Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angeles is showing the baseball world something that has been long considered as unthinkable. He is the first two-way star since Babe Ruth. Since Ruth’s years with the Boston Red Sox in the latter half of the 1910s, no one has made a serious attempt to succeed both as a pitcher and a batter. Not even Ruth did it. Once he joined the New York Yankees he concentrated himself on hitting though he still pitched very infrequently.
In his boyhood Shohei Ohtani set his goal on doing it both. Having proved that he could do it in Japan, he moved on to the major leagues at 23. While a Tommy John surgery on his right elbow kept him from reaching his full potential as a pitcher for a few years, he has blossomed as a genuine two-way player in 2021, winning the AL MVP award for the feat. In 2022, he became the first player to qualify for the leaderboard both as a pitcher and a batter. As a pitcher Ohtani has already struck out more than 500 men, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s 493 career Ks. With his 33 wins so far, he has a shot at winning more than Ruth’s 96 career victories though he is unlikely to come close to Ruth’s 714 home runs.
Everybody in Japan loves him. The whole country is cheering for his revolutionary accomplishments. Either millennials, Gen-Zs or old guards whose mindset does not belong in the 21st century yet, people love him and are proud of him. Shohei Ohtani is a superstar who has shattered a conventional wisdom, and is leading the new age of the 2020s.
Takafumi Horie was a tech entrepreneur who burst into the business world amid the late 20th century tech bubble. Unlike a number of startups that mushroomed at that time, Horie knew how to make his company Livedoor profitable. Like some other tech entrepreneurs at that time, he rose to stardom with his own company and was treated like a rock star by the millennials though the older generation hardly had any idea about what his company was doing. In 2004 he made an attempt to buy a professional baseball club when Kintetsu Railways put their Buffaloes up for sale. Horie, who is casually called Horiemon, raised his hand. After campaigning vigorously throughout the 2004 baseball season, he was denied a chance. A coveted prize went to Hiroshi Mikitani, another internet entrepreneur who was heading Rakuten, Japan’s equivalent of Amazon. (To be specific, Mr. Mikitani was allowed to form a new club to join the Pacific League, as the Kintetsu Buffaloes opted to merge with the Orix Blue Wave.) It is not certain why Mikitani was chosen over Horie since both of their companies, being startups, lacked a credible track record that baseball’s governing body wanted to see. Maybe it was because Mikitani behaved better and was more acceptable to the establishment than Horie who was often seen as an insolent outsider.
In early 2005 Horie created a huge noise in the media world, with his attempt to buy Nippon Radio Broadcasting Company. Radio broadcasting was hardly considered as an attractive business in the 21st century. Nippon Radio, however, was the majority shareholder of Fuji Television Network, which was not publicly traded but was a far larger company than Nippon Radio. No one cared about perverse and distorted shareholding structure of Fuji Television until hedge fund manager Akiyo Murakami brought the matter to light. Horie moved fast to buy over a third of Nippon Radio’s outstanding shares to become the largest shareholder. In defense against Livedoor, Nippon Radio had issued rights to buy their shares, exclusively to Fuji Television. Through the rights issue, Fuji Television bought Nippon Radio shares to become the largest shareholder. Though Livedoor brought a complaint against the issuance of rights to the court, it was turned down. At that time at least, a hostile takeover was not a generally accepted conduct in Japan’s business community even if it was not illegal. Hiroshi Okuda, Chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), as well as Toyota Motor chairman, did not conceal his disgust for Horie even if Livedoor was admitted, albeit reluctantly, to the Keidanren.
Through the Nippon Radio incident, Livedoor drew the attention of Special Investigation Squad of the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office. Throughout 2005, prosecutors meticulously followed Livedoor, and arrested Horie in early 2006 for violation of the securities law, manipulation of share price to be specific, and fraudulent accounting when they found reasons to capture him. Horie was eventually sentenced to 30 months in prison and did his time. His ‘misconducts’ accused by prosecutors seemed relatively minor, especially in terms of the size of economic damage caused by the alleged fraud, compared to past white collar crimes. The Financial Times maintained that the biggest crime Horie had committed was challenging the establishment.
Shohei Ohtani is a hero who has shattered the the conventional wisdom in a relatively small world of baseball. Challenging the establishment, however, wasn’t allowed in the much larger world of business. In this world, old guards rule the village where their unwritten law is expected to be observed. While neither Ohtani nor Horie fits into a box, Horie, unlike Ohtani, threatened vested interests of the establishment. That led to Horie’s downfall. Sixteen years after his arrest, has Japan become a bit more tolerant to outsiders who try to shatter the status quo?
About the author: Mr. Suzuki is a retired banker based in Tokyo, Japan.