Dark History of the Hanshin Tigers

Everybody loves a scandal. And every Hanshin Tigers fan knows that this club never goes very long between scandals. This quick but entertaining read takes fans back in time and presents a clear vantage point on some of the issues that have plagued the club since its inception. While I do wish the team had more championships than blemishes, it is fun to read about how the front office in particular has fumbled more balls than the porous 2016 Hanshin infield and outfield.

“Dark History of the Hanshin Tigers” seems to pick up right where “I Changed the Awful Tigers” left off: with the Hanshin-Hankyu scandal. As mentioned in that review, a certain Yoshiaki Murakami used insider trading to buy major stakes in Hanshin Railways in 2006 and ultimately turned them over to Hankyu Railways for a tidy dirty profit. The result was the possibility that the team, now under Hankyu, might be renamed. However, the decision was reached that for at least ten years, the name would remain as it was. Turns out, the rest of the league was trying to fleece Hankyu out of ¥3 billion should they rename the team – the same cost as they would take from any new owner. This despite the fact that Hanshin Railways still existed as the company running the club, but was simply falling under a bigger parent company. In order to avoid this fate, the club name shall remain the same until further notice.

Anyhow, the author takes readers through some of the more famous (infamous?) soap operas in club history:

  1. Shigeo Mori, first manager in club history. His dismissal was apparently determined by one important game that the team lost to its most important rival (at the time): the Hankyu Braves.
  2. In 1950, Hanshin lost 7 of its key players (including ace pitcher Tadashi Wakabayashi) when the league split in two. No other team was even close to that devastated.
  3. Player complaints led to the dismissal of manager Fumio Fujimura, and even the team’s media guide reports it as a problem caused by Fujimura.
  4. 1972: A rift and personality conflict between player-manager Minoru Murayama and head coach Masayasu Kanada led to the two not speaking for an entire season. The end result was that Murayama stepped down from managing the team. Even then, interim manager Kanada refused to talk to him.
  5. The very next season, Kanada and ace pitcher Yutaka Enatsu were at odds with each other, and this ultimately led to Kanada’s firing.
  6. 1975: Two seasons later, Enatsu was dealt to the Hankyu Braves in a deal that caused great anger among fans. One of the players that came back to Hanshin infamously yelled out from the locker room that “Hanshin’s bench is full of idiots; it’s impossible to play ball here!” and retired at the end of the 1981 season.
  7. 1978: Slugging catcher Koichi Tabuchi was informed of his trade and brought to the club’s head office for a press conference in the middle of the night. He was enraged, calling the team out for its lack of professionalism. He would eventually return to the team in 2002 when newly appointed manager Senichi Hoshino said he would only accept the position if the club hired Tabuchi as one of his coaches.
  8. In 1980, Don Blasingame came under fire for his decision to try to ease big ticket rookie Akinobu Okada into the lineup slowly. The media and fans created such an uproar that Blazer and the second baseman that he hired (Dave Hilton) left the team midseason. Blasingame has been credited with shaping the way Katsuya Nomura and other baseball greats saw the game, but there was no room for his unique views with Hanshin.
  9. After failed negotiations with Randy Bass, who left the team midseason in 1988 to be with his ailing son, team chairman Shingo Furuya jumped to his death from the roof of a high-rise building in Tokyo.
  10. In 1996, manager Taira Fujita was fired after just one season, despite the fact that he was told he would be given multiple years to fix the team. He refused to accept his firing initially.
  11. Though he did not have great success as a manager, Katsuya Nomura was supposed to be given a fourth season at the helm in 2002. However, his wife Sachiyo got arrested for tax evasion during the 2001 offseason, and the club parted ways with him.
  12. Et cetera.

Hanshin has been rumored to be a cheap, stingy team that is not interested in winning championships. It has been said that no one in NPB is allowed to step on the Giants’ toes. Hanshin was supposedly happy with keeping things close in the standings but in the end, everyone benefited if the Giants ended up on top. Mr. Hirai talks about two particular men in Hanshin history that refused to buy this rhetoric: Shojiro Ozu (who stuck it to the Giants by drafting Suguru Egawa despite the Giants trying to sneakily sign him before the 1978 draft) and Katsuyoshi Nozaki (who stood up to Giants’ owner Tsuneo Watanabe when he was prepared to downsize and unify the two leagues in 2006).

There are so many more interesting anecdotes in this book. They mostly center around team ownership and front office gaffes. Mr. Hirai talks about the first chairmen (Mr. Ozu and Mr. Kuma) with a certain amount of disdain, but speaks very highly of Mr. Nozaki.

I wish I could share the whole book with you all, but I’m afraid that even at this length, many of you will TL;DR the review. Suffice to say, everyone loves a scandal. Even me.

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.

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