That was a shocker. Talking here about the resignation of Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara on Sept. 26. Sure, it had been rumored for days, but I for one did not expect it would really happen.
I mean, here’s a young guy, for a manager, at 45 years old, a lifelong Giants family member. He’s in his second year as the skipper after winning a decisive victory in the Central League in 2002, then sweeping the Japan Series over the Seibu Lions.
He loses one key player, albeit the Giants best, Hideki Matsui, to the New York Yankees, and the only regular position player on his team who played up to standards without injury this season was shortstop Tomohiro Nioka.
He still guides the team to what could yet be an A-class finish, and he has to resign? Give me a break.
Just 10 days ago, as the Giants were wrapping up their final homestand of the season at Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri outfielder Chris Latham was saying the team had held a meeting, and the impression he got was that Hara would be staying on. But, no.
I think what really happened is the Giants are embarrassed because the arch-rival Hanshin Tigers ran away with the Central League pennant race and won it so easily. It was just as the Tigers were about to clinch on Sept. 15 when the “Goodbye Hara” talk seemed to gain momentum.
It snowballed, and the pressure must have been enormous on the former star third baseman, reflected in his tearful appearance at the Sept. 26 news conference with the Tsuneos, Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe and new manager Tsuneo Horiuchi.
I expect Hara will not fade away but return to the broadcast table. He was a sportscaster for NHK before going back into uniform as the Giants head coach under Shigeo Nagashima, who he succeeded as the skipper.
As for Horiuchi, it will be interesting to see just what kind of a leader he will be.
A former Giants ace pitcher during the V-9 years of 1965-1973 when the team won the Japan Series nine years in a row, he won 26 games in 1972, once pitched a no-hitter and hit three home runs in the same game, and is a member of the Meikyukai Golden Players Club as a result of winning more than 200 games in his career. But, can he lead today’s players?
He was the Giants pitching coach under manager Nagashima from 1993 to 1998 and since then has been a color commentator on Giants games for NTV, the Yomiuri broadcaster. I’ve had dinner with him on a number of occasions after a telecast of a Giants home-away-from-home game in Fukuoka, Sapporo, Kurashiki or Osaka in recent years, and got to know him as a friend.
Horiuchi, though I’ve never heard him speak English, sometimes thinks western style. He often goes to the U.S. and attends the Major League Baseball All-Star game in July, though he obviously won’t be going to the 2004 Mid-Summer Classic; he’ll be busy guiding the Kyojin. On visits to the New York area, Horiuchi usually stops in to see his buddy, former New York Yankees star catcher and Yanks and Mets manager Yogi Berra, and check out the Berra Museum in Montclair, N.J.
Perhaps Horiuchi has acquired some advice from his pal Yogi, infamous for his “words of wisdom.” He’ll need them to get Japan’s most popular team to regroup after a mediocre season.
Meanwhile, look for Hara, a fan favorite, to return as the Giants manager somewhere up the road, older and wiser. What happened this season was not his fault, but someone has to take the blame when the Giants don’t win it all.
I’d like to pay tribute to a retiring major league play-by-play announcer who has described the action on radio and TV for the same team for the past 42 seasons. New York Mets mikeman Bob Murphy ended his career after calling the Mets-Pittsburgh Pirates game on Sept. 25.
Murphy, now 79, was one of the original three Mets announcers, along with Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner, doing all games on radio and TV when the Mets were born in 1962, and they played in the old Polo Grounds. In later years, he did only radio and most recently only home games at Shea Stadium. His trademark was a gaudy sports jacket, usually a plaid mix of loud colors such as purple-and-yellow or orange-and-green.
He saw it all with the Mets, from those early years of futility with manager Casey Stengel and players such as Choo-Choo Coleman and “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, to the Gil Hodges-managed, Tom Seaver-led “Miracle Mets” World Series win over the Baltimore Orioles in 1969 to the dramatic comeback in another championship victory over the Boston Red Sox in 1986.
It was Murphy’s voice screaming, “A ground ball trickling . . . it’s a fair ball . . . it gets by (Bill) Buckner!” in that unforgettable Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against Boston when it appeared the Mets had lost that game and the Series until that untimely misplay at first base by Buckner.
It is sad to know a guy to whom I grew up listening has ended his career, but I wish Murphy, a deserved Hall of Famer, the best in his retired life in Florida. Thanks for the memories.
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