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At the start of the season, Nishizawa had been bothered by stomach pains. When the Dragons went into a tailspin around the first of May, the pains grew more intense. Unable to conceal his condition, Nishizawa began bringing his medicine to games. Soon Pitching Coach Sadao Kondo was asked to take over.
"It's detrimental to morale to have the manager leading the team while he's rubbing his stomach," explained the general manager. Nishizawa protested to the press that he would return in a few days, but the general manager was not so sure. He cautioned that Nishizawa's recovery might take "quite some time."
Predictably, Acting Manager Kondo warmed up for his new role with a declaration of collective responsibility: "I think it's a regrettable thing we have done to our manager. The present problems of the team are the responsibility of the coaches and players. The trouble is mental more than anything else. I'm going to put forth my best effort to pull the team out of its slump and get it on the right track for the manager's return."
Kondo proceeded to lead the team to eight wins in 10 games while the ailing manager convalesced at home in front of his TV set. He returned to the Dragons in Hiroshima after a mere two weeks' absence and was greeted like Odysseus back from years of wandering. The Dragons' star leftfielder blasted a three-run homer to highlight an 8-0 shutout and then summed up the mood of the team when he told the press, "I am delighted that I could celebrate the manager's return with a home run."
In the visitors' clubhouse after the game, a beaming Nishizawa could not believe the change that had come over his team. "The batters are swinging better than before I left.... Even the mood on the bench is improved.... I have never been so happy." He added that his stomach now felt "unbelievably well."
A kyuyo usually works out as well as Nishizawa's did only when the manager is an established name—when his age, seniority and achievements have solidified his image as a paterfamilias. The departure of such a beloved figure inevitably triggers shame in the players.
Nankai Hawks Manager Kazuto Tsurouka was far and away the most established manager in Japanese baseball. He had led the Hawks through 23 seasons when he took his kyuyo. Even though he declared that he would not return to the team, no one dared take him seriously. It would have meant a tremendous loss of face for everyone concerned.
Sure enough, the prospect of a shameful rupture in team relations had the desired effect. Playing his role to the hilt, Tsuruoka stubbornly held out for two months until an 11-game winning streak, a climb into contention, a plea from the players and coaches and a petition signed by fans had mellowed him enough to agree to manage once again.
Sometimes it is obvious that a kyuyo will not accomplish anything. There have been cases in which there was no longer doubt that the manager must go if the team was to get out of last place. At this point, it is usually the manager himself who makes the first move. In the grand Japanese tradition of accepting responsibility, he will step forward and ask to take a kyuyo. This kind of kyuyo is different, because everyone knows that the manager will not be back. His kyuyo is, in fact, a resignation.
Verbal camouflage like this is used for several reasons. For a manager to resign or be fired precipitously would involve a loss of face all around. It almost never happens; instead, official announcements are postponed until after the season.