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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] New Managers Take Over for NPB’s Fighters, Dragons and Hawks

All three teams are looking for better results in 2022 after disappointing seasons this year.

Ed Odeven

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Tsuyoshi Shinjo's appointment as the new manager of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters generated big headlines in the nation's sports newspapers.

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One-fourth of Nippon Professional Baseball’s managerial corps officially changed on Friday, October 29.

The newcomers are Tsuyoshi Shinjo (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters), Kazuyoshi “Mr. Dragons” Tatsunami (Chunichi Dragons) and Hiroshi Fujimoto (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks). 

The three men were formally announced as new managers by their respective clubs on the final weekday of the month, and they replaced Hideki Kuriyama, Tsuyoshi Yoda and Kimikazu Kudo, respectively.

Of the three departing dugout bosses, Kuriyama had the longest tenure, serving as the Nippon Ham manager for 10 seasons.

Yoda led Chunichi for three seasons, while Kudo guided SoftBank to five Japan Series titles in seven seasons, including four straight from 2017-20.

There’s often a revolving door in leadership positions in pro sports. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Which is why the newly appointed managers will face immediate pressure to deliver solid results for their respective teams.

The Dragons wrapped up their 2021 season with a 55-71-17 record, finishing in fifth place in the six-team Central League.

In the Pacific League, the Fighters finished fifth with a 55-68-20 record, and the Hawks (60-62-21) missed the playoffs, placing fourth.

“The mission I’m on is to strengthen the team by any means. I won’t compromise in order to play winning baseball,” the 52-year-old Tatsunami was quoted as saying in published reports from his introductory press conference as manager.

Playing his entire career with the Dragons (1988-2009), Tatsunami rapped out 2,480 hits (eighth-most on NPB’s all-time list), batted .285 and was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019. He was the 1988 CL Rookie of the Year.

Like Tatsunami, Fujimoto has high aspirations in his new job.

“I’ll give everything I have to bring the best out of each player,” the 57-year-old Fujimoto told reporters on the same day, according to Kyodo News.

Before being chosen as the Hawks’ new manager, Fujimoto served as SoftBank’s farm team (ni-gun) manager this season. He’s been a coach in the organization since 2011.

The 49-year-old Shinjo, who began his NPB career with the Hanshin Tigers in 1991, retired in 2006 after helping the Fighters win the Japan Series. He joined the club in 2004 after three seasons in MLB, two with the New York Mets sandwiched around a one-year stint with the San Francisco Giants. A seven-time NPB All-Star, Shinjo was known for his defensive skills in the outfield. He won 10 Golden Gloves in his career, including in each of his final eight NPB seasons (1996-2000, 2004-06).

Shinjo has never managed nor coached at the pro level.

The Fighters also named Tokyo Olympics gold medal-winning Samurai Japan manager Atsunori Inaba as their new general manager this week.

How effective Shinjo and Inaba are working together could determine the course of the franchise for the next several seasons.

One for the History Books

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Orix Buffaloes went from worst to first in their respective leagues, a dramatic reversal of fortunes this year.

Never before had both NPB pennant winners in one season finished last the previous season.

A season ago, the Swallows finished in the Central League cellar at 41-69-10, while the Buffaloes were worst in the Pacific League at 45-68-7.

Second-year Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu’s club clinched the CL pennant on Tuesday, October 26.

Remarkably, the Tokyo club also had a worst-to-first rebound in 2015, when it captured its last CL pennant.

Entering their regular-season finale on Monday, November 1 against the Hiroshima Carp, the Swallows have 73 wins, 51 losses and 18 ties.

Yakult receives an automatic bye into the CL Climax Series Final Stage. The second-place Hanshin Tigers and third-place Yomiuri Giants will meet in the opening round, starting on October 6. For the winner, a showdown with the Swallows will follow.

RELATED: BASEBALL | Birds of Prey: Unsung Swallows Upstage Giants, Tigers in Central League

Like the Swallows, the Buffaloes turned things around in dramatic fashion this year, too. Orix won the PL pennant with a 70-55-18 record.

The PL Climax Series First Stage gets underway on October 6, with the Chiba Lotte Marines, who finished in second place, playing host to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The Buffaloes will meet the winner.

Orix, which also finished in last place in 2019, had a much longer dry spell between pennants. The Kansai-based team last won a league title in 1996. The Buffaloes clinched the pennant on Wednesday, October 27.

Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima was determined to transform the club into a winner this season.

“The very first thing I said this year was, ‘Somehow we are going to turn this around after two straight last-place finishes,'” Nakajima said, according to Kyodo News. “We’re where we are now because the players and others took it to heart.”

Soccer

Grampus Capture First Levain Cup Title

Nagoya Grampus outclassed Cerezo Osaka in the second half of the Levain Cup final on Saturday, October 30 at Saitama Stadium.

More importantly, Grampus broke the scoreless stalemate shortly after the second half began.

Naoki Maeda made it 1-0 in the 47th minute. Teammate Sho Inagaki added an insurance goal in the 79th, and the score held up until the final whistle blew.

For Nagoya, it was the franchise’s first major achievement since winning the J. League title in 2010.

Inagaki, a 29-year-old midfielder, leads Grampus with eight goals in J. League matches this season.

Basketball

Louisville’s Konno Preparing for Start of Junior Season

Junior guard Norika Konno and the University of Louisville women’s basketball team open their 2021-22 season with an exhibition game against visiting Union (Tennessee) University on Thursday, November 4.

Louisville faces the University of Arizona in its first official game of the new campaign on November 12.

Konno, a Sendai native, appeared in all 30 Cardinals games last season, averaging 12.1 minutes, 3.4 points and 1.4 rebounds.

Badminton

Yamaguchi Wins Women’s Title at Denmark Open

Akane Yamaguchi collected the Denmark Open women’s singles title after her opponent, Se Young An of South Korea, withdrew due to an injury on Sunday, October 24.

The second-seeded Yamaguchi had previously won the event in 2016. This time, the scoreboard showed 18-21, 25-23, 16-5 when An retired.

“I’m happy with a win at a tournament of any level. I’m particularly happy with this one because it’s been a while since I last won,” Yamaguchi told reporters in Odense, Denmark, of her first title since January 2020, when she won the Thailand Masters.

Momota Retires from French Open Semifinal Due to Leg Injury

Title hopeful Kento Momota reached the Yonex French Open men’s singles semifinal on Saturday, October 30.

But the top-ranked Momota pulled out of the match due to leg pain. He lost to fellow Japanese Kanta Tsuneyama, who recorded a 24-26, 21-11, 1-0 victory in Paris.

Quotes of the Week

“I can’t ask for a bigger honor than this.”

ーBaseball legend Shigeo Nagashima on being chosen to receive the Order of Culture. The 85-year-old was one of nine individuals picked to receive the award this year, the government announced on October 26. The Order of Culture, also known as Bunka-kunshō (文化勲章), honors individuals who’ve made profound contributions to Japanese society.

“While enjoying the thrill of finally bringing those things I can do to Japan, one by one I will prepare each aspect well.”

ーNaoya Inoue, the IBF and WBA bantamweight champion, on preparing to face Thai challenger Aran Dipaen on December 14 at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

“I’d decided that my last race would be at the Tokyo Olympics. I’m amazingly happy and have no regrets. When it came to bringing [my career] to an end, I had a strong inner resolve.”

ーRetiring swimmer Kosuke Hagino, the 400-meter individual medley gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, told reporters on October 24.

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.

Author: Ed Odeven

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

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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.