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Tanishige to become rare player-manager for Dragons

by Wayne Graczyk

Kind of a surprise was the announcement last week that Motonobu Tanishige was named the new manager of the Chunichi Dragons.

The veteran catcher turns 43 on Dec. 21 and has not yet retired from active play, so will be a playing manager.

The appointment of former manager Hiromitsu Ochiai as general manager also came pretty much out of the blue. Ochiai was dropped from the Chunichi field manager’s chair in 2011 despite a winning record, supposedly because he was not as fan — and media — friendly as the organization would have liked.

Just a week prior to the Oct. 9 media conference installing Tanishige as the new skipper, the team — affiliated Chunichi Sports newspaper had listed five candidates, including one American, who might succeed the outgoing Morimichi Takagi as the Dragons field boss. The five were Kazuhiko Ushijima, Ken Macha, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Kazuki Inoue and Ochiai.

Ushijima is a former Dragons and Lotte Orions relief pitcher (and part of a blockbuster trade for Ochiai in 1987) who managed the Yokohama BayStars in 2005-06. Macha was a Chunichi infielder from 1982-85 and later managed two major league teams, the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers.

Tatsunami is a fan favorite in Nagoya who retired in 2010 after a 22-year career with the Dragons, and Inoue is an ex-Chunichi outfielder and the team’s batting coach the past two seasons under Takagi. Ochiai was the Dragons manager from 2004-11.

Subsequent reports on Oct. 8 indicated team owner Bungo Shirai wanted to have his new manager in place by Oct. 12 but, by the ninth, it had already become clear Tanishige was the guy, and Ochiai would return to the club as GM.

Unlike in the major leagues where teams with a vacancy might take a good part of the off-season to interview prospective candidates and eventually name a new manager in December or January, in Japan it is customary to select the next man as soon as the season comes to an end. There are three reasons for this.

First, the annual draft of amateur players takes place in October. This month’s draft meeting is scheduled for Oct. 24, and it is appropriate for the new manager to take part in the selection process of young players.

Second, there is fall camp. Japanese teams gather for autumn workouts before the players head home for the winter, and that provides the incoming skipper with a chance to check out what kind of a team he has and what changes might need to be made during the off-season.

Finally, the team calendar needs to be printed for sale in December, and what good would it be without the manager’s photo on the January page?

How much catching Tanishige will do next season remains to be seen, but he is second on the all-time list of number of appearances by players in Japan with 2,900. Another former player-manager, ex-Nankai Hawks great Katsuya Nomura, holds that record with 3,017, so Tanishige is just 117 games away from that mark.

It is obvious the Chunichi club needs an overhaul and a movement toward youth after this year’s fourth-place finish. We will see if the 2014 Dragons can provide as much of a surprise as was the selection of their new manager.

Diamond Dust: Here is a follow-up to our Sept. 15 column about fans in Japan not being allowed to wear the logo of one team into the cheering section of the opposing club at the ballpark.

Apparently there is a similar policy in the major leagues. Leon DeHaven, the guy told to remove his Hanshin Tigers jersey before entering the Yomiuri Giants rooters’ area at Tokyo Dome, emailed from Arizona.

DeHaven wrote, “You can’t sit behind home plate in a visitors’ uniform at a Diamondbacks game. The team president comes to visit and says no-even if you are a season ticket holder. I was not allowed to sit there wearing a (Baltimore) Orioles shirt. He offers to re-seat you or loan you a jersey (D-Backs, of course).”

On a recent trip to the U.S., I was able to watch the movie “42″ twice on flights between Narita and Newark, New Jersey. The film opens in theaters in Japan on Nov. 1, and it is a most enjoyable story of Jackie Robinson and his breaking the color barrier in the major leagues in 1947.

It stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who recruited Robinson for the historic event.

Speaking of movies, though, former Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine is the executive producer of “Branca’s Pitch,” with the plot summary (from their Web site) as follows, centering on the dramatic homer hit by Bobby Thomson off Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds in New York 62 years ago:

“Uncovering the controversy behind the home run famously called ‘The Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ which caused Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca to lose the National League pennant on Oct. 3, 1951, to the bitter rival New York Giants, ‘Branca’s Pitch’ follows 86-year-old Ralph Branca’s journey to pen a memoir that finally tells his side of the story.

“From executive producer Bobby Valentine, the documentary features a mixture of verite and archival materials, including many of Branca’s own films and photos such as a recently discovered and restored color 16-mm film of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field that finally unearths one of baseball’s ‘Golden Age’ best kept secrets.”

Branca is Valentine’s father-in-law, and the downloading of “Branca’s Pitch” is available on the Internet through iTunes.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com