As confusing as this may sound to Americans, it does make sense in the context of Japanese baseball. American teams are run like corporations, their members united by their common ability to play and desire to win and make money. Not so in Japan, where a baseball team is more like a cohesive, extended family unit, held together by a complex web of interlocking personal obligations. The kind of intrasquad bickering that characterizes some U.S. teams is virtually unheard of.
There is also an off-field camaraderie seldom seen on U.S. teams. Most bachelors on a Japanese club live in the team dormitory. They are together nearly 24 hours a day. Even married players socialize with unmarried teammates in their free time (drinking beer and playing Mah-Jongg are favorite activities), and during the off-season it is not uncommon for a team to get together to play golf.
The club ownership sponsors social functions and group rituals to help foster solidarity and a feeling of belonging. At the start of each season, a team will visit a Shinto shrine to pray for good luck. In December, everyone connected with the team, from the owner down to the bat boy, gathers for the annual nokai (year-end party).
In spite of its high level of industrialization, Japan remains a paternalistic society with values deeply rooted in Confucianism and agrarian tradition. The older, established members of a group have clearly defined responsibilities toward the younger, and vice versa. In the business world this is reflected in a lifetime employment system that gives workers maximum job security in return for allegiance to the company. Job hopping, layoffs and lengthy labor-management disputes are relatively rare.
The same tradition adheres in baseball. Trades do occur and players are released outright, but, far more than his American counterpart, the Japanese ballplayer can look forward to a lasting association with his team—even after his playing days are ended. A retired player for the Nippon Ham Fighters, for example, might even find himself selling ham for a living. A Chunichi Dragon taking off his uniform for the last time might wind up shuffling copy at Chunichi Sports.
Ideally, a team functions as a happy family with the manager presiding in the role of surrogate father—a stern disciplinarian, somewhat aloof, yet never failing to show concern for the welfare of his players.
The manager sometimes gets involved in the players' private lives. For example, he may act as a go-between to arrange brides for single players. One manager traveled the breadth of Honshu—from Tokyo to the Japan Alps—just to persuade an unrelenting father that a reserve outfielder was worthy of his daughter's hand.
The manager makes laudatory speeches at players' weddings. He consoles bereaved players at the funerals of relatives. He presents gifts and good wishes to players with newborn children, along with advice on the responsibilities of fatherhood. In addition, he is always ready to admonish players who stray too far from the flock:
"Toshiro, I'd like to have a minute with you. You will be 29 years old next month, and I think it is time you settled down and got married like everyone else. A man cannot play at his best without a sense of responsibility. You need a wife, children and a home."
"Hideyuki, you have been married for a year and a half now. Don't you think it is about time you had a child—a son? A man has to carry on the family name, you know. No arguments now. You are a Japanese, aren't you? Well, act like one."