Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Picture Is Worth 2008 Words

Happy New Year 2009, everyone. May you all spend as much time watching baseball as possible. I certainly did:

77 games attended, between minors, majors, college ball, etc.

Fighters games: 26 (counting minors)
Marines games: 20 (also counting minors)
Baystars games: 15 (but I only cheered for them at 11)
Dragons games: 8 (and I only cheered for them at 6)

...Carp games: 1 (in Hiroshima. Man, I seriously neglected them)

Pitcher I saw start the most often: Lotte's Shunsuke Watanabe, 8 times
Runner-up: 5 times, Fighters' Ryan Glynn.

(Technically, Kazuhito Tadano and Shaggy Shugo Fujii and Hiro-chan Kobayashi were also 5 but due to split-squad and rainouts, I'm not counting them)

Number of different stadiums: 17
Teams I saw home games of: 12/12 (yes, every major-league team in Japan)
Stadium I went to the most: Tokyo Dome, 17 games
1st Base side: 22 games
3rd Base side: 50 games
Neither: 5 games. Yeah.

Days of week:
Sunday: 30 games
Monday: 20 games
Tuesday: 5 games
Wednedsay: 8 games
Thursday: 3 games
Friday: 7 games
Saturday: 4 games

Which makes sense, given that I had Sunday/Monday weekends.

42 day games, 35 night games.

There's certainly more stats I could pull out of this, I'm sure.

I wonder if I'll go to MORE games in 2009 or not. It's kind of a scary thought, isn't it?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays, From My Neighbors

It's really bizarre living in Philly sometimes, but this is seriously on the door of one of my neighbors' apartments down the hall:

Too funny not to post.

(If you don't get it, see here, among others.)

Hope you are all enjoying whatever you celebrate over this week!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How I'm Spending My Winter Vacation, Part 2: The Von Hayes Fan Club

I have been really busy with non-baseball things this past week, so I've had no time to write anything. I really do intend to continue the Leagues series I started. Honest.

What sucks more is, I actually DID do something really cool and baseball-related -- I went on a tour of the Nationals new stadium in DC last Thursday! But I haven't had time or brainpower to crop photos and write it up. I was the only person on my tour and I told the tour guide about this blog (I had to explain how I knew so much random Washington Senators history), so I really should do that soon. I promise.

For now, here's something funny that I found while visiting my mom's house. See, when I was a left-handed kid growing up watching the Phillies, my first favorite player ever was Steve Carlton. I loved Lefty. Then he went away, so my next favorite player was Von Hayes. He hit two home runs on my birthday one year, and he had a funny name. People in Philly always called him "Five for One", and never really appreciated how awesome he was, but I sure did. If there had been a Von Hayes Fan Club when I was a kid, I would have totally been a member.

I was looking through some old photos from the days when my brother and I used to go to all the baseball player appearances in Northeast Philly, and sure enough, found the one from when Von Hayes came to our neighborhood West Coast Video to sign stuff. I remember that I was about 11 years old and way too shy to say anything to him because he was my favorite player -- I think you can tell that he has this look on his face like "Why do you look so terrified of me, kid?"

Oh yeah, and I did get one of the signed photos...

Now here's where it gets kind of weird -- one of the other guys at this particular signing was Brian Propp:

Why exactly they had a Phillies guy and a Flyers guy together is beyond me, but what I do recall is that I wasn't afraid to talk to Propp, mostly because I had no clue who he was. This should be obvious in the fact that it actually says "to Deanna" on the signed headshot.

The next set of photos and stuff in the album had a photo of my brother with Ron Hextall and a signed headshot as well. The 80's really were a good time to be a kid and a sports fan, weren't they?

Oddly, since going to a Flyers game two weeks ago, I have actually found myself wanting to get into hockey, but it seems unlikely that I'll get back to a game this year. And from what Simon said about the Seibu hockey team folding, it doesn't seem likely I'd be getting into hockey in Japan any time soon either.

