Playing as a teammate with Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh was awesome. Yu Darvish should win more than 15 games this season with the Texas Rangers.
There is not much a Japanese ballclub can do about losing a free agent star player. The Yokohama DeNA BayStars, under new ownership, will be vastly improved and a pennant contender within three years.
Those were some of the observations made by BayStars general manager Shigeru Takada at a meeting of the Association of American Baseball Research in Tokyo last week. At age 66, Takada has taken on his latest job in a long baseball career as a player, broadcaster, field manager and GM with four NPB teams.
Takada was the 1968 Central League Rookie of the Year and the regular left fielder on the Yomiuri Giants throughout most of their “V-9” era when the Kyojin won the CL pennant and Japan Series every year from 1965 to 1973. He recalled those glory days hitting in the same lineup with superstars Nagashima and Oh.
“Those were great teams and great years,” he said, recalling the times when the Giants sold out Korakuen Stadium every night.
Takada’s playing career ended in 1980, and he spent time as a color commentator on Giants games for NTV, as manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters, then still based in Tokyo, and later the Yomiuri farm team skipper.
After the Fighters moved to Sapporo, Takada became the GM of the Hokkaido club and, under his watch, the team won Pacific League pennants in 2006 and ’07 and the Japan Series title in ’06, guided by American manager Trey Hillman. It was also while Takada was running the front office the Fighters drafted and signed Darvish, now gone to the majors.
Wishing Darvish good luck with the Texas Rangers, Takada said, “I expect he should win 17 or 18 games this coming season.”
Asked which is more difficult, being a field manager or GM, Takada said, “The two jobs are very different but equally as challenging. The GM has to answer directly to the team owner, set an example as a leader in the front office and has to figure out the draft, work out trades and maintain a strong player roster.
“The manager has to cope with day-to-day pressure and make smart decisions with regard to game strategy. I think managerial decisions win or lose five or six games each year on average, and I do not recommend retiring players go right into managing but wait at least two years before taking on that post.”
After leaving as the Fighters GM, Takada got back into managing on the field with the Yakult Swallows in 2009 but stepped down a third of the way through the 2010 season with the team in last place and in the midst of a long losing streak.
Now he’s back to accept the challenge of getting the BayStars out of the Central League basement and rebuilding the team into a winner. He was asked how long that might take and responded frankly, “If we win the Japan Series this year or next, I will be pleasantly shocked. Realistically, I would hope to make the playoffs by our third year (2014).”
Since taking on his new assignment, Takada has had to cope with a few situations regarding on-field team staff and player personnel.
It appeared former Yokohama pitcher Kimiyasu Kudo was going to be the DeNA manager but, just two days before the scheduled official announcement, talks with Kudo broke down, and Takada had to scramble to get a new manager immediately.
“I called (former Giants player and NTV commentator Kiyoshi) Nakahata, and he accepted right away,” said Takada. “We agreed on a coaching staff and other details and were able to make the announcement on schedule. I think Nakahata has a good sense for baseball and will be a successful manager.”
The BayStars were stung by the loss of third baseman and cleanup hitter Shuichi Murata who left for the Giants as a free agent, and Takada was asked how the club can make up for his loss.
“Once the free agents make up their minds, there is nothing you can do to stop them from going away. We will miss Murata, and we tried to get Hideki Matsui (another free agent who played with the Oakland A’s in 2011), but he still wants to play in the majors. We will be fine, though, with Alex Ramirez (coming over from the Giants) as our No. 4 hitter,” Takada said.
The BayStars also have pitchers Giancarlo (Gio) Alvarado joining from the Hiroshima Carp and holdovers Brandon Mann and Clayton Hamilton, and the team will be testing three foreign position players at spring camp in Ginowan, Okinawa, which began Wednesday.
“We’ll be looking for an infielder; one guy who can play both first base and third base,” said Takada.
The new GM said he also wants to make Yokohama Stadium more fan-friendly and create an atmosphere a little more like a major league stadium. Noting most of the AABR members, though Japanese, have been to MLB games in North America, Takada said they know how much fun it can be. He wants to see more kids in the stands and would welcome an even more international audience.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com