Book Review – Yoshida’s “Hanshin Tigers”

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As I perused the baseball section at the local library, this book seemed like one I should read. Nothing about the cover or the title would compel anyone to read it, but the author’s name might make you feel like you should. Yoshio Yoshida was not only the manager of the 1985 championship team (the only one in the team’s 79 year history) but also quite possibly its best shortstop as well. Written in 2003 as the team was capturing its first Central League title in 18 years, Yoshida recounts the team’s then-70-year history from his perspective – one that included being involved with the club in some form for 50 years. This book is more than a chronicle of the team’s past – it serves as the memoirs of one of the most celebrated Hanshin Tigers ever.

Yoshida begins his book by talking about why the 2003 Tigers is the start of a new “Golden Age” for the team. He attributes this to the hiring of then-manager Sen’ichi Hoshino, who adopted more of a western approach to managing – giving his coaches plenty of opportunity to do what they are paid to do, and having the power to dictate which players he wanted ownership to pursue. This was rather uncommon at the time, and Yoshida believed it would usher in a prosperous run for the team, one that would possibly help the supplant the Yomiuri Giants as “the team to beat.”

From here, he begins his own story, one of a boy who grew up idolizing the Hanshin (Osaka) Tigers, helped lead his team to the All Japan High School tournament as a junior in high school, got drafted by the Tigers as a sophomore in college, and who won the starting position at shortstop in his rookie season. He spent the year carrying around legend Fumio Fujimura’s equipment bag, and learned a lot just by being in close proximity with the original “Mr. Tigers.”

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Yoshio Yoshida’s #23 is one of three numbers retired by the club. The other two are Fumio Fujimura (10) and Minoru Murayama (11).

Each chapter introduces a new chapter in his own life, and he touches on his relationships with various players including the team’s best foreign and domestic pitchers, Gene Bacque and Minoru Murayama. Often the subject of rumors in the press, he addresses his real feelings about Murayama as well as his sentiments on the trade that sent the team’s “true ace” (in his opinion) Koyama to the Orions. He talks about various managers (namely Fujimura and Murayama) who failed to excel as they had on the field, and then moves on to his own three terms as manager.

The second of these was the one that brought the team its lone Nippon Series championship, and featured the fearsome lineup that included Masayuki Kakefu, Randy Bass, Akinobu Okada, and others. He gives special attention to Bass, who has arguably become the most famous player in team history. Bass was quite outspoken but Yoshida tolerated it as he knew his star player meant well and had some valuable input.

Overall, this book was an outstanding read. Yoshida was at the stage in his life where he could reflect on a variety of things quite calmly and frankly, and his writing style is easy to follow and really helps the reader feel what he feels. In fact, after borrowing the book once without even cracking open the cover, I took it out a second time, this time waiting until 3 days before it was due to open it up. I could not put it down though, got through the first ⅔ of it, and decided instead of renewing it, I would just buy it. It will serve as a great reference book for me.

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