Year Founded: 1936
Home Stadium: Nagoya Dome, Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture (1997 – Present)
Previously Known As: Nagoya-gun (1936-1943), Sangyo-gun (1944), Chubu Nippon (1946), Chubu Nippon Dragons (1947), Chunichi Dragons (1948-1950), Nagoya Dragons (1951-1953)
Championships Won: 2 Japan Series (1954, 2007), 8 Central League Pennants (1954, 1974, 1982, 1988, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2011)
Top 5 Players in Team History:
1) Shigeru Sugishita, 1949-1958, Right hand pitcher
The master of the forkball, Sugishita helped the team to the 1954 Japan series title winning his 3rd and final Sawamura Award, going 32-12 with a 1.39 ERA. In the same year he was also awarded the Central League MVP and Japan Series MVP. No other Dragons player has even gone close to what Sugishita achieved in that one season. A career 2.23 ERA with 1761 strikeouts and a 214-123 record remains one of the most impressive in Dragons history and in Japanese baseball history.
Inducted into Japanese Hall of Fame in 1985.
2) Michio Nishizawa, 1936-1958, Right hand pitcher, First baseman
Nishizawa, dubbed “Mr Dragons” by his contemporaries is one of only two Dragons players to have his number retired. He was the youngest player to play pro-ball in Japan at the age of 15 and built his fame as a pitcher. After 2-years service with the Japanese Imperial forces, an injury he picked up in the war forced Nishizawa to convert to the outfield. His best season was in 1952, but in his age 32 season in 1954, he provided a .341/.389/.510 slash line to help the Dragons to their first pennant and Japan series win. A talent cursed by the poor quality of the team around him through much of his career retired a .286 hitter with 212 home runs to go with a career 60-65 pitching record with a 2.23 ERA.
Inducted into Japanese Hall of Fame in 1977.
3) Morimichi Takagi, 1960-1980, Second baseman
Some may be familiar with Takagi as a recent manager of the Dragons, but the Gifu-born outfielder was the best second baseman of his era with quick feet who constantly averaged in the high 200s with medium power. He was selected at second base in the Best Nine 7 times in his career, equalling the highest in NPB for a second baseman, claiming stolen base leader honors on 3 occasions. Takagi later returned to manage the Dragons on two occasions leading them to A-class seasons on 3 occasions.
Inducted into Japanese Hall of Fame in 2006.
4) Masahiro Yamamoto, 1986-2015, Left-hand pitcher
Masahiro Yamamoto gets his notability mostly from his durability. The screw-baller played in a massive 29 seasons, an NPB record as well as recording all kinds of records for oldest player to do something. He won his first and only Sawamura Award in 1994 and was twice voted most valuable pitcher. In 2006, at 42, Yamamoto recorded his first ever no-hitter to also claim the oldest NPB player to do so and was the oldest player to appear in a game at 50 years and 57 days old against the Hiroshima Carp in 2015.
Yamamoto also stands alongside Sugishita as the only Dragon pitcher to have 200 wins and one of only 24 pitchers in NPB history to achieve the feat.
Yamamoto took part in 6 pennant winning seasons including the team’s drought-breaking 2007 Japan Series victory. He is now a commentator and newscaster.
5) Kenichi Yazawa, 1970-1986, First baseman, Left-fielder
Yazawa is among the most gifted batsmen to ever play for the Dragons. Great power and an innate ability to make contact with the ball saw the man from Kashiwa take two batting titles, including a .369 season with 1.066 OPS in 1980 when the Dragons finished 6th in the Central League. All that following from an injury he obtained in 1979 that greatly decreased his speed around the bases. Voted Rookie of the Yyear in 1970, Yazawa went on to claim 5 Best Nine titles with 9 All-Star appearances whacking 2062 hits, 273 home runs with a career .302 average at .848 OPS.
Yazawa, like Yamamoto, takes part in media discussions about the NPB, acting as a commentator as well as coaching a team he established in hometown, YBC Kashiwa.
Most Famous Manager: Hiromitsu Ochiai, 2003 – 2011; 4 CL Pennants, 1 Japan Series
Known for his “my way or the highway” style, Ochiai moulded a gritty pitching-based team that blew away the Central League. Ochiai claimed 4 league pennants and visited the Japan Series on 5 different occasions. Ochiai created a dynasty in his own unique style and it was unfortunately that style that led to his removal from the position as he was considered too abrasive. Never dropping below 3rd, Ochiai is far and away the most successful manager in Chunichi history.
