• Kyodo


Outgoing Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama believes there could have been star two-way players like Shohei Ohtani from previous generations but they were not given the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

The 60-year-old, who stepped down from his role on Monday having won one Japan Series title in 10 years, masterminded the development of the Los Angeles Angels star when many initially questioned the decision to give him the chance to both pitch and bat.

“I saw the possibility in him of becoming a top world player, and I had a strong belief that I had to send him off to the majors as early as I could in order to achieve that,” Kuriyama said at a news conference.

“I’m definitely sure there were big-name players in the past who could have been two-way players. We have to reflect more on the fact that we have been overlooking them.”

Kuriyama won the Pacific League in his first year in charge of the Fighters in 2012 before Ohtani, who originally desired a move to the majors straight out of high school, joined the team in 2013.

They won both the PL pennant and the Japan Series in 2016 before Ohtani left for the majors ahead of the 2018 season. Nippon Ham finished fifth for the third straight season this year.

“I was able to strive for my beloved baseball up until this age. There can’t be anything better,” Kuriyama said. “(But) the number of times fans got to celebrate winning games and the league turned out to be fewer than I imagined. I’m really sorry.”

Former Fighters and big-league outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo will succeed Kuriyama and received his backing.

“He has a proper view of baseball and I really can see him wanting to devote himself to others. I’ll be with the fans in fully supporting him,” Kuriyama said.

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