Three Japanese teams have already filled managerial vacancies while two others are expected to name their choices sometime soon as the Climax and Japan Series draw to a close, in time for fall camp, the Oct. 29 amateur draft and the printing of the 2010 team calendars.
Kenjiro Nomura has taken over for Marty Brown as manager of the Hiroshima Carp, Akinobu Okada is the new field leader of the Orix Buffaloes, succeeding Daijiro Oishi and Norifumi Nishimura will succeed Bobby Valentine at the helm of the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Nomura, 43, is a lifelong member of the Hiroshima family, having played his entire career in Carp red. A former shortstop who played later in his career as a first baseman and pinch hitter, Nomura is a member of the Meikyukai (Golden Players Club) for hitters who amass more than 2,000 hits and pitchers who rack up 200 victories.
He retired as an active player following the 2005 season and has been working as a commentator for NTV and the Yomiuri television and radio affiliates.
He speaks pretty good English and, as a player, was a close friend to all his American teammates, including Brown with whom he played in Hiroshima during Brown’s stint as an infielder-outfielder with the club from 1992-94. The foreign players called him “Kenny.”
It was said the Hiroshima ownership wanted Nomura to become the Carp manager right after he retired in 2005, as then-skipper Koji Yamamoto was stepping down. But Nomura said he was too young and had no experience as a coach or manager.
“I’m not ready,” he said at the time. “I plan to go to the U.S. to study and, maybe in a few years, I will feel prepared and confident to manage.”
Asked where in America he would go, Nomura replied, “With Marty Brown.”
That would have meant the Cleveland Indians organization where Brown was managing the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Shortly thereafter, however, Brown was named manager of the Carp.
Nomura had a backup plan, though. He had also been a mid-1990s Carp mate of Luis Medina, currently an assistant to the general manager in the front office of the Kansas City Royals.
“Kenny” was able to go to spring training with that American League club the past few years and now he feels it is time to accept the challenge, put on the Carp uniform again and see what he can do.
The 52-year-old Okada, meanwhile, has been a member of the Hanshin Tigers family throughout his professional baseball life. He was the Tigers regular second baseman from 1979 through 1993, a playing rival of present Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, and a key player on Hanshin’s 1985 Japan Series championship team, forming a sluggers quartet with Randy Bass, Masayuki Kakefu and Akinobu Mayumi (currently Tigers manager).
After retiring, Okada coached with Hanshin and was the farm team manager in 2001 when Katsuya Nomura resigned as the top team’s field boss. Having paid his dues, Okada expected to succeed Nomura, but the Tigers surprisingly named ex-Chunichi Dragons manager Senichi Hoshino to the post.
The disappointed Okada continued as the second team skipper but finally got his chance in 2004 after Hoshino stepped down due to health reasons. Okada led Hanshin to a Central League pennant victory in 2005 but lost the Japan Series in a sweep to Valentine’s Marines.
The Tigers were well on their way to winning another CL flag in 2008, having built up a double-digit game lead in the standings over the second-place Giants by the All-Star break. However, a late season slump saw Hanshin drop behind Yomiuri and finish the year as the runnerup, two games behind the Giants.
Okada resigned to “take responsibility” for the team’s collapse after the Tigers were eliminated by the Dragons in Stage 1 of the 2008 Central League Climax Series. After spending the 2009 season as a TV and radio analyst, he is back as manager of the Buffaloes where Orix hopes his popularity in the Kansai region will attract more fans and his success with Hanshin in 2005 will be repeated in 2010.
It remains to be seen what will happen with the still-vacant managerial seats at the Yokohama BayStars and Rakuten Eagles. Rumors have persisted that Valentine might be called in to lead the ‘Stars and that Brown is being considered as a possible candidate for both teams.
Valentine has already started his new gig with ESPN, and you may have seen him on that network here in Japan. The 59-year-old has often said he wants to remain in uniform — that is, manage — until he is 70, so it would not be surprising to see him return as field general in Yokohama or with a major league club, if not in 2010, maybe 2011.
As of Friday, Valentine was reportedly being given consideration by the Cleveland Indians to become the next manager of that AL team, and another candidate for the Tribe job, Torey Lovullo, is the guy who played second base for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2000.
Brown completed four years as the Hiroshima field boss and departed Japan on Oct. 14, four days after the Carp wrapped up the season in fifth place in the Central League. Still only 46, Brown says he is open to any offers to manage another Japanese team but, if none are forthcoming, he will look to get a job in the U.S. at the highest level he can.
“I am supposed to have an interview this week,” Brown wrote in an e-mail without specifying where he was meeting or for what position. “I will take a job on the field somewhere. You know me, I’m a lifer.”
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com