Baseball in Japan isn’t limited to just the leagues you know about, the Japan Women’s Baseball League (JWBL) has been around for some time now, you should get to know the premier women’s professional league.
First there was the Girls Professional Baseball League, at least the GPBL was a thing until 2012. Then in 2012, the GPBL rebranded and the JWBL was born. When the GPBL first started it had one simple mission, to provide a format for the best Japanese women ballplayers to play the game at a professional level. The way women’s baseball in Japan is treated is far from perfect, but at least throughout the amateur ranks, young girls are given more chances to play than their North American counterparts. It is that ability to play that has allowed the JWBL to exist while in America it’s still a fight for girls to play Little League.
Year-after-year the JWBL brought the best women baseball players in Japan together, but it’s remained exclusively Japanese women for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the pay. Players get paid somewhere between $25,000 to $30,000 a year. It’s hard to get foreigners to come and play for that amount of money. Second, the league has never pushed for foreigners. The league’s founder, Kenichi Kakutani, envisioned the league as a way for Japanese High School girls to continue to play the sport they love. His league has stuck with that vision and remained steadfastly Japanese throughout its existence.
The road has not been easy for the JWBL and things appear to be getting more difficult. At the end of the 2019 season news broke that the JWBL was in financial trouble. For as much credit as I gave Japan above, the reality is that baseball is still a male-dominated sport in Japan. Because of this, the JWBL exists on the outside, drawing modest crowds and securing lower-level sponsorships. A few months before it was announced that there would be a 2020 season it was also announced that almost half of the players throughout the league had been released. This included players who are rightfully viewed as the best in the world at their sport. The league also dropped from four teams to three for the 2020 season. It’s not a good look for the future of the league when those in charge have enacted a plan that guts the heart of the league.
A 32 game regular season, 16 games in each half, kicks off on March 28th. The winners of the first half and second half meet up in a best-of-three Queen Series. If the same team wins both halves then the second Queen Series participant is the team with the next best overall record. The season typically lasts from March until October with most games being played on weekends.
There are some different rules at play in the JWBL. On doubleheader days both games are 7 innings, otherwise, games are 9 innings long. Games only last 9 innings, if a game is tied after 9 innings it is a draw. The league uses a reentry system which basically means that players can be rotated on and off the bench an unlimited amount of times in a game, though only one reentry can take place per inning. Roster size is around 15 players, and if any of the coaches are women they can also suit up and play at any time. The JWBL does use a designated hitter.
Level of Play
If not for one factor I would have slapped the ML-level ranking on the JWBL. This is the premier professional league for women the world over. There is no other professional league for women and it is generally understood that the level of play found in the JWBL is of the highest quality. That being said, the fact that the league remains Japanese only does stop it from attaining ML-level. The day they bring in upper-tier foreign players I will gladly boost them to the ML-level because that’s the only thing holding them back right now. It will be interesting to see what happens with the skill level of the league after so many players were released prior to this season. As of right now I still feel comfortable grading the JWBL as a AAAA-level league.
- Aichi Dione
- Kyota Flora
- Saitama Astria
The JWBL website carries statistics for every year that both the JWBL and GPBL have been in existence. Baseball Reference does not have any JWBL statistics. Unfortunately, there are no playoff statistics for the league/s anywhere online.
People to Follow
There are plenty of JWBL players who have a strong social media presence throughout the season. I haven’t come across many other fans posting or talking about the league. They are out there, it’s more that I haven’t gotten around to translating accounts and finding who to follow. Kaku is a translator for a team and they are on Twitter often during the season.
JWBL TV does exist and appears to offer streams of every single JWBL game, including the Queen Series. However, I haven’t been able to nail down a pricepoint as the service also streams non-league games for free both before and after the JWBL season. As soon as I hear back from a JWBL official or purchase the service myself once games start I will update the cost. There is no mobile app for the service.
Lead photo courtesy of Uknown – Unknown