Another fun set of things I found at my mom's was all of her old baseball yearbooks, which go all the way back to the 1959 Phillies, although she doesn't have every year or anything, and there are certainly random ones in there that both of us were like "Why is this here?" such as a 1963 Yankees yearbook, or a 1966 Orioles yearbook.

I scanned in a few pages from various old Phillies yearbooks. Here are Von Hayes's pages from 1986 and 1987, respectively:



Let me digress for one second to say this: if you're not in the habit of buying baseball team yearbooks, I recommend buying some. Now. They should be discounted from last year's teams soon enough. Buy it, read it, put it in your attic, forget about it for 20 years. Just trust me on this one. These 1980's ones aren't so far removed from today's, but you should see the 1960's era ones. I can only imagine how things will progress 20 years from now...

Anyway, here's what Von had to say back then:

If I weren't a baseball player, I probably would have been a financial manager
My childhood heroes were Ted Williams and John F. Kennedy
My closest friend on another team is Chris Bando
Every New Years I resolve to be a better person
If I had more time I would become a gourmet cook
If I've learned one thing in life, it's to experience all you can while you are young because life is too short

If you were stranded on a deserted island and could have one thing with you, what would you choose? Flipper, because he saves everybody
If they were making a movie about your life, what actor would you want to play you? Harrison Ford
If you could spend a day with one person throughout history who would you pick? Babe Ruth, so I could teach him how to do five-way situps

You see, the weird thing is, to that last question, almost everyone on the team answered "Jesus Christ".

Amusingly, Mike Schmidt had said that every year he resolves to stop eating vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup before he goes to bed.

I'm glad my mom was nuts enough to go to the neighborhood Phillies events when I was a kid. I just wish I hadn't been too shy to talk to anyone except the Philly Phanatic. (Seriously. You know how some kids get yearly photos taken with Santa? Looking through our photo albums, I can pretty much track my childhood through photos with the Philly Phanatic every summer. I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising to most of you.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How I'm Spending My Winter Vacation, Part 1: National Portrait Gallery

Sorry I haven't written in a week and haven't finished another installment in the Japanese league series. I've been down here in Washington DC for the last few days, staying at my brother's house and visiting with him and his wife and my new 5-week-old niece. She's very cute.

I was wandering around the city the other day, and had just eaten lunch at the Chipotle in the Chinatown area, and was trying to decide where to head next, when I looked across the street and saw this:

I started arguing with the half of my brain that inhaled a billion books about Ty Cobb a few years back, and it went something like this:

Me: "Is that..."
Brain: "I think so."
Me: "But he's smiling."
Brain: "He smiled sometimes, you know."
Me: "But people didn't like Ty Cobb, would they paint him smiling?"
Brain: "Maybe? I think it's him."
Me: "I'm not sure. You know what we need to do, Brain?"
Brain: "Try and take over the world?"
Me: "No, we need to go in there and find the portrait of this mysterious Detroit Tigers player which is probably Ty Cobb and confirm it."
Brain: "Sounds good to me, it's cold out here."

So I go into the National Portrait Gallery and ask the little old lady at the front desk who the baseball player's portrait is outside. She has no clue what I'm talking about, but informs me that on the third floor, there are a lot of portraits of sports people.

I go up there and find the "Champions" exhibit, and sure enough, there's a whole bunch of artwork of sports stars, mostly paintings and a few sculptures. It's not all baseball, but there's certainly enough to be interesting...

It was, indeed, Ty Cobb, pictured here in a 1916 oil painting for Baseball Magazine.

There was a really neat Nolan Ryan painting as well.

One of the sculptures was of Casey Stengel during his tenure as the manager of the "Marvelous Mets".

A little more relevant now thanks to the Phillies championship, but this is Robin Roberts.

There were two Maris portraits... this one was an unpublished Time cover of him with Mantle. Very nice.

