Ex-Lions hurler Higashio named Tokyo Apache president

by Kaz Nagatsuka

To make teams better and attract fans’ attention, bj-league clubs would ask anyone for help — even if it is a former baseball player.

On Monday, the Tokyo Apache introduced former Seibu Lions star pitcher Osamu Higashio as their new president.

“I do not have experience in basketball, though, I accepted to become the president because I thought I could chip in (and help) the bj-league, capitalizing (on) my past experience as a player, manager and analyst in pro baseball,” the 56-year-old Higashio said at a news conference.

According to team sources, Tomokazu Yamada, the ex-president, decided to step down from the position because his physical condition is not stable. Then the Apache asked bj-league chairman Ikuo Kimura for help. Kimura talked to Higashio, his friend in recent years, and asked him to become the new president.

“I was astonished,” said Higashio, a Wakayama native. “And I am full of anxiety.”

The Apache struggled drawing fans in the league’s inaugural season, 2005-06. The average attendance for the team’s regular-season home games at Ariake Colosseum was 1,844, below the league’s stated goal of 2,000.

“We are hoping Mr. Higashio will give us various advice in terms of administration of the Tokyo Apache as the team enters its second season,” bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi said.

Higashio was drafted by the Nishitetsu Lions, predecessor of the Seibu Lions, in the 1968 draft. In 1983, he captured the win and ERA titles and was named the Pacific League’s Most Valuable Player. He also nabbed the MVP award in 1985. Higashio finished his 21-year career with 251 wins and 247 losses. His career ERA was 3.50. After retiring as a player in 1988, Higashio wore the Seibu uniform again as a manager in 1995. He led the Lions to back-to-back pennants in 1997 and 1998.

Higashio was at the helm until the end of the 2001 season.

Since then, he has been a baseball commentator on TV.

According to an Apache team official, Higashio is expected to appear at the team’s first preseason practice at Ariake Colosseum Sunday.