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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Kimiyasu Kudo Joins Pantheon of NPB’s Greatest Managers

Ed Odeven

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The gold standard for managers in Nippon Professional Baseball is Tetsuharu Kawakami.

 

The dugout boss for the Yomiuri Giants from 1961-74, Kawakami piloted the club to 11 Japan Series championships, including an unprecedented nine straight from 1965-73 (the V9 era). What’s more, the Giants triumphed in all 11 Japan Series they participated in during Kawakami’s managerial reign.

 

That level of success on the sport’s biggest stage highlights how Kawakami was able to push all the right buttons and motivate his players to never be complacent or lose focus in terms of their ultimate goal.

 

It’s safe to assume that the Giants’ record of nine straight championships will probably never be broken, but that shouldn’t diminish the respect that Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo deserves for what he’s accomplished since being hired in 2015.

 

The Hawks have appeared in the Japan Series five times (2015, 2017-20) and won every time, completing their second straight sweep of the Yomiuri Giants in November.   

 

Clearly, it’s time to recognize Kudo as the Kawakami of this era. He’s one of the greatest Japanese baseball managers of all time. Others on that list include Masaaki Mori, Shigeru Mizuhara, Osamu Mihara and Kazuto Tsuruoka.

 

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo’s team won Japan Series titles in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. ©SoftBank Hawks

 

Sure, the Hawks are blessed with talent and a well-regarded front office, but the field boss still plays an integral role in their day-to-day success.

 

The NPB’s Matsutaro Shoriki Award is presented annually to a manager or player for the biggest contributions to the game, and Kudo was named this year’s recipient on Tuesday, December 8.

 

He’s been selected for the award for three straight years, and also won it in 2015 and in 1987, during his playing days as a pitcher.

 

The 57-year-old Kudo broke all-time home-run king Sadaharu Oh’s record of four Shoriki Awards.

 

“I’m overjoyed with this honor,” Kudo said in a statement. “The encouragement from our fans led to us winning the league title and being the best in Japan.

 

“From next season on, I want to do everything I can to contribute to the development of the baseball world.”

 

Noting Kudo’s impact on the Hawks, Hawks chairman Oh remains in awe of what he did.

 

“He successfully drew out the power of young players and invigorated the team,” Oh was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.



Expect more of the same.

 

KT Wiz outfielder Mel Rojas Jr. bats on June 16 against the SK Wyverns in Incheon, South Korea.
Credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

 

KBO MVP Rojas Could Be on Move to Tigers

 

KT Wiz star Mel Rojas Jr., who received the Korea Baseball Organization’s 2020 MVP award, will reportedly accept an offer to join the Hanshin Tigers for the upcoming season.

 

The 30-year-old outfielder will sign a two-year deal with the Central League club, MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi tweeted on December 9.

 

Rojas batted .349 and had KBO-leading totals in home runs (47) and RBIs (135) this past season.

 

From 2010-17, Rojas played for numerous minor league teams in North America, but never played above the Triple-A level. Since 2017, he’s batted above .300 in each of his four seasons in a KT Wiz uniform.

 

The Miami Marlins have also expressed interest in signing Rojas, according to published reports.

 

 

Hinako Shibuno, winner of the 2019 Women’s British Open, is vying for her second career major victory. 

 

Golf

Shibuno Enters Final Round Leading U.S. Women’s Open

 

Hinako Shibuno remained at the top of the U.S. Women’s Open after the third round on Saturday, December 12. She shot a 3-over 74.

 

It was a difficult day for the entire field of 66 golfers, with only two shooting under par.


Shibuno, who is at 4-under 209, holds a one-stroke lead over Amy Olson.

 

“All the holes seemed to be very difficult for me,” Shibuno was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

 

Shibuno carded a 4-under par 67 in the second round on Friday, December 11 and held a three-stroke advantage at the midway point of the LPGA’s final major of the year.

 

Through two rounds, Shibuno was at 7-under 135 in Houston, Texas.

 

“Today my tee shots found the rough more often,” Shibuno told reporters after the second round. “However, my second shots were pretty stable and able to par on to the greens. So my golf today was pretty safe, stable condition. At the same time, when it comes to the chance for a birdie, my putting was pretty good.”

 

In the latter half of her second round, the 2019 Women’s British Open winner had three birdies, including on the par-4 17th hole. 

 

Shibuno, nicknamed the “Smiling Cinderella,” and two others were one shot off the pace after shooting 3-under-par 68s in the first round. 

  

 

Kakuryu moved to Japan in 2001 to pursue a career as a sumo wrestler.

 

Sumo

Yokozuna Kakuryu Becomes Japanese Citizen

 

In planning for his post-wrestling future, yokozuna Kakuryu had expressed interest in becoming a stablemaster.

 

The Japan Sumo Association is guided by tradition and rigid rules, and Kakuryu is aware of the necessary steps needed to achieve that goal. Step one: He needed to become a Japanese citizen.

 

The paperwork has been approved and the Mongolian native is now a Japanese citizen, it was announced on Thursday, December 10.

 

The 35-year-old has lived in Japan since 2001.

 

Fellow Mongolian-born yokozuna Hakuho became a naturalized Japanese citizen in 2019.

 

 

 

Kinuko Idogawa, who was known by her maiden name (Tanida) during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, made an impact for the gold medal-winning team as an attacker.

 

Volleyball

1964 Olympic gold medalist Idogawa Dies

 

Kinuko Idogawa (née Tanida), who competed on Japan’s 1962 world championship squad and for its 1964 Tokyo Olympics squad that captured the gold medal, passed away on Friday, December 4, from a brain hemorrhage.