There were some others, including a gigantic canvas of Carlton Fisk, that were pretty neat.

It was a nice exhibit. I wouldn't necessarily say people should run right down there and see it, but if you're in the DC area and looking for some things to stumble onto, it's definitely interesting, and I believe it's a permanent exhibit anyway. The rest of the gallery is also kind of cool.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Look at the Japanese Leagues -- Part 2: Eastern and Western, or Down on the Farm

This is Part 2 in a series.

I mentioned this in the first part, but each pro team has exactly one farm team. In the sense of "minor leagues where the players are actually controlled by pro teams", there's basically only one level of minor league play, roughly defined as being "below the pro leagues". Most of the players are young guys who still haven't broken through, along with your usual assortment of veterans hanging on or players rehabbing or trying to work out issues.

With the exception of the Yokohama Baystars, whose farm team is the Shonan Sea Rex, and the Orix Buffaloes, whose farm team is the Surpass, all of the farm teams bear the same name as their corresponding pro team.

Since players are all really considered to be on the same 70-man organizational roster regardless of whether they're on the top team or the farm team, they keep the same uniform number when going between the majors and the minors. For 10 out of the 12 teams, this means guys wear the EXACT SAME UNIFORM no matter what their status is, although the Surpass and Sea Rex players do wear different uniforms than their corresponding top team, albeit with their same uniform number.

Unlike the pro leagues, which are semi-arbitrarily historically organized into the Central and Pacific Leagues, the minor leagues are organized geographically into the Eastern and Western Leagues:

Eastern League

Team City Prefecture Stadium (Year opened)
---- ---- ---------- ---------------------
Yakult Swallows Toda Saitama Yakult Toda Stadium (1977)
Yomiuri Giants Kawasaki Kanagawa Yomiuri Giants Stadium (1985)
Shonan SeaRex Yokosuka Kanagawa Yokosuka Stadium (1949)
Rakuten Golden Eagles Higashimurayama Yamagata Yamagata Stadium (1980)
Seibu Lions Tokorozawa Saitama Seibu #2 Stadium (1979)
Lotte Marines Urawa Saitama Lotte Urawa Stadium (1989)
Nippon Ham Fighters Kamagaya Chiba Kamagaya Fighters Stadium (1997)

Western League

Team City Prefecture Stadium
---- ---- ---------- -------
Softbank Hawks Fukuoka Fukuoka Gannosu (1991)
Hanshin Tigers Nishinomiya Hyogo Tigers Den Naruohama (1994)
Hiroshima Carp Iwakuni Yamaguchi Yuu Stadium (1993)
Chunichi Dragons Nagoya Aichi Nagoya Stadium (1948)
Surpass Kobe Hyogo Ajisai Stadium (2000)

You might notice that yes, one league has 7 teams and one has 5. Yes, that IS stupid. No, it wasn't always that way. From 1979 (when the Crown Lighter Lions moved from Fukuoka to become the Seibu Lions in Saitama and brought their farm team with them), the leagues actually had 6 teams each. Then in 2004 when the Orix Blue Wave and Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes merged to form Voltron -- er, the Orix Buffaloes -- their corresponding farm teams also had to become one. Fujiidera Stadium ceased to exist, along with the Kintetsu minor-league team that played there, and Surpass Kobe, which had been the Blue Wave's farm team, became the farm team for the new combined organization.

With the formation of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and a farm team in the northeastern Tohoku area, naturally the geographic split now favored the eastern side of the country.

Geographical Difficulties

While it would theoretically make sense to even up the leagues somehow, geographically it simply doesn't really make any sense to move one of the Eastern teams into the Western League. All of the EL teams except for the Eagles' team are based in the Kanto region, which roughly means "the area near Tokyo", and only one farm team isn't within an hour train ride of its top team: the Fighters, who built their stadium and training complex in Kamagaya in 1996 back when the Fighters still shared the Tokyo Dome with the Giants.

