The Yokohama BayStars lost their 69th game of the 2012 season on Sept. 5, dropping a 3-1 decision to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The BayStars thus sealed their 11th consecutive losing season, and it is safe to say the team’s performance this year has been nothing short of disappointing.
Yokohama was not expected to qualify for the Central League Climax Series, but it was hoped the colorful first-year manager Kiyoshi Nakahata might lead the club out of last place (still a possibility, although unlikely). It does appear however Yokohama will win more games and slightly improve on the its 2011 record of 47 wins, 86 losses and 11 ties. With 40 victories through games of Sept. 12, the team needed to win just eight of its remaining 22 games in order to say at least it got a little better.
However, the fans in the port city must be getting tired of the futility and seeing their boys come in dead last year after year. Yokohama has registered sixth-place finishes in eight of the last 10 seasons and four in a row. The only times the BayStars were out of the basement were in 2005 when they finished third, and 2007 in fourth place.
One area where the club has not improved is in its foreign player roster. Seven non-Japanese guys have played for the BayStars this season, but you would not know it by looking at the team’s lineup these days.
Pitcher Clayton Hamilton was released earlier this summer, infielder Oscar Salazar and left-handed pitchers Brandon Mann and Wang Yi-cheng from Taiwan, and right-hander Gio Alvarado have spent most of their time lately in Yokosuka on the farm team.
The same goes for a pair of players acquired since the season began; first baseman Randy Ruiz and southpaw hurler Bobby Cramer.
In fact, during a recent series against the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome the only non-kanji name in the BayStars lineup was that of left-fielder and cleanup hitter Alex Ramirez, who is actually counted as a Japanese player, having played 12 years in country.
“There’s no doubt our foreigners have not worked out this season,” said team general manager Shigeru Takada. “We need to do a better job of scouting in the U.S. so we can improve in this area next year.”
Lack of production by the gaikokujin has not been Takada’s only problem, of course. The team desperately needs to improve its corps of catchers, add more power and acquire some strong-armed pitchers. Takada said he will work hard to eliminate some of the many weaknesses by drafting some good young talent in the upcoming amateur draft and by making some trades over the winter.
“It has been a long season for us, and I know the fans in Yokohama are frustrated, as am I. But we will do our best to complete our three-year plan to develop a pennant contender by 2014,” he said.
As documented by Kaz Nagatsuka of The Japan Times in a July 1 article and also pointed out in a recent (Aug. 29) New York Times article by Ken Belson, the BayStars front office, under new ownership, has tried a series of promotions to lure customers to the ballpark. There were also refunds offered to fans dissatisfied with their Yokohama Stadium experience, even when the home team emerged victorious.
A change of atmosphere has indicated most fans are enjoying themselves at the stadium, though, and attendance is said to be up slightly over 2011.
Nakahata, the former Giants star, has also been criticized for being a little too much of a comedian rather than a serious manager, but he does have his pride and has gotten tough at times. During that Giants series, he scolded and benched young centerfielder Sho Aranami for lackadaisical play.
While the ‘Stars go through the motions of finishing out the schedule, one highlight should be the pursuit of the 2,000-career hit total by Ramirez, and here is a check on the watch and hit count as he attempts to become the first foreigner to reach that mark in Japan. It will be, as the Japanese say, “giri, giri” or very close for him to do it this season.
He can make if he stays healthy and can pick up the pace just a bit. Rami went into the year with 1,850 career knocks, needing 150 to reach the coveted milestone.
Through Wednesday, Ramirez had 124 hits in the ‘Stars 122 games played to that point. That puts his pace for the year at 146, and the key will be if he can get enough plate appearances, and that may depend on whether or not Yokohama is playing close games, as the tendency had been for Nakahata to sometimes remove Ramirez from games already won or lost in the seventh inning after his first three at-bats.
More recently, though, the Japanese baseball veteran has been getting that important fourth at-bat after the team realized Ramirez can make it to 2,000 in October. Schedule-wise, and barring rainouts, the last three BayStars regular season games are set for the weekend of Oct. 5-7 at Tokyo Dome against the Giants. This includes a make-up and two games not on the original slate.
That would be an appropriate time for Ramirez to bang out hit No. 2,000, as he played four seasons with the Giants (2008-2011) and remains a crowd favorite at the Big Egg, even in the uniform of an opposing team. If he falls short, he will then have to wait until the opening weekend of 2013.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at Wayne@JapanBall.com