Current Top Fielder: Yohei Oshima, Center fielder, 175 hits, 26 stolen bases, .292 batting average
Oshima ended up second in overall hits for the season behind Hiroshima Carp’s Ryosuke Kikuchi, but showed a bright spark in what was overall a poor season. Oshima also claimed his 3rd consecutive Golden Glove and 5th in total at center-field equaling a club record set by Kosuke Fukudome. Oshima was given a new contract in the off-season to keep him in Nagoya for his best years.
Current Top Pitcher: Shinji Tajima, middle relief/closer, 17 saves, 21 holds, 2.44 ERA
Tajima broke the record for most consecutive scoreless innings from opening day (27) in 2016 but due to worries over closer Koji Fukutani, Tajima was called in to do the saving role which he had some experience doing in 2015. Tajima has a very good slider that mixes with a splitter, four-seam fastball and a seldom-used shuuto. This year the hope is that he can keep the bullpen together and fill a very important role the team has had trouble dealing with since Hitoki Iwase’s injury in 2014.
Very few teams can claim to have a dynasty and very few still can say they had to wait so long between Japan Series titles, but the Chunichi Dragons have always been thereabouts since their inception, but more often than not playing second fiddle to their eternal rivals, the Yomiuri Giants.
The Dragons came into being in 1936 through the efforts of the New Aichi Newspaper group and were one of the founding members of the Japanese Baseball League, the precursor to the modern NPB. In the pre-war years, talent was often at a premium and the Dragons players often left for greener pastures. They could never hold a candle to the Giants and Tigers but they reached as high as second on the ladder in 1943 and 1947.
With the formation of the Central League in 1950, the Dragons fortunes would improve under the guidance of Shinichi Amachi – a man that never played professionally but gave guidance to Shigeru Sugishita at the Meiji University ball club. Amachi’s first tenure would be interrupted but on his second go around, he helped guide the Dragons to their first ever pennant and Japan series title with former student Sugishita leading the way with an MVP and Sawamura Award winning season. The Dragons would remain in the top 3 spots of the Central League until 1964 when they plummeted to 6th under Kiyoshi Sugiura, but the return of Michio Nishizawa improved their fate somewhat. The Dragons would make their next Japan Series in 1974 under American born manager and former Yomiuri Giants star Wally Yonamine but would ultimately come undone to the Lotte Orions in 6 games. The next crack at the big time would come under Sadao Kondo in 1982 where his team came unstuck against the Seibu Lions in 6 games. Shinichi Hoshino, one of the men that led Yonamine to the 1974 Japan series would come back to manage the Dragons next tilt at glory in 1988, when the Dragons would once again lose out to the Seibu Lions at the start of their golden age, 4-1, but the strange connections continue as it was to be one of the men that Hoshino nurtured that would break the curse some 19 years later. In 1997 the Dragons would move from their old home at Nagoya Ballpark and move to the roomier Nagoya Dome and Hoshino would lead the Dragons to one more Japan Series in 1999 against the Daiei Hawks, but it was to be heartbreak once again with the fabled national title escaping Hoshino again.
The Dragons would dabble with former Hankyu Braves submarine arm Hisashi Yamada as manager, but without any major breakthroughs made, former Dragon and Triple Crown man extraordinaire Hiromitsu Ochiai was brought to the team where he took out the Central League pennant in his first year. Another loss to Seibu would ensue, but a 3-4 series loss was by far the best the Dragons had mustered since 1954. With the introduction of the playoff system, the Dragons were given more chances to break their drought but would fall to the Fighters in 2006 before besting them in 2007 on the back of a shared perfect game from Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase, breaking a 53-year Japan Series drought. Ochiai would take the Dragons to two further Central League pennants and two further failed attempts to take home the Japan series with 3-4 series against the Marines and the Hawks. Ochiai grew a fantastic team of players that included the indomitable infield pair of Hirokazu Ibata and Masahiro Araki followed by MLB talents Kosuke Fukudome, Kenshin Kawakami along with Takuya Asao, Tyrone Woods, Motonobu Tanishige and many more now legendary Chunichi players before he was forced to step down in 2011 and move into a general manager role.
After Ochiai was removed from his position, the Dragons slipped further and further into obscurity. Ochiai’s reliance on his veterans also became an obvious weakness down the track as younger faces were not brought in to refresh the aging team. Managers Takagi and Tanishige failed to right the ship, and now current manager (Ochiai’s former head coach) Shigekazu Mori is left to pick up the pieces of a broken dynasty. The only way for the Dragons now is up, as they certainly can’t go any lower.
About the author:
Dragon Soul is an English language blog for all things Chunichi Dragons. The site is run and curated by Scott, a native of Australia who lived in Japan for 5 years and fell in love with Japanese baseball. Scott updates his blog weekly with match reports and can be located tweeting news and all things Dragons from @chunichisoul on a regular basis.