Fighters fan digression for a second: The Fighters had a facility on the Tamagawa river in the western part of Tokyo, but it was apparently completely inadequate both in terms of clubhouse and fan amenities, plus when the Tokyu Toyoko trains went by it would actually pause the game action. So, the Fighters built a nice new place for their farm team in the middle of nowhere in Chiba with great facilities. Then they ended up moving the franchise to Hokkaido a couple of years later. However, moving the farm team to Hokkaido would have not only meant vastly increasing the travel budget for the Fighters' minor-leaguers but also for all OTHER teams in the Eastern League, who would have to fly to Hokkaido rather than bussing around Kanto -- so in the interest of keeping things cheaper and easier for everyone, the farm team stayed in Kamagaya.

As for the Western League, while the teams are not nearly as close by as all of the Kanto teams in the Eastern League, the furthest apart are the Osaka-area teams and the Hawks' team in Gannosu (which is in the northern boonies of Fukuoka).

The interesting thing is, due to the rosters being so nebulous sometimes, and the farm teams usually being located so close to the top teams, it is NOT entirely uncommon for a player to actually play in two games in one day, both a farm game and a top team game. On weekdays, almost all farm games take place at 1pm, and almost all top team games take place at about 6pm. And sometimes on the weekends, the Lotte Marines will actually have a "doubleheader" where their farm team plays a game at Chiba Marine Stadium starting half an hour after the major league team finishes an afternoon game. So you might see a player working out with the farm team early in the day, then playing in a top team game at night, or you might see a farm team player practicing with the top team on a day the farm team doesn't play.

Scheduling and Seasons

Thanks to having an odd number of teams, there ARE a lot of days where at least a few farm teams aren't playing, too. However, a day without a scheduled game is not usually a "day off": players will still have their daily practices and be out on the field working out nonetheless.

Since 2005, the 7-team Eastern League teams have played 96 games per season, while the 5-team Western League teams have played 88 games each. There is also a minor-league All-Star Game, played a day or two after the pro All-Star Game. This has gone on since 1963, although it used to be called the Junior All-Star Game and is now the "Fresh All-Star Game". At the end of the season, the top team in the Eastern League plays a farm championship game against the top team in the Western League.

The season runs for almost the same duration as the pro season: games are scheduled from the end of March until early September, and then makeup games take the season into mid-late September. The farm championship game happens at the start of October, right around when the pro season is winding up its final makeup games.

Exhibition games and Futures matches

The NPB farm teams also tend to play a LOT of exhibition games when they don't have official games. These can be against anyone from "amateur" industrial league teams such as JR, ENEOS, Honda, etc, to various "club" teams such as the NOMO Baseball Club and the Ibaraki Golden Golds, to teams from the independent regional semi-pro teams (Shikoku, Hokuriku, and certainly the new Kansai one, to be covered in a future post).

Another interesting diversion is what they call the "Futures" games -- these are played between one Eastern League farm team, and then a "futures" team which is made up of players from the rest of the Eastern League's teams. The only requirement is that players on the "Futures" team have never seen action at the top team level. A lot of them will be instructional (ikusei) players, who are already a super long shot to make the majors anyway.

The "Futures" teams have also been known to play against club teams -- a sort of famous incident was when Golden Golds female infielder Ayumi Kataoka got a hit off of Lotte's pitcher Kurotaki in one of those matches, singling to left.

(It's really interesting going to those games -- the players wear a Futures jersey and the rest of their uniform is from their home team, so you can spot the Searex guys with their bright teal outfits.)

Whither DH?

Whether or not a farm team game incorporates the DH basically depends on who the home team is. If the home team is a Central League farm team, they will not use the DH. If the home team is a Pacific League farm team, they will use the DH.


