TOKYO >> Shigeo Nagashima, the first person in baseball to be selected for Japan’s Order of Culture, told reporters he never thought he would earn the accolade.
“I can’t ask for a bigger honor than this,” said the honorary manager of the Yomiuri Giants, 85, with a beaming smile reminiscent of his days on the field.
The Order of Culture recognizes contributions to culture, the arts, literature, science and technology. It is conferred annually by the emperor, and those selected receive an annuity for life.
After joining the Giants in 1958, Nagashima became a star player who came to symbolize Japan’s period of growth during the second half of the Showa era (1926-89).
In the Heisei era (1989-2019), he managed the Giants, leading the team to multiple championships.
Nagashima was named manager of Japan’s national baseball team for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but a stroke forced him to miss the Games.
“A lot has happened over the years. Various memories come back to me, such as the (Giants’) nine consecutive season victories (1965 to 1973) and the game watched by the (Showa) emperor in 1959,” he said.
Nagashima was an Olympic torchbearer at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games in July, together with his close friend and colleague Sadaharu Oh, 81, and Hideki Matsui, 47, whom he mentored.
He is the second athlete to be selected a recipient of the Order of Culture; the first was swimmer Hironoshin Furuhashi 13 years ago.
“I hope it will boost not only the baseball world but sports as a whole,” Nagashima said.