VOX POPULI: Loyal fans will always love their Hanshin Tigers, win or lose
Ten years after Japan’s defeat in World War II, a professional baseball team called the Tombo Unions (Dragonfly Unions) debuted in the Pacific League in 1955.
After finishing their first season in the cellar, Tombo Unions did not return for a second season and were never heard from again.
Their unflattering record of a 12-game losing streak from day one still lives on in Japanese professional baseball history.
“Why something fragile like a dragonfly and not a lion or a hawk?” was the question that prompted non-fiction writer Shoichi Hasegawa, 51, to research all things dragonfly.
Hasegawa researched and interviewed former team members and then published a book titled “Saijaku Kyudan” (The Weakest Baseball Team).
The team’s predecessor was the Takahashi Unions, founded by Ryutaro Takahashi (1875-1967), whose financial success came from running a major beer brewery.
But the team fell into serious debt, and Takahashi sought funding from Tombow Pencil Co., a stationery manufacturer.
However, one of the team’s coaches stood for election to the municipal assembly mid-season and he involved his players in his campaign.
The team’s popularity waned and there was one game where only 29 tickets were sold.
“The more I learned about the hard work put in by the team members, the more my attachment to the team grew,” Hasegawa recalled.
Listening to him, my thoughts turned to the Hanshin Tigers, who are in bad shape this season.
Perhaps demoralized by the manager’s preseason announcement of his intention to retire after this season, pitchers as well as batters are in a slump, extending the Central League record of a losing streak to start the season at nine games.
With the Dragonflies, it was Russian-born pitcher Victor Starffin (1916-1957) who ended the team’s losing streak.
The legendary pitcher, who emigrated to Japan after the Russian Revolution, begged the manager to let him “take care of Game 13”.
He posted his 83rd career shutout, an all-time Japanese record.
Should the Tigers rewrite the Tombo losing streak of 67 years ago?
Last night, in a highly publicized home game at Koshien Stadium, they finally secured their first victory of the season.
The stadium was full of celebrations, as if the team had won the league championship.
The fanatical devotion of the fans, no matter how badly the team keeps losing, is what makes the Tigers decidedly different from the hapless Dragonflies.
–The Asahi Shimbun, April 6
* * *
Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran writers from Asahi Shimbun, the column offers helpful perspectives and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.