Sports Stars

Nagashima Shigeo

(Chiba Prefecture, 1945- )

Nagashima ShigeoNow one of the venerable old men of the Japanese sports world, Nagashima's heyday was back in the 1960's and 70's when he was the star of the most popular and successful baseball team in the country. The Yomiuri Giants, thanks largely to the batting prowess of Nagashima and his teammate Oh Sadaharu (photo left), won a record nine league titles in a row from 1965 to 1973. Nagashima had twice posted the highest batting average in the Tokyo University Baseball League before joining the Giants in 1958. He promptly repeated the feat and hit the most home runs that season to win the Rookie of the Year award. This was just the start of an illustrious playing career, during which he won the League MVP award five times, was batting champion six times and played on a record 16 All-star teams.

Over the years to come, you could only feel sorry for the home-run record breaking Oh or the great catcher Nomura Katsuya, who lived in the shadow of Nagashima's charisma. Certainly one of the high points of his career was the game between the Giants and arch-rivals the Hanshin Tigers at Korakuen Stadium (on the site of the current Tokyo Dome) on June 25th, 1959. It was the only game ever attended by Emperor Hirohito and later became known as the 'Emperor's Game'. In a see-saw game, Oh hit a two-run home run in the 7th inning to level the score at 4-4. Nagashima then hit a dramatic sayonara home run in the final inning to win the game. He was thereafter known as "Mister Giants" or even just "Mister."

Nagashima Shigeo and Oh Sadaharu From 1975 (the year after his retirement as a player) to 1980 and again from 1993, Nagashima became manager of the Giants. The little success that the team enjoyed under his leadership (four League titles and one Japan series title) came despite his management abilities rather than because of them. As a player, Nagashima was famous for scatterbrained antics but had the natural ability to compensate for them. This absent-mindedness, considered by Japanese an endearing quality in people in senior positions, is rarely criticized even when it leads to the team's downfall - especially in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper or on NTV (Nippon Television Network), part of the Yomiuri Group. Indeed, it seems that sportscasters on every channel and journalists everywhere have trouble hiding their Giants bias, ignoring the successes of other teams to commiserate with their fallen heroes.

The passion of the legions of Giants fans, not only in Tokyo but across the country, is matched only by that of their traditional rivals the Hanshin Tigers or of the more cynical breed -- the anti-Giants. These people (and I must count myself among them) get as much if not more pleasure from a Giants' loss as from their own team's victory. But even these people have to grudgingly admit their admiration for the man known simply as "Mister."

Nagashima was hospitalized in the spring of 2004 following a stroke that left him with a slight temporary paralysis in the right side of his body. In the following years he has rarely appeared in public, though his written messages of support often boost the morale of Japan's sports stars.