Abe government honors sluggers

As this year’s pro baseball season starts, the Abe government has decided to confer the People’s Honor Award on Mr. Shigeo Nagashima, 77, and Mr. Hideki Matsui, 38, both former Yomiuri Giants sluggers. We congratulate both Mr. Nagashima and Mr. Matsui, who helped boost the popularity of professional baseball in Japan.

Mr. Nagashima and Mr. Matsui played for the Yomiuri Giants in different periods, but both were good at taking advantage of chances to score runs and win games. Mr. Nagashima was a leading force when the Giants won the Japan series championship for nine consecutive years. Since those years coincided with the spread of TV, he became a national hero. The crowd used to cheer wildly as he came up to bat and he often met their expectations by driving in a deciding run with a base hit or home run. His smiling face enchanted many fans. He played an important role in changing the image of pro baseball from a sport for men into one enjoyed by everyone irrespective of gender.

Mr. Matsui was better at hitting home runs than Mr. Nagashima, and appeared to do so with ease. Given his ability, it was logical that Mr. Matsui, nicknamed “Godzilla,” went on to play in the Major League Baseball. When he was playing for the New York Yankees, he was named the most valuable player in a World Series. He hit 507 home runs in Japan and the United States compared with Mr. Nagashima’s 444 home runs. He was Japan’s pride. Even when in a slump he maintained a positive outlook and never refused to be interviewed — an attitude that all athletes should emulate.

It is hoped that the acceptance of the People’s Honor Award by Mr. Nagashima and Mr. Matsui will help deepen people’s interest in baseball and other sports.

Although the announcement of the People’s Honor Award this time was bright news, the way the news broke was bizarre. On Monday, Jomo Shimbun of Gunma Prefecture reported the news. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denied the news in the morning, but then announced the award in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, questions have arisen about the decision-making process in choosing this year’s recipients of the People’s Honor Award, which is often viewed as a political tool to boost the government’s popularity. During the news conference, reporters pointed out that there are many other excellent baseball players and asked why Mr. Nagashima and Mr. Matsui were chosen. Mr. Suga’s replies were rather vague and unsatisfactory for some. He said that the government considered many factors in a comprehensive way, and that Mr. Nagashima and Mr. Matsui had a mentor-student relationship.

To avoid giving the impression that it is using People’s Honor Award to manipulate public opinion in its favor, the government should make its award selection criteria transparent.