Hidetoshi Kiyotake, the former team representative and general manager of the Yomiuri Giants professional baseball club, recently spoke out against Tsuneo Watanabe, the powerful chairman of The Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings, and paid for it with his job.
Reactions to the internal feud have been wide-ranging, including empathy, disgust and cold silence. So what spurred Kiyotake, formerly a Yomiuri Shimbun investigative reporter, to take the brash step of publicly calling out his boss?
In an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Kiyotake spoke frankly about the matter, and about the man who always has "the final word."
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
The Asahi Shimbun: It seems like it all began on Nov. 4, when Tsuneo Watanabe, the 85-year-old chairman and editor in chief of The Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings and chairman of the Yomiuri Giants ballclub, said, "I haven't heard any reports (about next season's coaching staff assignments)."
Kiyotake: That night, when I heard from (then) club owner Tsunekazu Momoi that he'd been "showered with verbal abuse from the editor in chief," I called Chairman Watanabe on the phone. He rambled on and on, saying: "I'll decide on the coaching staff assignments. I am the last dictator."
He seemed quite intoxicated and was agitated. When I called Momoi the next day, he said, "Even though we reported this on Oct. 20, the editor in chief said he hasn't heard anything about it. I can't do this anymore. I'm quitting."
I've been acquainted with Momoi for a long time, since I covered local news, so I said, "I'll quit, too." And that's how we decided to hand in our resignations.
Q: However, Momoi criticized the news conference you held on Nov. 11 as "indefensible." Has he pulled the ladder out from under you?
A: When I called Momoi on Nov. 6, he said, "I'm meeting the editor in chief tomorrow, but you don't have to come." When I asked him, "Momoi, aren't you going to resign?" he replied, "I'll take my resignation form just in case." I thought, "What!?"
When Momoi met Chairman Watanabe, he was told to "put that resignation form away," so he didn't pull it out. I later heard from Momoi about a new proposal for the staff that would have Suguru Egawa as the Giants' head coach, while head coach Kaoru Okazaki would be demoted to infield/outfield coach. Momoi would drop from owner to club president, and I would continue as executive but be removed from my post as the GM. On top of that, they would tell me to keep on helping out with player acquisitions and such. I refused, saying, "I can't accept that."
Q: So the staff lineup for next season was already falling into place, and Watanabe had already given his approval, right?
A: At times, Chairman Watanabe forgets things right after you tell him, so when I took over as executive I was told by my predecessor to make sure to communicate business matters in writing. In this instance, too, I gave him a five-page report on Oct. 20 and received his approval. However, on Nov. 9 when I talked one-on-one with Chairman Watanabe at the Yomiuri Shimbun head office starting at 2:30 p.m., again he brought up the topic of giving Egawa a job.
Q: Why was Watanabe fixated on Egawa?
A: Hmm ... (silence) Chairman Watanabe said, "(Manager Tatsunori) Hara recommended him." The chairman thought he'd like someone who can tell the manager things, and one reason he gave was that "if we make Egawa head coach, then he and the fans will expect him to be in line for the manager’s job. It'll probably help draw fans." He also said, "But he won't become the manager." That probably put (current manager) Hara at ease about Egawa being assigned head coach. Furthermore, the chairman even said, "I assigned Hara as the person to negotiate with Egawa."
Q: It's usually not a manager's job to be involved in financial negotiations.
A: A manager shouldn't get wrapped up in such affairs. Besides, I wondered whether Egawa should be used like that. Chairman Watanabe used to be allergic to Egawa. But this is what he said: "It is better to be infamous than unknown." His thinking is, "He (Egawa) is very infamous, but he'll draw fans." I recalled back in 2004, during the ruckus over the reorganization of professional baseball, when the chairman said, "They're just players." He mocks the ballplayers and even the fans. I thought it was unforgivable.
Q: Even so, we don't know whether Egawa will accept the offer. Were you able to ask him directly?
A: Chairman Watanabe insisted there's a "99.9 percent chance he'll accept." He said since Egawa's annual salary is now around 50 million yen, he'll come over to us for about 100 million yen. He also said the head office would take care of negotiations with Egawa and his "background check." My hands were tied once he said that.
Q: In other words, you held the Nov. 11 news conference to prevent Egawa from getting the job?
A: I think a person with talent like Egawa is needed at times. If I'd been told about it in September, then I may have considered it. But we'd already decided on all our personnel for next season and had begun contract renewal negotiations with the coaching staff. Somebody will have to be bumped if we put Egawa in there. When I realized what was going on, I lost my trust in the organization. I was told by Momoi that "the personnel assignments will be made as early as Nov. 15." Things were progressing quickly. I thought I had to do something to stop it, and there was no choice but a news conference.
Q: But your timing was curious. It seems you had no problem distracting fans from the Japan Series, the pinnacle of the baseball season.