 

Idogawa was 81.

 

Born in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, Idogawa made her mark as a key attacker for the team affectionately known as the “Witches of the Orient.”

 

See highlights of Japan’s 15-11, 15-8, 15-13 triumph over the USSR in the gold-medal match on October 23, 1964 here

 

 

The Witches of the Orient captured the attention of the host nation. The Olympic final was a cultural touchstone.

 

Longtime journalist Robert Whiting, who has written best-selling baseball books You Gotta Have Wa (1989, MacMillan first edition), The Chrysanthemum and the Bat (1977, Dodd Mead first edition),  and The Meaning of Ichiro (2004, Grand Central Printing), noted that the gold-medal match produced jaw-dropping TV ratings.

 

“According to Video Research [Ltd.], 66.8% of all TV-owning households in Japan were tuned into the match from the beginning, making it the second most watched television program in Japanese history – a position it still holds today,” Whiting noted in an email to JAPAN Forward. “(First was an NHK New Year’s Eve songfest.) As the final point was scored the rating had gone up to 95%.”

 

Kinuko Idogawa

 

Idogawa, who remained involved with volleyball throughout her adult life, was chosen to be a torch relay runner for the 2020 Tokyo Games before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the IOC and local organizers to reschedule them for next year, Jiji Press reported.

 

 

Veteran guard Masashi Obuchi and the Gunma Crane Thunders have won 18 consecutive games. Credit: B. League

 

Basketball

B2’s Gunma Crane Thunders Extend Win Streak to 18

 

Since an October 10 defeat to the Koshigaya Alphas, the Gunma Crane Thunders have been on a remarkable run. Coach Fujitaka Hiraoka’s team stretched its winning streak to 18 on Sunday, December 13 with a 79-66 home win over the Sendai 89ers.

 

The Crane Thunders, who own the best record (20-2) in the B. League’s second division, faced the visiting Sendai 89ers in a weekend series seeking to keep their streak alive.

 

Gunma is 11-0 in home games.

 

The Crane Thunders are B2’s top-scoring team (88.1 points per game) and are No. 1 in assists (24.0). What’s more, they are third in the 16-team second division in steals (8.8 per game).

 

Gunma is a veteran-laden team. The players have meshed well since the season tipped off in early October.

 

Hiraoka has led the club since 2016.

 

 

Andres Iniesta (center) has helped lead Vissel Kobe in the team’s first appearance in the Asian Champions League.

 

Soccer

Vissel Kobe Reach ACL Semifinals

 

Vissel Kobe, playing in the Asian Champions League for the first time, continued their successful run by reaching the tournament semifinals, winning 7-6 on penalties against South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings. The teams were tied 1-1 after extra time in Qatar.

 

Noriaki Fujimoto scored the decisive penalty kick for the J. League team.

 

“Even though it went 90 minutes—with extra time on top of that—the team really came together,” Fujimoto said, according to Kyodo News. “Until now I haven’t been contributing, so I wanted to get the job done. And I was happy to be able to execute.”

 

Up next: Vissel boss Atsuhiro Miura’s team was set to face South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai FC in the semifinals on Sunday, December 13.

 

On Monday, December 7, Vissel triumphed 2-0 over Shanghai SIPG in Doha to reach the ACL quarterfinals. Andres Iniesta and Daigo Nishi provided the scoring for the victors at Khalifa International Stadium. 

 

Iniesta scored the opener in the 31st minute, blasting a low shot that sailed past three Shanghai defenders and goalkeeper Wei Chen.

 

 

Ayumu Goromaru was one of the Brave Blossoms’ stars at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

 

Rugby 

2015 RWC Hero Goromaru to Retire Next Year

 

It’s no surprise that the end is near for Ayumu Goromaru as a player.

 

Goromaru was left off Japan’s 2019 Rugby World Cup team just four years after playing a pivotal role in the Brave Blossoms’ epic upset of South Africa at the global tournament four years earlier.

 

Now, the 34-year-old fullback has acknowledged reality, with his club, the Japan Rugby Top League’s Yamaha Jubilo, announcing on Wednesday, December 9 that he’ll retire at the end of the 2021 season in May.

 

Injuries and age have caught up with Goromaru, as evidenced by the fact that he wasn’t able to secure playing in 2016 with Australian Super Rugby club Queensland Reds and French Top 14 club Toulon before accepting an offer to play for Yamaha in 2017.

 

In a match known as the “Miracle of Brighton,” Goromaru contributed 24 points in Japan’s 34-32 upset over the Springboks in England. 

 

Goromaru is scheduled to discuss his retirement plans in a news conference on Wednesday, December 16.

 

A new wheelchair softball facility held its first event on December 5 in Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture.

 

Wheelchair Softball

Venue Opens in Osaka Prefecture

 

The nation’s first facility constructed for wheelchair softball opened in Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture, on December 5.

 

To commemorate the occasion, a six-team event was held at the 4,540-square-metre facility, Inside the Games reported.

 

The facility is officially scheduled to open next February. It will also be available to be used for other wheelchair sports, including basketball, tennis and rugby.

 

Among the individuals participating in last weekend’s tournament were former Japan women’s softball national team coach Taeko Utsugi and catcher Emi Inui, who played under Utsugi at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where she earned a bronze medal, and also at the 2008 Beijing Games, where she collected a gold as Japan’s backup catcher. 

 

Editor’s note: Interested in submitting a news item for possible inclusion in the Japan Sports Notebook? Send an email with relevant information to e.odeven@japan-forward.com, or JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page  or Facebook page and look for future editions of Japan Sports Notebook on our website.

 

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @itsjapanforward.

 

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.