Farm team games are REALLY fun to go to. At some of the stadiums, games are even free -- there's simply no point in charging admission at a place like, say, Lotte Urawa Stadium, which has 3 benches on each side and a vending machine selling canned beverages, and that's about it. The Fighters stadium in Kamagaya charges admission (1000 yen for general admission, 500 yen if you're a Fighters fanclub member), but it's also a full grandstand with concessions and a mascot wandering around and mid-game activities and nice bleachers and bathrooms and everything. Your mileage may vary. Show up early and stake out a good seat.

Unlike the pro games, you can often very easily stalk players for photos and autographs and such -- in most cases, there is no clubhouse within the minor league field itself, and the players all have to exit the field to get back to their bus or to walk to the training facility nearby. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed, though, and the young players are usually happy to sign stuff, or are at least very polite about it. Sometimes the veterans are happy to sign stuff too, if they're not in a sour mood about being stuck in the minors at the time :) Japanese fans, who are really diehard in terms of supporting their team, are also generally very respectful towards the players, so there is a relatively good relationship between the groups.

I'm a camera geek, and what I love best about the minor league games is being able to just sit right up in front by the field, so I can take a ton of photos. I usually end up there with a few other friends and we all chat about the players and snap photos. We often cheer or yell things to the players, and sometimes they even yell back. It's just a very intimate way to see a game.

Most minor-league parks do not have ouendan (the big organized cheering groups with the trumpets and flags and all), which may be a plus or minus depending on who you are.

The only caveat is, if you're a non-Asian foreigner, especially at some of these more out-of-the-way places, be prepared for a lot of staring and a lot of "gaijin" comments.

(Here are some of my minor league game posts, with plenty of photos and stories.)

So, those are the minor leagues. Next up will be, most likely, either the independent leagues, or the college leagues.

Please comment if you can add to this or correct it, as I'm considering it a work in progress.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Look at the Japanese Leagues -- Part 1: Central and Pacific, and Pro Yakyu

I'm getting kind of frustrated when I read misguided blogs who say all kinds of crazy things like "Tazawa comes out of the independent leagues in Japan, the same place where they just drafted a 16-year-old girl".

So, I think I will basically braindump everything I can about all of the leagues in Japan, into a couple of posts. I admit that I'm on a bit of hiatus from baseblogging while I'm back in the US and here in Philly visiting my dad (who only watches football for the most part), and I apologize for that, but I'm really not into the offseason. This is the worst time of the year -- it's cold and there's no baseball. (I'm going to a hockey game tomorrow, but that's another story.)

Anyway. Let's start from the top:

Pro Yakyu -- Central and Pacific Leagues

If you want Japan's equivalent to the major leagues -- the National and American Leagues -- this is it.

There are 12 pro teams total in Japan, 6 in each league. The Pacific League uses the DH, the Central League does not.

There are no divisions within the leagues -- for playoffs (which started in 2005 in the PL and 2007 in the CL) -- they just take the top 3 teams in each league and have the 2nd and 3rd place teams face off, then the 1st place team plays the winner of that series. Playoffs are still in their infancy, and the format changes every year. Currently it's a best-2-of-3 for the first stage, then a best-4-of-7-but-the-first-place-team-gets-a-1-game-advantage for the second stage, with all games being played at the higher-ranked team's home field. Then the two playoff winners face each other in the Japan Series. It's a mess. But quite exciting.

One major difference between Japanese baseball and the MLB is that tie games are possible. If a game doesn't have a winner after 12 innings, it is over and counted as a tie. To determine rankings, teams calculate based on won-loss percentage without counting the ties.

