a coaching staff.  Half of the team's 18 player roster are former JWBL players:

2018 Epoch JWBL #51

2016 Epoch JWBL #51

2015 AIAIO JWBL #A15-01-01

2018 Epoch JWBL #26

2018 BBM Shining Venus #01

2018 Epoch JWBL #53

2015 AIAIO JWBL #R15-48-01

2018 Epoch JWBL #71

2016 Epoch JWBL #12

"Nagisa" is Nagisa Handa.  Minami Takatsuka went by just "Minami" for a couple years in the JWBL but has returned to using her full name again.

I'm hoping to see baseball cards for these teams but I haven't found anything yet.

I'll be curious to see how many of these players end up on the Samurai Japan team for the 2021 Women's Baseball World Cup which is supposed to be played in Mexico this fall.  Besides Rokkaku, Ayaka Deguchi, Iori Miura, Ayami Sato and Asaka Tsuru all played on previous versions of the team.  Sato has won the MVP award for the World Cup in 2014, 2016 and 2018.


SumoMenkoMan said...

That's a bummer for sure. Great to see cards of the players!

Fuji said...

It would be cool if the women's Lions and Tigers teams played in the same league. It'd be even cooler if every NPB team had a women's team counterpart, but based on the numbers, it might be difficult finding talent to fill those rosters.