A: Was there any other way? If there was, I want you to tell me. After the news conference, there were people who asked whether it would have been better to talk things out. But this is Chairman Watanabe. We talked for an hour and a half on Nov. 9, but he wouldn't listen to me. Even Momoi, who agreed with me in the beginning, became completely compliant. Time was of the essence. I figured the only thing I could do as the ballclub's executive was to put my position on the line.
Q: What sort of stature does Chairman Watanabe hold in The Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings organization?
A: (Long silence) He's terrifying, actually. There are two sides to him--malicious and mischievous, but everyone's scared of him. I acknowledge that Chairman Watanabe was a capable political reporter and a fine businessman, but he's also too high-handed. People in the company think he goes too far. If you speak the truth to him, you're only putting your job at risk.
Q: Have there been other times when he's insisted on having "the final word," so to speak?
A: Yes. At the head office and with the ballclub. But he hadn't treated the coaching staff assignments like this before. I heard there were people in the company who cried when they saw my November news conference on the Internet. I had senior colleagues say to me, "I'm relieved that somebody spoke the truth."
Q: Do you think Chairman Watanabe likes baseball?
A: I think he likes winning, but you’ll have to ask him yourself whether he likes the sport or not. Professional baseball players play the sport at an elite level, even on the farm teams. You can't rub shoulders with them if you don't respect them. Some of Chairman Watanabe's statements about players don't seem entirely respectful.
Q: The reason the Giants gave for your dismissal is that you demanded a new post.
A: The fact of the matter is that I didn't want Watanabe meddling with the Giants and making unreasonable demands, so I tried to inform the chairman through a senior colleague that I wanted him to make an honorable exit from the ballclub. Although Watanabe resigned as the owner in 2004 when it came to light that he had given a talented amateur player money off the books, he came back as chairman the following year. All I said is that I was ready to remain as an auditor to keep a check on things, but that's actually a step down from executive. The accusation that I demanded a post is false.
Q: Do you share any responsibility for letting a championship slip by two years in a row for the Giants, a team whose mission is to be crowned league champions every season?
A: I don't mind being held responsible for that, but what does that have to do with coaching staff assignments? I incorporated the major league system of statistical evaluation to acquire and develop players in a logical manner. If we just keep snapping up the best talent from other ballclubs then we might make short-term improvements that would bring a championship in one year, but not in consecutive seasons.
Even if I'm not there anymore, they are establishing a process that can systematically build the team. Coach Okazaki, who has experience managing the farm team, was our leader regarding player development. Even so, with his "final word," the chairman was upsetting our team-building approach and taking us back to a business management style from 10 years ago.
Q: After the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, when you fell in step with Chairman Watanabe as he pushed for the Central League to begin its season before the Pacific League, did you have a close relationship with him?
A: I still think that we should have started playing games where we could, not simply starting our season earlier, as you say. It would have been a way for us to lend our support. At that time, the players association had promised that they would "play 144 games, even if the season runs into December," so we agreed to kick off the season at the same time as the Pacific League. And it was Momoi and I who persuaded Chairman Watanabe.
Q: Be that as it may, you haven't been able to get your side of that story out and erase the impression that there were only internal squabbles at The Yomiuri Shimbun.
A: I very much regret that it's been seen that way. After taking my position in 2004, I tried to change a one-man show into a modern organization. But when the chairman has "the final word" and overturns the organization's decisions with such ease, even though he has no right to represent the company, it regresses back to being a family business again. I thought I would try to be steadfast so that we could break away from this style of business management. That's why I was patient as I witnessed all these things. Until recently, I was able to put up with that kind of stuff.
Q: How are the Giants viewed within The Yomiuri Shimbun?
A: They're a huge asset. They are absolutely necessary as a means to expand circulation. Financially, they also serve as an advertising platform. Our salespeople are proud of the team and they are also a vital tool for increasing sales. Their importance as a symbol is all the more reason why we should give rational instructions according to the rules and assign personnel in a logical manner. That's only to be expected of a modern company, right? Club owners, who attend the owners' meetings, the sport's highest decision-making body, have always been in the highest position. When someone goes over the owners' heads and issues irrational personnel decisions, the owners' importance is diminished.
Q: Aren't those unique circumstances that only have to do with the head of The Yomiuri Shimbun, Chairman Watanabe?
A: No. Even in the Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank scandal, all the board members knew about the chairman and president's improper dealings with sokaiya (yakuza-affiliated corporate racketeers), but still they kept quiet. It happens at every company. Even at The Asahi Shimbun, of course. There's nothing unusual about what I'm saying.
Q: People are wondering whether there will be any further revelations.
A: I can't say either way. You should never show your cards too soon, right? But I’ll play fair and take the high road.
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