Unlike in the US, the teams are almost uniformly owned by companies and bear the name of that company instead of a specific locale, although recently teams have been adding their city or prefecture or region's name to their moniker in a way to identify more with the specific region. As of right now, these are the leagues and teams:

Central League

Team City Prefecture Stadium (Year opened)
---- ---- ---------- ---------------------
Yomiuri Giants Tokyo Tokyo Tokyo Dome (1988)
Hanshin Tigers Nishinomiya Hyogo Hanshin Koshien Stadium (1924)
Chunichi Dragons Nagoya Aichi Nagoya Dome (1997)
Hiroshima Toyo Carp Hiroshima Hiroshima Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium (2009)
Tokyo Yakult Swallows Tokyo Tokyo Meiji Jingu Stadium (1926)
Yokohama Baystars Yokohama Kanagawa Yokohama Stadium (1978)

Pacific League

Team City Prefecture Stadium
---- ---- ---------- -------
Saitama Seibu Lions Tokorozawa Saitama Seibu Dome (1979)
Orix Buffaloes Osaka Osaka Kyocera Osaka Dome (1997)
Kobe Hyogo Skymark Stadium (1988)
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters Sapporo Hokkaido Sapporo Dome (2001)
Chiba Lotte Marines Chiba Chiba Chiba Marine Stadium (1990)
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Sendai Miyagi Kleenex Stadium Miyagi (1950)
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks Fukuoka Fukuoka Fukuoka Yahoo! Dome (1993)

I include two stadiums for the Orix Buffaloes because they still play a signficant number of home games at Skymark Stadium. They were formed when the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix Blue Wave were merged prior to the 2005 season. Orix played in Kobe and Kintetsu played in Osaka, so the combined team plays in both. Rakuten was created as a new team at the same time the other teams merged.

The Hanshin Tigers, despite being a symbol for Osaka and the Kansai Region and even having been called the "Osaka Tigers" at a distant point in the past, technically do not actually play in Osaka.

Geographical notes

Geographically, many teams are fairly close to Tokyo. Japan has four islands, and Tokyo is the capital city on the biggest island, Honshu. Ten of the teams are based on Honshu as well:

In Tokyo proper: Giants, Swallows
Within an hour of Tokyo by normal train: Baystars, Lions, Marines
About 2 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen: Eagles (north), Dragons (west)
About 3 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen: Tigers, Buffaloes (Osaka area, west)
About 4 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen: Carp

The Hawks are based on Kyushu, which you can get to in 6 hours by shinkansen or 2 hours by plane.

The Fighters are in Hokkaido, which you can get to in something like 26 hours by train, or 2 hours by plane. Needless to say, any road trip for the Fighters generally involves an airport. There's supposed to be a shinkansen to Sapporo eventually, which will take 4 hours from Tokyo, but it's probably not happening for the next, say, 10 years or so.

You will notice that the Pacific League teams are a lot more scattered around the country than the Central League teams.

Japan is a fairly small country, though, and as a result of this, visiting team fans often show up in pretty huge groups.

Every stadium has designated areas for home fans and visiting fans, although depending on the stadium and the particular team, the exact lines might blur. Yomiuri, Hanshin, and Lotte have the fans most notoriously willing to travel and very loudly support their team no matter where they're playing. If you go to a Giants game at the Tokyo Dome, you'll probably be surrounded by orange-towel-waving Giants fans everywhere in the stadium except in the designated visiting team cheering area -- except when they play against the Tigers, when the entire 3rd-base side is in yellow.

If you go to a Baystars game at Koshien, you'll probably be surrounded by yellow-wearing Tigers fans even if you have a "visitor's cheering area" ticket. (Seriously, this happened to me.)

Another stadium note: Pro baseball started in Japan in 1934 when Matsutaro Shoriki founded the Dai Nippon Pro Yakyu Club, subsequently called the Giants. A lot of the current teams started at the end of the 1940's. However, both Koshien and Jingu predate professional baseball by quite a bit. Koshien stadium was built to house the annual nationwide high school baseball tournament, and Meiji Jingu Stadium was built mostly for use by the Tokyo Big Six college league and other college ball clubs.

People often say that the Giants are "Japan's team". This may still be true in that there are plenty of people who are Giants fans because their parents were Giants fans, or because when they were kids the only team they could watch on TV was the Giants. And to be fair, if you only have terrestrial TV, the Giants are the only team that are on TV regularly -- channel 4 shows almost all Giants home games, though they start at 7pm and cut out at 8:54pm, despite the game starting at 6pm.

