Yokohama manager Tatsuhiko Oya took a “kyuyo” on Monday, the eve of opening day for Japan pro baseball’s interleague season, replaced by Tomio Tashiro, previously manager of the BayStars farm club, the Shonan Searex.

But, what is a kyuyo?

Well documented in Robert Whiting’s 1977 book, “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat,” a kyuyo is truly a Japanese concept, whereby a manager takes a rest with the theory being the team members are ashamed they played so poorly, their manager had to step aside.

The interim manager jumps in to revive the team and, if all goes according to plan, the players suck it up, perform much better, and the original manager returns from his “rest” period to lead the team and continue its winning ways — even as far as winning a championship — and everyone supposedly lives happily ever after.

It does not always work out that way, of course, and often the manager never returns from his “rest.” It is likely Oya is done as the Yokohama skipper and, if Tashiro does a halfway decent job over the remainder of the season, he may be retained for 2010. If not, the BayStars will just get somebody else.

Tashiro is 54, a native of Kanagawa Prefecture, and a life-long Yokohama franchise guy who came up as a young third baseman with the Taiyo Whales in 1976.

He began his career prior to the team’s 1978 move to Yokohama, and while most home games were still played at bandbox Kawasaki Stadium between Tokyo and Yokohama. He was a slugger who belted a career-high 36 home runs in 1980.

Since retiring at the end of the 1990 season, Tashiro has served as a color commentator on telecasts of BayStars games prior to joining the Yokohama coaching staff in 2002. He became the Searex manager in 2007.

The 61-year-old Oya spent his playing career (1970-85) as a catcher with the Yakult Swallows and has guided the BayStars through two stints as manager.

He led Yokohama through the 1996 and 1997 seasons as field boss and guided the BayStars to a second-place finish in ’97 but was let go, much to the dismay of his players.

BayStars’ second baseman Bobby Rose at the time criticized the dismissal of Oya, saying, “It appeared he had the team headed in the right direction, and we were poised to be pennant contenders (in 1998).”

Interestingly enough, Oya’s successor Hiroshi Gondo took Yokohama’s “machine gun offense” team to a Japan Series victory over the Seibu Lions in that 1998 season, for the team’s only title.

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Influenza and the jet fusen: Japanese baseball fans and cheering sections have been affected by the H1N1 flu epidemic. You may have read where some clubs have banned the practice of allowing the fans to launch jet “fusen” (balloons) during the seventh-inning stretch, hoping to contain the spread of the flu virus.

This is not the first time the sanitary aspect of the jet fusen has been questioned. Since the idea surfaced more than a decade ago, critics have pointed out it is really dangerous because the balloons are inflated orally and everyone’s saliva tends to drip down onto the fans below as the balloons make their descent back to the stands after losing air.

The jet fusen display is popular at several ballparks.

The Softbank Hawks issued a press release on Monday, announcing a ban of the balloons, and the Orix Buffaloes suspended the sale and use of the latex prior to that. The Hanshin Tigers have asked their fans to refrain from inflating and launching.

While the simultaneous balloon launch by 40,000 fans makes for a colorful and exciting spectacle, there are other health risks involved that have pre-empted North American major, minor and independent league teams from adopting the practice.

Bob Bavasi of JapanBall.com, a U.S. minor league club owner and attorney, is a fan of the latex balloons, but said, he’s been reluctant to introduce a jet fusen demonstration at his team’s games in California.

“I’m a lawyer, so I’m probably being a killjoy, but I worry about fans with latex allergies, which is very real, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see a child swallowing and choking on the hard plastic ring used to inflate the balloons,” said Bavasi.

Millions of yen are being lost as the sale of the popular balloons is put on hold. An estimated ¥2 million worth of balloons are sold and launched on a given night at a packed stadium in Japan.

However, if it prevents fans from getting the flu and may even save lives, the new ruling is understandable. The clubs are to be commended for their concern regarding the health and safety of their fans.

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Finally this week, the Tokyo American Club is planning to honor Yomiuri Giants outfielder Alex Ramirez as its 2008 Sportsman of the Year in a ceremony at the TAC on May 29. “Rami” was the Central League MVP last season, leading the Giants to a pennant while batting .319, with 45 home runs and a CL-leading 125 RBIs.

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The “Baseball Bullet-In” will take a break next week for the fifth Sunday of the month. No column on May 31, but we’ll see you again on June 7.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com

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