Continuity in Japanese dugouts took a hit when now-former Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara sat down for his retirement news conference on Monday.
Hara had been in charge of the Giants since 2006 and was easily the most experienced manager in Japan. Now that the waves of change have reached Yomiuri’s shores, there will be a host of relatively new faces in CL dugouts.
With Hara gone, the Chunichi Dragons’ Motonobu Tanishige, who will be entering his third season, and first without simultaneously being an active player, becomes the longest-serving manager in the league next season.
After Tanishige are the Hiroshima Carp’s Koichi Ogata and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Mitsuru Manaka, who will be in their second season in charge.
The other three CL teams, the Giants, Hanshin Tigers and Yokohama BayStars, will be breaking in new mangers in 2016.
The Tigers tapped former star Tomoaki Kanemoto for the job, while the BayStars hired Alex Ramirez, who will be NPB’s first foreign manager since 2010, Marty Brown’s last season with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The Giants have yet to make a hire.
Hara managed the Giants in 2002 and 2003, and then from 2006-2015. He was the one constant in the CL over the course of his second stint in the dugout. During that period (including the recent offseason hirings), the BayStars, Swallows and Tigers changed managers three times, while the Carp and Dragons hired new skippers twice.
Things are only mildly more stable in the Pacific League.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Hideki Kuriyama, now the longest-tenured manager in Japan, will be entering his fifth season next year, while the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Tsutomu Ito will be in year No. 4.
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo and the Seibu Lions’ Norio Tanabe will each be in their second full season, while the Orix Buffaloes’ Junichi Fukura will be managing the team without the interim tag for the first time in 2016. The lone brand-new hire in the PL is Masataka Nashida, who will lead the Eagles next season.
Nashida will be in his first season with Rakuten, but has the most overall experience among current NPB managers.
Nashida managed the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 2000-2004 — he was the franchise’s final manager before the merger with the Orix BlueWave — and the Fighters from 2008-2011. Nashida is 645-594-24 as a manager and led teams to PL pennants in 2001 and 2012.
Ito also has prior experience, having managed the Lions from 2004-2007, leading the club to a Japan Series crown in his first season.
Been around the block: Kimiyasu Kudo of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Mitsuru Manaka will get their first taste of the Japan Series as managers on Saturday night at Yafuoku Dome.
Both already know all about the Japanese Fall Classic from their playing days.
Manaka was on the last Swallows team to reach the Japan Series in 2001, helping Yakult defeat the Kintetsu Buffaloes in five games. He hit leadoff for the Swallows and was named one of the outstanding players of the series, hitting .316 with a pair of home runs and five RBIs.
Kudo, of course, is no stranger to the Japan Series, having made it 14 times (winning 11) as a player for the Seibu Lions, Yomiuri Giants and Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.
Kudo was MVP of the series in 1986 and 1987 with the Lions. The lefty pitcher also bagged outstanding player awards in 1991, while still with Seibu, and again in 1999 as a pitcher for the Hawks.
Familiar face: Keizo Kawashima played 399 games for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows from 2008-2014. Beginning Saturday, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks infielder will be trying to prevent his old friends from winning a Japan Series title.
Kawashima was traded from the Swallows to the Hawks on July 20, 2014, in a deal that also included former Hawks pitchers Nagisa Arakaki and Hirofumi Yamanaka and former Swallows pitcher Ryo Hidaka.
Kawashima is the most-used player out of that deal. He appeared in 77 games for the Hawks this year, hitting .274 in 157 at-bats. Kawashima hit a pair of home runs and finished with 20 RBIs.
He only saw action twice, as a pinch hitter and pinch runner, during the Hawks’ three-game series against Yakult in late May. He’ll hope to make more of an impact if given the opportunity in the Japan Series.