TOKYO >> Shigeo Nagashima, the first baseball player selected for the Japanese Cultural Order, told reporters he never thought he would deserve the award.
“I couldn’t wish for a greater honor,” said the 85-year-old honorary manager of the Yomiuri Giants with a beaming smile that reminds us of his days on the field.
The cultural order recognizes contributions to culture, art, literature, science and technology. It is awarded annually by the emperor and the chosen ones receive a lifelong pension.
After joining the Giants in 1958, Nagashima became a star player who symbolized Japan’s growing season in the second half of the Showa era (1926-89).
In the Heisei era (1989-2019) he led the Giants and led the team to several championships.
Nagashima was named manager of Japan’s national baseball team for the Athens 2004 Olympics, but a stroke forced him to miss the games.
“A lot has happened over the years. I remember various memories, like the Giants’ nine wins of the season (1965 to 1973) and the game that the (Showa) Kaiser watched in 1959, ”he said.
Nagashima was an Olympic torchbearer at the Tokyo Games opening ceremony in July, along with close friend and colleague Sadaharu Oh, 81, and Hideki Matsui, 47, whom he mentored.
He is the second athlete to be awarded the Order of Culture; the first was swimmer Hironoshin Furuhashi 13 years ago.
“I hope it will strengthen not just the baseball world but the sport as a whole,” said Nagashima.