Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama, who led the Pacific League club to its first Japan Series title in a decade, was named Thursday winner of the Matsutaro Shoriki Award as the person deemed to have made the biggest contribution to the advancement of pro baseball.
The 55-year-old Kuriyama, lauded for his effective use of double-duty star Shohei Otani, became the first recipient from the Fighters’ organization since the award was started in 1977 by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
A select panel of five baseball dignitaries including baseball legend Sadaharu Oh, current chairman of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and a four-time past winner himself, voted unanimously for Kuriyama.
“More than me, this recognizes what the Fighters have done,” Kuriyama said at a press conference in Tokyo. “It’s an award for everyone in the organization.”
Under Kuriyama, in his fifth year at the Fighters’ helm, Nippon Ham made up an 11½-game deficit to overtake the two-time defending league champion Hawks and win the PL pennant.
In the Japan Series, the Fighters lost the first two games to the Hiroshima Carp before sweeping the next four to capture the championship.
The Fighters’ success can be linked to the performance of pitcher/outfielder Otani, and the bold move by Kuriyama of allowing his young star to bat on days in which he was the starting pitcher.
Other moves by Kuriyama that paid off were taking Hirotoshi Masui, who was struggling as the team’s closer, out of the bullpen and putting him into the starting rotation, and shifting sixth-year man Haruki Nishikawa to the top of the batting order.
“Each and every player sparkled,” Kuriyama said. “When that happens, you’re going to win.”
Kuriyama will be awarded a gold medal and ¥5 million at the NPB Awards ceremony on Nov. 28.