The vote of confidence the Tokyo Yakult Swallows gave manager Shigeru Takada on Friday served only to underscore how much the team is in need of a new voice.
After opening the season with raised expectations, the Swallows were 13-31-1 heading into Monday’s games, having lost eight in a row and 14 of their last 15.
The slow start prompted team president Tadashi Suzuki to give the manager a public, yet reserved, show of support last week. He said Takada would continue to lead the team and finish out the third year of his three-year contract.
The move prolongs an inevitable parting of ways, saving Takada the indignity of a midseason firing by having him keep the bench warm for his successor over the next five months.
“Forcing people out of jobs is not the Yakult group’s business structure,” Suzuki told Kyodo News last week. “We want him (Takada) to serve out the (last year of his three-year) term.”
That type of thinking works fine in the boardroom, but on the baseball diamond things are different.
The baseball club needs to be run free of the red tape and nuances that bog down things in the business world, and sometimes quick and drastic measures have to be taken.
The team’s 20-4 loss to the Chiba Lotte Marines on Saturday should have hammered that point home.
Allowing Takada to serve out his contract is a normal business decision that helps everyone save face, but does little to help the team.
To have to give Takada a vote of confidence at this point — 45 games into a 144-game season — is to basically admit he’s not getting the job done.
So if the plan is to let him finish out his contract and then make a change, the Swallows should just make the move now.
Even a gentle push out the door via a kyuyo, or “rest period” (from which few mangers ever return), would be better than just strapping in for a long, bumpy fall to the bottom reaches of the NPB.
Because as far back as the Swallows are, there’s still a lot of baseball left to play.
Yakult has talent on the roster in Norichika Aoki, Aaron Guiel and Jamie D’Antona, among others, and is reportedly toying with the idea of adding Kazuo Matsui, recently waived by the Houston Astros, to the fold.
Yakult has the team to be competitive the rest of the way, but needs someone to captain the ship.
The Swallows have looked like a team without an identity at times this season, which falls directly at the feet of the manager.
Takada can’t hit, run bases or make plays. His job is to manage the various pieces and put the team in position to win games. If he can’t, then it’s time to find someone who can.
In light of Suzuki’s comments, there seems to be little point in waiting until Takada’s contract runs out.
Because if there’s even a flicker of hope of turning things around this year, the Swallows need to take a chance and make a change.