Bobby Valentine, who has returned to Japan to manage Chiba the Lotte Marines, said Monday he will urge his players to become less of a samurai and more of a performer while the game is in play.
Valentine, who guided the Marines to a second-place finish in 1995 — the team’s best finish in the last 19 years — before being fired at the end of the season for what he called “philosophical reasons,” said he will start a revolution and begin by injecting some spirit into the lifeless Marines.
“In our sport, players aren’t allowed to show emotion. In baseball when you do something good, you’re supposed to put on this frown, walk into the dugout and shake hands quietly. I’m going to try to see if my players can’t show some more emotion on the field,” the 53-year-old Valentine told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
“When a goal is made in soccer, there’s a party out on the field. When a guy makes a hoop in basketball, he runs down the court slapping his teammates and doing the jig, having the time of his life. This is to show not only his teammates but the fans that ‘this is fun and we want you to have fun,’ ” he said.
After standing at the helm of the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, Valentine, who referred to his return to Japan as “destiny’s call,” came to the conclusion that there is something wrong with players trying to keep a straight face on the outside when on the inside they are feeling something different.
“When a guy strikes out with the bases loaded and the game is over, I don’t expect him to grab his cup of tea and go home. I expect him to be a little upset with that situation, and I think the fans do also,” he said.
In his opinion, the fans want proof that players are humans too and are sympathetic when they see a man getting angry at himself for a mistake he made or jumping up and down in joy when his efforts finally pay off at a critical moment in a game.
When in his final outing in 1999, Yomiuri Giants pitcher Koji Uehara kicked the mound and cried openly because he was forced to obey his coaches and intentionally walk slugger Roberto Petagine who had been 0-for-16 against the rookie, his action provoked a national debate.
But the majority were on Uehara’s side. Most fans hoped that the incident, televised live across the nation, would bring about a change in Japanese baseball, which is so centered on rules and regulations and what-not-to-dos.
Although it may not be considered a desirable trait in a samurai, Valentine would rather see his men deal with sentiments as they come and take pleasure in the rare opportunities they have to feel good about themselves while playing the game of baseball.
For those lucky players taken under Valentine’s wing, it looks like at least for the coming season they will not have to worry about being ridiculed or condemned for being their natural selves even in their uniforms.
“When a guy hits a home run after having two strikes on him and fouling off five pitches, I don’t mind him going down to first base and feeling good about that success. Because in our sport when you look at a good hitter, what he has to deal with is failure seven out of 10 times. So in those three times when he’s successful, can’t he show a little happiness?”