Hiroshima Carp manager Koji Yamamoto has announced he will be stepping down at the end of this season, and press reports have indicated the leading candidate to replace him is former Carp infielder-outfielder Marty Brown.

Currently the field boss of the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, Brown played for Hiroshima from 1992 to 1994 and was well-liked by the fans and team management in that city.

It is no secret the Carp ownership would really like Kenjiro Nomura to succeed Yamamoto and lead the team in 2006. However, the retiring veteran player is only 39 and has said he does not want to step directly from the playing field to the manager’s hot seat.

Instead, Nomura would like to go to the U.S. and “study” American baseball techniques, managerial skills and game strategy, then perhaps take on a manager’s job in a few years.

Interestingly, Hiroshima is (finally) going to build a new ballpark, scheduled to open in time for the 2009 season. So, it is generally thought Nomura would be about ready to manage by then, and the Carp are looking for someone to guide the club through its final three seasons at Hiroshima Civic Stadium. A foreigner might be a good choice, and Brown could well be the guy.

Playing third base and right field for Hiroshima 11-13 years ago, Brown posted a batting average of .256 with 50 homers and 165 RBIs over three seasons.

His best year was 1993, when he slammed 27 home runs, drove in 83 and hit for a .276 average. Since retiring as an active player, he has worked his way up the managerial ladder in North America.

Brown began his field leadership career in 1997 with Class-A Erie in the New York-Penn League and jumped to Triple-A in 2001 with Nashville in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

He also managed there in 2002, then moved to the Cleveland chain and took over at Buffalo in 2003. In 2004, he led the Bisons to a regular season 83-61 record and won the Governor’s Cup championship.

He was named International League Manager of the Year and Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year.

Brown’s career managerial record is 633-582 (.521) with a 374-341 (.523) mark in Triple-A. In 2005, he led Buffalo to an 82-62 (.569) finish, second best in the IL.

Over the years, Brown has kept in touch with the Carp and in fact sent two of his Bisons players to Hiroshima.

Infielder Greg LaRocca transferred from Buffalo in 2004, hit 40 home runs and became a Central League all-star. Pitcher Kenny Rayborn made the switch from upstate New York to western Honshu this season and has pitched well for the Carp.

Both said they got advice about Japanese baseball from their former manager. LaRocca wears the same uniform No. 43 Brown wore when he played for Hiroshima.

Most Japanese reporters think it is better than a 50-50 chance the Carp will hire Marty and, if he does get the job, the 42-year-old Brown would be the second American to serve as the Carp field boss.

Joe Lutz was appointed the Hiroshima manager in 1975, but quit (or was fired, depending on who is telling the story) a month into the season after a dispute with the team’s front office.

Luis Medina, now a scout with the Kansas City Royals, was a teammate of Brown and Nomura with the Carp. He says, “I know Marty is interested,” referring to the idea of Brown managing Hiroshima.

While the three-year thing may imply Brown (or whoever takes over as Carp manager) would only be expected to guide the club until the new stadium is ready and Nomura is prepared to step in, it figures a guy who might do a good job, like win a couple of Central League pennants, would be given the chance to stay on in 2009.

Ironically, one of the people from whom Nomura was expected to learn more about American-style baseball in the U.S. is Marty Brown, and now he may not be there.

Nomura’s case may be likened to that of Hiromichi Ishige who supposedly could have managed the Seibu Lions, a team for which he played, when he retired in 1996. That Pacific League club was said to have interest in Ishige but, like Nomura, Ishige said he needed time to prepare for managerial status.

Ishige went to learn with the Los Angeles Dodgers and, when he came back to Japan ready to manage, there were no openings.

He finally got his chance when he was hired to skipper the Orix BlueWave in 2002 but had no success. He finished last in the Pacific League, 39 games out of first place.

When the Kobe club got off to another poor start in 2003, he was fired and replaced by Leon Lee a month into the season.

Ishige went on to found and operate the independent Shikoku Island League.

On the other hand, one who successfully jumped from the frying pan into the fire was Tsutomu Ito with the Lions. Ito retired as an active player following the 2003 season, took over as the Seibu manager in 2004 and won the Japan Series. In his case, there was no “study” required.

A similar scenario may occur with another catcher who wears No. 27, as did Ito. If Atsuya Furuta accepts the offer to manage the Yakult Swallows next season, he too will rely on a baptism of fire instead of the “textbook training” method of preparation.

In any event, Marty Brown has put in his study time, has the experience and track record, and we should know within a couple of weeks if Japan’s Central League will have its first American manager since Don Blasingame piloted the Hanshin Tigers in 1979-1980.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wsgraczyk@yahoo.com.

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