Congratulations are in order to Alonzo Powell on being named batting coach with the Seattle Mariners last week. As one who played seven years with the Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers, Powell is well remembered in Japan by fans and friends, and it would not be surprising to see him become a major league manager some day. Or maybe manage a team in the ranks of NPB.
A prolific hitter during his playing days, ‘Zo won three consecutive batting titles with the Dragons, leading the Central League in 1994 (.324), 1995 (.355) and 1996 (.340). He is also a gentleman with a super personality that made him a perfect fit as an American playing ball in Japan.
He joined the Dragons midway through the 1992 season after an abbreviated career in the big leagues with the Montreal Expos and the Mariners. At first, then-Chunichi manager Morimichi Takagi did not realize what a productive hitter he had in Powell, using him sparingly and alternating him on defense in left and right field.
By that season’s end, however, the right-handed line-drive hitter compiled stats that included a .308 average, 13 home runs and 38 RBIs in just three months. In 1993, Powell played only 97 games, losing time due to an injury, but still managed 27 homers and 66 runs batted in while hitting .317.
He became Chunichi’s regular center fielder in ’94, the first of his three batting-title winning seasons. Not surprisingly, Powell became an extremely popular player with Dragons fans and, each year after he won a batting crown, he had T-shirts printed with a caricature of himself, his title-winning average and a replica of his signature. They sold well at ballpark souvenir stands, and he gave some away as gifts to close friends and media members. I still have them.
He did not cool off until 1997 when the Dragons moved from the old, but hitter-friendly, Nagoya Stadium into the more spacious Nagoya Dome, and he saw his average plummet from .340 to .253.
“I’m not making any excuses,” Powell said at the time. “But I just didn’t see the ball well in that dome.”
He was released after six years with the Dragons and picked up for 1998 by the Tigers but could not find that groove again and retired after batting just .255 and hitting nine home runs with Hanshin. He retired at the age of 34 and returned to the U.S. to embark on his managerial and coaching career.
He began that phase of his life as the hitting coach with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in 2002 and served in 2004 and 2005 as manager of a team with the same nickname as the club for which he starred in Japan as a player, the Dayton Dragons, a Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds in Ohio.
In 2007, he returned to the Seattle chain as organization hitting coach, and in 2008 he became the batting coach for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers where he remained until he was called up to the Mariners on May 9, 2010.
Ironically, one of the players he is now coaching is Ichiro Suzuki who won the batting title in Japan’s Pacific League all three seasons Powell was the CL hitting champion — and then some.
There may not be much, if anything, Powell can teach Ichiro about hitting a baseball, but it is hoped his instruction will vastly improve the Seattle offense and help get the M’s into the playoffs. They could not have picked a better man for the job.
In an e-mail, Powell wrote, “I am honored to be named the hitting coach of the Seattle Mariners. I will do my very best and work hard to help these guys turn things around. I am going to enjoy every moment of every day here. This is a great opportunity for me, and has been a goal of mine since I retired as a player.”
Diamond Dust: More congratulations, this time belatedly, to former Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine who celebrated his 60th birthday on Thursday. Here’s a trivia question for you. Which pop music singing star was born on the very same day as Valentine?
a) Jackson Browne, b) Billy Joel c) Elton John d) Todd Rundgren e) Stevie Wonder.
A sad note: Osamu Shimano, former Yomiuri Giants pitcher and most recently the man inside the mascot costume of the Orix Buffaloes, died May 9 of a brain hemorrhage. He was 59.
Shimano was the No. 1 draft pick of the Giants in 1968 but never made it in the pro ranks. He became the “Bravey” mascot for the Hankyu Braves and later “Neppie” for the Orix BlueWave and Buffaloes.
Coming up: I was in Niigata last weekend, checking out Hard Off Eco Stadium, the Yokohama BayStars-Yomiuri Giants games played there May 8-9, the city and the area. I will file a ballpark review and a report on the prospects for Niigata acquiring a pro baseball franchise in the next column.
Finally this week, the answer to the trivia question above is (e): Bobby Valentine and Stevie Wonder were born on May 13, 1950.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com