NPB: Shinjo Will Return As Nippon-Ham Fighters Skipper, Despite Record, Antics

Nippon-Ham Fighters outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo poses during a press conference for the film “National Treasure” on December 17, 2004 in Tokyo, Japan. Shinjo, a colorful character, is now the manager of the Nippon-Ham Fighters. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network

The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball announced Wednesday that they have agreed to a new one-year contract with manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo for the 2024 season. 

The Fighters finished with a 59-81 record in 2022 and are currently 58-79 with five games remaining in the regular season. They are 28 games back of the first-place Orix Buffaloes in the Pacific League.

“I am willing to take this uniform off if our results look like this year’s,” Shinjo told reporters. “I want to compete while developing players and will fight to the death to do so.”

One player that has developed under Shinjo is Chusei Mannami. The first baseman and outfielder has raised his batting average from .203 in 2022 to .266 in 2023. Mannami has hit a career-high 25 home runs and has a .798 OPS in 556 plate appearances this season.

Shinjo’s antics and big personality off the field may be distracting the Fighters on the field. He showed up to his first managerial press conference wearing a stylish red suit and a large gold chain around his neck. Shinjo told reporters he would prefer to be called “Big Boss” instead of “the manager,” and he even went as far as to have the nickname stitched onto his jersey.

“Please call me ‘big boss.’ I want the players to call me that, too,” Shinjo said to the media. “In Indonesia, in Bali, I was called that. That’s all. That’s just the way my life goes. Things occur to me, and I go with it. I’ve been pretty much that way since the time I was in sixth grade in elementary school or my first year of junior high.”

Shinjo also rode a hovercraft on the field in his first game as Nippon-Ham Fighters manager in 2022. He drove the vehicle from the outfield wall to the pitcher’s mound and exited to a rousing ovation.

The Nippon-Ham Fighters will likely finish in last place in the Pacific League for the second straight year under Shinjo. They hold the third-worst record (58-79) among all NPB teams. The two teams with worse records than the Fighters are the Tokyo Yakult Swallows (56-81) and the Chunichi Dragons (54-80). So why would the Fighters extend his contract after back-to-back disappointing seasons?

One reason may be his experience. Shinjo played 10 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers from 1991 to 2000 and three with the Nippon-Ham Fighters from 2004-06. In between, he played three seasons in Major League Baseball with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants. Shinjo was the first-ever Japanese player in the World Series, reaching the championship round with the San Francisco Giants in 2002.

Another reason the Fighters brought him back is his dedication. Recently, Shinjo told reporters he refuses to let his tenure with Nippon-Ham end poorly. “Tsuyoshi Shinjo is not going to end this way,” Shinjo said. “I want to show that he is a man capable of producing miracles.”

As the old saying by Mark Twain goes, “Actions speak louder than words, but not nearly as often.” Shinjo must prove to the Fighters front office that he is worthy of this new contract and can impact the organization for the better.

The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (58-79) will play their next game on September 28 at 5 a.m. ET against the Chiba Lotte Marines (64-65). The contest will take place at ZOZO Marine Stadium, home of the Marines. The final day of the Nippon Professional Baseball season is Monday, October 9.

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