• Kyodo

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Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters skipper Hideki Kuriyama, who led the Pacific League team to its first Japan Series title in 10 years this past season, won the Matsutaro Shoriki Award on Thursday.

Kuriyama, 55, took the prize in a unanimous vote by a five-member selection committee. He is the first member of Nippon Ham to win the award, which is presented annually to recognize individuals for their contribution to professional baseball in Japan.

“To be frank, this (award) is too heavy. If possible, I would like to decline,” Kuriyama said. “All of the things the Fighters have done since moving to Hokkaido (from Tokyo in 2004) led to becoming No. 1 in Japan this year. I think this is an award for everyone on the ballclub.”

This year, Nippon Ham overcame a deficit as big as 11½ games behind the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks to clinch its first PL pennant in four years and defeated Central League champion Hiroshima Carp in the six-game Japan Series in October.

Kuriyama, who will be entering his sixth season at the helm in 2017, was evaluated highly for his flexible use of players, including having Shohei Otani play in games both as a pitcher and batter.

The committee’s head Sadaharu Oh, the only four-time winner of the award, praised Kuriyama for not being caught up in fixed ideas and for doing things that other managers seem to find difficult to carry out.

“He had a good grasp of the team and utilized his knowledge well in the games,” Oh said. “His competence and leadership as manager warrant high marks.”

The selection committee also includes baseball commentators Shigeru Sugishita, Futoshi Nakanishi and Koji Yamamoto and nonfiction writer Ryusho Kadota.

The award was created by the Yomiuri Shimbun in honor of Yomiuri Giants founder Matsutaro Shoriki, who was also the driving force behind the creation of Japan’s first pro baseball 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.

Shoriki Award winners receive ¥5 million yen in prize money.

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