CHIBA — Chiba Lotte Marines manger Bobby Valentine has won a Japan Series and managed in a World Series.
So it’s little wonder why there are some people thinking a place in the dugout at the World Baseball Classic would be a natural next step for the 58-year-old manager.
As Japan searches for the man who will lead its defense of the WBC title early next year, Valentine’s name has been one of many bandied around in the media as the possible choice to be the national team manager.
“I’m a manager,” Valentine said. “I always like to manage. I’d probably be a good choice for that. But it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of work. But they have a lot of good choices.”
Olympic manager Senichi Hoshino would have likely been a natural choice to take the helm at the WBC, but a dismal fourth-place showing in Beijing, however, has forced Japanese baseball’s leaders to explore all of their options.
Valentine, who said he has not been contacted by anyone regarding the position, feels the decision makers in the process should step back and take their time making a choice.
“This is a very important year, I think,” Valentine said. “They have to understand not only in the Olympics but defending the WBC title is a very important thing for Japanese baseball.
“They’re going to have to have someone that understands how to deal with people, deal with the international game and know how to manage in a competitive series,” Valentine said.
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks skipper Sadaharu Oh, managed Japan to the inaugural WBC title in 2006, then was forced to take an indefinite leave of absence beginning on July 5 of that year due to stomach cancer.
The 68-year-old manager, who has hinted that this will be his final season in the dugout, has said he is not physically able to manager the national team.
“Obviously Oh did it and he would be the No. 1 candidate, all things being equal,” Valentine said. “He’d be the No. 1 choice of everyone, including me.”
No matter who is chosen, the Lotte manager says that person will have to not only be good at managing the game, but adept at dealing with his players as well.
“If they’re going to get guys who play in the MLB, they had better not have a manager, when they come over the guy’s going to try to tell them get a haircut,” Valentine said. “Or come in at curfew at 9:00 like they did at the Beijing Games.
“They should talk to some players. There’s a lot of players, pretty good players, who aren’t going to put themselves through the agony of playing for some managers.”
There seems to be many options for the leaders of Japanese baseball to choose from. In the NPB there’s Tohoku Rakuten’s Katsuya Nomura, Chunichi’s Hiromitsu Ochiai (who reportedly has said he doesn’t want the job), and Valentine himself, among others.
Japanese baseball could also wait and tap the manager of the Japan Series-winning team as the leader of the national squad or again choose a former manager currently without a team like Hoshino.
“As far as the guy who wins the Series, it’s an awful lot of work,” Valentine said. “Because you finish the Asian Series in the middle of November and then you start up about two weeks later and you’ve got to get your team in order and then to get another team in order. That’s tough to do.
“So maybe a Hoshino, who doesn’t have a team and isn’t going to be in the playoffs, maybe he is the (ideal) type of choice. It’s a tough decision. But it’s important and it shouldn’t be looked at lightly.”
Despite the challenges the job presents, Valentine feels like he could handle it.
“I could do that,” he said. “Because I’ll be doing it anyway because with the job I have here, I work all year-round anyway. And I’m young. You can’t be older and put yourself through that.”
The Marines manager acknowledged the particular challenges that international baseball presents, noting there are fewer surprises over the course of a regular baseball season.
“You’re a lot more prepared during the regular season for the competition and you don’t have to adjust as much,” Valentine said. “In international competition you have to be able to make adjustments on the fly and not panic when things might be a little different then you expect them to be.
“When Japan was playing the Americans and (Hitoki) Iwase just threw a fastball right down the middle in the tiebreak (during which the Americans hit three consecutive RBI singles in the 11th inning in the 4-2 win on Aug. 20), it’s because he thought the batter should be bunting. Because that’s what they do in Japan. You have to be ready for that. You have to know that (U.S. manager) Davey Johnson doesn’t bunt very often.”
Valentine has long been one of the loudest voices urging the powers-that-be in Japanese baseball to step up to the plate and make the necessary changes in order to improve the quality and visibility of the game on the world stage.
As such, he was one of the many fans of the Japanese game disappointed with the Japanese team’s performance in Beijing.
“I’m a champion of Japanese baseball but I was embarrassed at the Olympics,” Valentine said. “I went there and sat with guys and wanted to brag on the team and there was no way of feeling proud about the way they looked and they way they played.
“I don’t know what it was. Talking to the guys, the guys just said they were dull. They were cooped up in a hotel for all that time. They didn’t leave the hotel, they never had fresh air.”
While he didn’t point fingers at particular managerial decisions, Valentine felt that a few of the off-the-field decisions may have had a hand in the squad’s showing on the field.
“They didn’t feel like they were a part of the Olympics,” he said. “They didn’t get to go to the Opening Ceremony. How could you deprive Olympic athletes the chance of being in the Olympic Village or the Opening Ceremony? I felt real bad about that and I know the players did to.
“They went out on the field and they felt the only reason they were there was just to win. Anytime you ever do anything just to win you forget about the enjoyment of the competition and you’re setting yourself up for failure.”