The Yomiuri Giants are not going to win the 2005 Central League pennant and most likely will finish in the “B Class” (bottom three) for the first time since 1997.
Through games of Aug. 5, the Giants were mired in fifth place in the CL, 12 games under .500, 5 1/2 games behind the third-place Yokohama BayStars and 15 in back of the first-place Hanshin Tigers.
With the Giants showing no signs of putting together a long winning streak that would improve their standing, it appears academic that manager Tsuneo Horiuchi will step down when the season ends, and Japanese sports newspapers have been carrying a slew of articles speculating on who might be the next man to pilot the Tokyo club.
Let me say here I am sad about Horiuchi, a friend and colleague while he was a commentator with NTV on telecasts of Giants games. I thought he would do better in leading the club, but he just could not seem to get the best chemistry mix from his players during his two seasons as the field boss.
A trio of former Yomiuri players, currently NTV color commentators, are said to be the front runners for the job, but at least one paper has suggested the team may opt for something unthinkable for the Kyojin a few years ago — a foreign kantoku.
The three guys at the top of the list are Kiyoshi Nakahata, Tatsunori Hara and Suguru Egawa, lifetime Giants all, and it is likely one of them will be introduced as the new skipper shortly after the club plays its final regular-season game early in October — unless Yomiuri decides to go for an American.
Nakahata, 54, was an infielder with Yomiuri from 1976 to 1989 and a coach in 1993-1994. He was also the head coach of the 2004 Japan national squad that won a bronze medal at the Athens Olympic Games, and he actually managed the club after Shigeo Nagashima suffered a stroke and could not actively lead the team.
Hara, 47, was the last Giants manager before Horiuchi. A Yomiuri star player from 1981 to 1995, he served with the Giants as a coach under Nagashima from 1999 to 2001. He took over as manager in 2002 after Nagashima retired.
Hara guided Yomiuri to a Central League pennant and an easy four-game sweep over the Seibu Lions in the Japan Series. However, he resigned at the end of the 2003 season when the Giants dropped to third place and the archrival Hanshin Tigers took the CL flag.
Egawa, 50, was a star pitcher with Yomiuri from 1979 to 1987 and has been in the media since retirement. Besides commenting on Giants games for NTV, he has also appeared on variety and quiz programs on other networks.
Egawa has no professional coaching or managing experience.
A dark horse candidate mentioned is Yoshitaka Katori, another ex-Giants hurler (1979-1989) who also threw for the Seibu Lions (1990-1997) and was Yomiuri’s pitching coach (1999-2000 and 2002-2003).
A paper-selling headline also appeared in the Tokyo Sports, saying former Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin manager Senichi Hoshino might be Horiuchi’s successor, despite the fact he quit the Tigers post after the 2004 season, due to stress-related health problems.
It was the Nikkan Sports which brought up the suggestion of a foreign manager for the Giants on the front page of its July 15 edition. No names were printed; just a mention of the idea and a hint the Yomiuri front office might be thinking about looking beyond Japan’s borders for the next bench boss.
So, who might that be?
The first name that comes to mind is Davey Johnson, who managed four major league clubs over 14 seasons: the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers. He won the 1986 World Series for New York and has Japan experience as a second baseman with the Yomiuri Giants, playing for Nagashima in 1975-1976.
Johnson, 62, is grieving over the recent death of his daughter Andrea at age 32, but he is said to be willing to consider managing again.
Another possibility might be Roy White, first base coach for the New York Yankees who played center field for Yomiuri from 1980 to 1982.
White is 61 and has kept up his Japan connection throughout the years, often visiting Tokyo and helping along the partnership between the Yanks and the Giants.
Or how about Reggie Smith?
He was with Yomiuri as a player in 1983 and 1984 and has served as a hitting coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers but, like White, has no managerial experience.
Yet another former Giants outfielder who would like to be considered is Warren Cromartie, 51, now gaining leadership skills as manager of the Samurai Bears, working with Japanese players in the independent Golden Baseball League in Arizona and California.
No question Cro would light a fire under the butts of the Giants players, but is he too flamboyant for the tastes of the conservative Giants front-office brass?
Throwing three more names into the black cap with the orange “YG” logo: Art Howe, Don Baylor and Tim Ireland.
All know how to manage and have Japan or Asian baseball familiarity.
Howe, 58, managed the Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics and New York Mets over a 14-year period and was the MLB all-star post-season Japan tour skipper in 2002.
Baylor, 56, headed the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs for a total of nine years and was at the helm when the Cubs opened the 2000 National League season at Tokyo Dome against Bobby Valentine’s Mets.
Ireland, 52, played second base for the Hiroshima Carp in 1983-1984 and has managed in the North American minors, up to the Triple-A level. He has won Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year award and has a reputation of always getting the most out of his players.
He also won a championship managing in Taiwan and was a Pacific Rim scout for the Colorado Rockies.
So, would the Yomiuri Giants actually consider hiring a foreigner to head its on-field operations?
Who knows, but the fact that there are rumors and reports of who it might be is an exciting and interesting development in itself. Let’s see what happens two months from now.
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