The Japanese reporters who had packed the tiny conference room at Osaka Stadium one May day in 1962 glanced at their watches in anticipation. General Manager Makoto Tachibana of the Nankai Hawks had alerted newsmen that there would be an important announcement concerning the Hawks at 6:40 that evening. The Hawks, defending Pacific League champions and perennial powerhouse in Japanese baseball, occupied an unfamiliar position—last place. In the first two months of the season they had managed to lose two out of every three games.
At exactly 6:40 General Manager Tachibana strode through the press-room door. With him was Kazuto Tsuruoka, the Hawks' field manager. Nicknamed "The Boss" by his players, Tsuruoka had piloted the Hawks for more than 20 years, winning nine pennants and two Japan Series. What, the reporters wondered, might his presence mean?
The general manager bowed and began to speak in measured tones: "As of today, Manager Tsuruoka has relinquished command of the Hawks as a means of taking responsibility for the team's poor showing in recent games. Hopefully the manager's action will stimulate the Hawk players to reflect on their performance on the field."
Tachibana added that he deeply regretted Tsuruoka's decision, but he said he had no choice other than acceding to the field manager's request to be relieved of his duties. Head Coach Kasuo Kageyama had been ordered to act as manager in Tsuruoka's absence. Tachibana went on to express hope that Tsuruoka's action would breathe new life into the team. Tsuruoka would retain the title of manager for the time being, the general manager said.
Reporters sat in stunned silence while Tachibana announced that Tsuruoka would now answer questions. The tall, courtly, 46-year-old manager lit a cigarette. He spoke deliberately, without emotion: "Team performance has been poor.... As manager I must assume responsibility.... If the commander cannot lead his troops, they will die.... For the moment I don't want to see any baseball, I just want to rest."
A shock wave passed through the Japanese baseball world. Kageyama said earnestly that he hoped "Manager Tsuruoka's brave action will move the Hawks to fight harder."
"What made The Boss quit? Who's responsible for this?" grumbled the Hawks' leading home-run hitter. The veteran shortstop said, "It's all my fault. The Boss was like a father to me. If I hadn't been injured, he might not have left the team. We will all have to do our best so he can return."
By mid-July the Hawks were in the pennant race, riding the crest of an II-game winning streak. Acting Manager Kageyama told the press, "Everyone knows The Boss is a more skillful manager than I am. Perhaps it is time for him to return to the team." Requests from the Hawk players and a petition signed by the team's fans added to the pressure for Tsuruoka's return, and on Aug. 9 he was reinstated. The Hawks went on to finish in second place in the Pacific League that year.
When an American major league team is mired in last place, it is often cause for the manager's head to roll. A change has to be made, and that is that. A new manager steps in, the players adjust and the old manager goes job hunting, usually taking the whole thing philosophically. After all, his job is to produce a winner.
In Japan nothing is ever quite so simple. The owner of a baseball team has to consider more than his responsibilities to the fans. He has to bow to the dictates of group dynamics and to take into account the relationships between the manager and the players. In addition, he must think of his own obligations toward the manager and the feelings of the manager himself. A club owner will try his best to smooth things, to retain the manager, even though this may result in a losing season and a drop in attendance.