Despite this, though, there has been a rising "Anti-Giants" sentiment for quite a while, and almost every CL team's cheering group has a "defeat Yomiuri" cheer of one variety of another, some more vehement than others. Also, several parts of Japan which previously didn't have a local team to embrace -- notably the northern areas -- now have their own regional teams either in the form of the Fighters or Eagles in Hokkaido and Tohoku, or the independent BCL teams in the Hokuriku area on the north coast of Japan. (Which I'll get to in another post.) These factors have taken away from the Yomiuri grip on the nation, but the Giants still have a strong hold on the country nonetheless.

Team Structure

Unlike the MLB, where every team has a cascade of several minor league farm teams of varying levels of play and who play different length seasons, Japanese pro teams have one farm team. One. That's it.

Because "major-league" often means the MLB, there are a few ways people tend to refer to the split. Often you'll either hear "Top team" and "Farm team", or perhaps "Ichi-gun" and "ni-gun", which literally mean "first troop" and "second troop".

There are a couple of rosters on the team:

1) The 70-man roster, which is everyone currently registered to play baseball for the organization -- top team, farm team, injured players, everybody...

...except it does NOT actually include the ikusei players -- ikusei meaning "instructional" players, sometimes referred to as "taxi squad" players. They are drafted after the normal draft, sign slightly different contracts, are paid very little money relatively, and wear uniform numbers above 100. In order for them to actually play in an ichi-gun game, they have to sign a new contract and be put onto the actual 70-man roster, and onto...

2) The 28-man "registered" player list. When you hear about guys actually being sent up and down to the minors, this is the list they're getting put on or taken off of. The other caveat is that this is the list where the foreign player limit comes into play -- a team can have as many foreigners as they want under contract, sitting on the farm team, but currently, there can't be more than 4 foreigners on the top team's "registered" list, and there can only be 3 pitchers or 3 batters, not 4 of one kind.

(No, there is no "one Asian doesn't count towards the limit" rule. Koreans and Taiwanese are considered foreigners. The non-Japanese Asians on most rosters that don't count towards the limit are because they were drafted out of Japanese high schools or colleges and spent a certain amount of time there. Certain teams might or might not be taking advantage of this rule by signing Taiwanese kids and putting them in Japanese high schools, but that's another story.)

From the 28-man registered list, there is a 25-man list on any given day which is the list of players who can actually be used in that day's game.

If a player gets sent down to the farm ("de-registered"), they can't be called back up for at least 10 days. Of course, there is no lower limit on how long they can be called up to the top team for.

Service Time

Service time, in determining when a player becomes an FA, is determined by the amount of time a player spent on the top team roster, so if a guy gets called up literally to start one game and then sent down again, he gets a tiny fraction of time added to his service time. Unlike the MLB where there's this notion of "option years" and such, there is no such thing in the NPB.

If a player is registered for a full season, they get one year service time. If not, 145 days is what counts as a full season, and they add up the total registered time, and when that gets to 145 days, the player gets another full season credited to them. A player becomes a free agent domestically or overseas-eligible after a certain number of years, and that keeps changing. Currently it's 8 years for domestic moves, 9 years for overseas moves.

(If a player is injured and misses service time due to that, there are different provisions for them still getting a full service year, provided they are on the roster for a certain number of days outside of that, and I'm not sure how that works exactly.)

As a note: Foreign players who manage to get 8 years of service time in Japan count as Japanese free agents, and thus do not count against the foreigner limit on the roster. See: Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Ramirez.

So, players go up and down to farm teams. Which leads us into our second set of leagues in Japan, the Eastern and Western Leagues... and I'll continue this from there soon.

Please comment if you can add to this or correct it, as I'm considering it a work in progress.