What did “FRIDAY” report 10, 20, and 30 years ago? In “Playback Friday,” we take a look back at the topics that were hot at the time. This time, we will look back at the article “Congratulations on Japan’s top ranking,” which was published 10 years ago in the November 22, 2001 issue of FRIDAY! Trajectory of Tohoku Rakuten’s ‘Strength and Brightness'”, which appeared in the November 22, 2001 issue 10 years ago, we present the scene after the victory celebration. Two years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Rakuten fought under the slogan “Ganbarou Tohoku. In the ninth year since the team’s establishment, they won their first league championship and the top place in Japan.
The team’s high spirits and the cool ace were in stark contrast at the celebration!
We made a really good team!
It was past 4 a.m. on November 4, 2001, when the temperature was below 10 degrees Celsius, and a group of blushing men emerged from an upscale club in Sendai City shouting, “We made a really good team! They were the Rakuten Nine, who had defeated the Giants to become the first Japanese baseball team to win the championship in its nine-year history. After a hectic schedule of press conferences, beer pours, and TV appearances, the victory party began at 1:30 am. The men were excited to be drinking sake in the company of their friends.
When they spotted the reporter, they asked, “Is this Friday? It was Kazuo Matsui (38 at the time), the captain of the team, who approached me with a slightly suspicious look on his face and said, “Thank you for publishing this article the other day. I want to thank you for publishing the photo of the victory party in Ginza the day after the league championship in the October 18 issue. Friday, you really are the best.
–Do you feel differently about winning the league championship and winning the Japan championship?
“This is really the end of the season, so I feel more relieved (than winning the league championship).
–It went down to the last game, didn’t it?
Yes, yes. The opponent was the Giants. …… What’s going on? I feel a little unsteady. It’s really bad. The seats were lousy.
–What was the worst part?
“They gave me too much to drink! I haven’t even eaten. I’m begging you!
Among the excited players, ace Masahiro Tanaka (25 at the time) was the only one who remained calm. When I handed him a bouquet of flowers and said, “Congratulations,” he simply said, “Thank you,” but his expression remained unchanged. Tanaka is rumored to be considering a major league career, but I wonder if he is already looking ahead to next season.
Tanaka has not only won an unprecedented 24 games this season, but also won the monthly MVP award for five consecutive months. In the Japan Series, he pitched in Game 2 and won, and in Game 6 he threw 160 pitches to complete the game, but was the losing pitcher. However, the next day, when it looked like he would never pitch again, he came in to pitch the ninth inning of Game 7 as a relief pitcher. The sight of the entire stadium singing along with Tanaka’s appearance song, “One More Thing,” as it was played at that time is still talked about as a legend today.
However, Tanaka was clearly “overthrowing” at that time. He pitched in three games in the Japan Series, throwing a total of 302 pitches. After the series, Tanaka himself said that he could not pitch for a while longer, and manager Senichi Hoshino even removed him from the fall camp team to rest him.
The following season, Tanaka joined the Yankees of the Major League Baseball, where he continued to be active, winning in double digits for 11 consecutive years until 2007. The victory in Japan was a “legacy” for Tanaka, who would go on to play in the major leagues.
PHOTO： Takero Yui, Junsei Todoroki