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Reality bites Hawks with Oh's decision

by Jim Allen (Sep 25, 2008)

Masayoshi Son wanted Sadaharu Oh to continue as Hawks manager; Oh wanted to win. In the end, neither got what he wanted.

Son, the owner of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, had battled for 20 days. But on Tuesday, Son accepted the 68-year-old skipper's decision to step down at the end of the season.

Although Oh's health has been severely tested since cancer surgery in 2006, poor results on the field forced him to leave--regardless of Son's desire he stay on.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Yomiuri in February, Oh said his future would depend on success.

"If you don't do a good job, it [the end] is going to come. That's the same for anyone," Oh said. "I've been here for 10-plus years but I still have to get results.

"It is the normal condition for human beings. We never know when the end will come."

Oh realized the end was near in September as his batters struggled over and over, to hit with runners in scoring position and made numerous appalling errors.

"The play was simply bizarre. It was unimaginable that this group of fine players could compete in such a poor manner," Oh said Tuesday at a press conference in Fukuoka.

Oh said that besides his poor health, his announcement last autumn that 2008 might be his last season put excessive pressure on the players.

"I think my telling them this year would be the last put the brakes on the team," Oh said. "I think it's better for the team and better for the players, to have a new manager."

Oh went to top management and said it was time, but Son had no plans for anyone but Oh and pressed the skipper to reconsider. When Oh said he had to be held responsible for the losses, the team said forget about the losses and stay.

Although an extremely stubborn man in a confrontation, Oh tends to defer to the wishes of those he respects. It would have been completely in character for Oh to stay, but this time he was a rock.

"Even now, this is something I can't really permit, but the manager's desire to leave is so strong and I have to accept that," said Son, who held out hope that Oh might still return.

"I hope that he can take a year off and recover from his exhaustion."

As he said when he retired as a player in 1980, he said there would be no going back.

"This was complicated, just like when I retired as a player--should I quit, should I stay?" he said. "If we had won the pennant in 1980, I might have had to stay."

With Oh leaving, Chunichi Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said the game would now be without any true heroes.

"Pro baseball's only real superstars were Oh and [Shigeo] Nagashima," Ochiai said. "Now the game will be without its real stars. This is completely different from when players such as myself leave.

"I fear giving up the game may actually be adverse to his health."

Nagashima, Oh's teammate and rival during their playing days with the Yomiuri Giants, also paid tribute to Oh's legacy.

"He came back after his surgery for the good of baseball. The Pacific League's current popularity has a lot to do with him," Nagashima said.

"I always thought it would be ideal to die in uniform, on the field," Oh said. "But after my surgery, I lost my footing--my legs didn't feel like my legs anymore."


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