FUKUOKA – Koji Akiyama, who won this year’s Japan Series before leaving his post as Fukuoka Softbank Hawks skipper, was named the winner of the Matsutaro Shoriki Award for the third time on Wednesday.
Akiyama won his first Shoriki as a star outfielder for the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions in 1991 when he used to do somersaults at home plate and his second as Hawks manager after winning the 2011 Series. Akiyama announced last month that this would be his final season with Softbank.
“It was a good year,” said Akiyama, who was elected into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in January. “I thought I was through with baseball, so I didn’t imagine I would win this.
“I was able to bring down the curtain on six years (here as skipper) in fine fashion. It was a grueling season. To come through it and reach Japan’s pinnacle, made it one of the more memorable years in my career.”
The Hawks blew a sizable September lead by losing nine out of 10 games before clinching the pennant in their final regular-season game. They clinched their Japan Series berth with a narrow six-game victory in the PL Climax Series final stage. But after losing the first game of the Japan Series to the Hanshin Tigers on the road, the Hawks swept the next four games to claim the Series.
“Something like a miracle occurred, befitting of the Shoriki Award,” said Sadaharu Oh, who is the only four-time winner, head of the selection committee and also chairman of the Hawks.
The award, created by the Yomiuri Shimbun in honor of Yomiuri Giants founder Matsutaro Shoriki, is given annually to recognize individuals for their contribution to professional baseball in Japan. In addition to his role in creating the Giants, Shoriki was the driving force in the creation of Japan’s first pro league.
The award was first handed out to Oh in 1977, when he surpassed major league home run king Hank Aaron’s career home run total. Since 2001, all but one Japan Series-winning manager has won.
The lone exception was Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters skipper Trey Hillman, who lost out on the 2006 award to Oh, who managed Japan to the first World Baseball Classic championship.
Until 2000, players with phenomenal seasons or achieving significant career achievements often won the award.
However, that custom went out the window in 2001, when Tuffy Rhodes tied Oh’s single-season home run record and led the Kintetsu Buffaloes to the PL pennant. Although Rhodes appeared an obvious choice, the award went instead to Tsutomu Wakamatsu, whose Yakult Swallows defeated the Buffaloes in the Japan Series.
Since then, only Oh in 2006, Hanshin Tigers manager Senichi Hoshino in 2003, and Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe in 2012, were added to the honor roll despite not managing a Japan Series champion.
Shoriki Award winners receive ¥5 million in prize money.
Yamai staying put
Chunichi Dragons right-hander Daisuke Yamai will receive double his salary next season after re-signing with the Central League club on a three-year deal.
The 36-year-old Yamai, who decided not to file for free agency, will get a pay boost of ¥60 million to bring his salary to ¥120 million in 2015.
The Dragons’ starter won a career-high 13 games, matching the Hanshin Tigers’ Randy Messenger for the league lead in pitching victories and also led the CL with a .722 winning percentage. It was the first time in 13 pro seasons that he led the league in any category.
“It’s obvious I love this team. We have added a lot of young players, so we want to get another shot at a championship,” said Yamai, whose team finished a disappointing fourth. “It gives me confidence that I reached a career high. I want to aim even higher and lead the team forward.”
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