Another reason is that no Japanese likes to admit failure, which is what a manager would be doing if he quit a losing team in midseason. Furthermore, the Japanese way of thinking holds that the owner who has to fire his manager is just as great a failure. He has not chosen carefully; he has not lived up to his responsibilities to the fans.
This is where a kyuyo saves the day by letting owners and managers part company without an agonizing public admission of defeat. The manager who takes a sick leave and does not come back has not really been fired and he has not really resigned. He just isn't there anymore.
Perhaps the most unusual example of a kyuyo was the one involving Minoru Murayama and the 1972 Hanshin Tigers. The Murayama affair shows what happens when the Japanese confront conflicting obligations. It is a classic case of Japanese-style intergroup diplomacy.
The Tigers' leading pitcher for more than a decade, Murayama had a glorious career that included three Best Pitcher awards, one MVP and the lowest lifetime ERA in Japanese baseball history. His appointment as player-manager at the age of 32 was a rare tribute in Japan.
Murayama got off to an excellent start as manager, narrowly missing the 1970 league championship. Rebounding from three years of sub-par pitching because of injuries, he was his old self, achieving a 14-3 mark and setting a Japanese record with a 0.98 ERA.
The next year Murayama's luck began to turn sour. Plagued by a sore arm and a bad knee, he hardly pitched at all and won only seven games. The rumor spread that Murayama's pitching days were over, and it was becoming painfully evident that he was not a first-rate manager, either.
As a pitcher, Murayama had inspired his team, often providing the extra spark that led it to victory. But when he donned his manager's cap, his temper was a liability. He expected other players to match his own fiery intensity. He played favorites, openly criticizing players he did not like. It was not long before the dissension he caused was reflected in the team's performance. The Tigers slipped from contention early in the year and struggled through a dismal season.
By the beginning of Murayama's third season as manager, it was evident that the situation was not going to improve. He was not pitching at all. He explained that he wanted to devote more time to developing young pitchers and managing the team.
With the 1972 season two weeks old and the Tigers once more in the second division, Murayama called a press conference. He told reporters that he would turn the team over to Head Coach Masayasu Kaneda in order to devote himself completely to pitching. Murayama accepted complete responsibility for the team's predicament. He vowed to do his best to regain his old form, to take his regular turn on the mound and to help the younger pitchers.
At a press conference the next day, the team owner confirmed what Murayama had said. Murayama would concentrate on pitching while Kaneda filled in as acting manager. "Can this be considered a kyuyo?" asked one reporter. "Yes, it can," the owner replied.