Flash back to 2007. One-third of the teams in Japanese pro baseball (including half the Pacific League clubs) had American managers. There was Marty Brown with the Hiroshima Carp, Terry Collins leading the Orix Buffaloes, Trey Hillman guiding the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Bobby Valentine at the helm of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

In 2011, all 12 teams in Japan will have Japanese managers for the first time since 2002, and the “era” of American managers is over — at least for now.

All four will remain in baseball, but in the United States. They have jobs and will be fine but missed here in Japan. Each checked in with an e-mail comment as they embark on their new assignments.

Brown was last week named manager of the Las Vegas 51s, Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. He is the only one of the quartet without major league managerial experience but, at 47, he may still get a chance.

Who knows?

If he does well at the Triple-A level again, it would not be surprising to see him piloting an American or National League club one day.

He was on the threshold of becoming a big league skipper in 2005. Brown was managing the Class AAA Buffalo Bisons for the Cleveland Indians when he got the call to take over the Carp in 2006. He directed the Hiroshima club for four seasons through 2009 and led the Rakuten Eagles in 2010 before he was fired.

In a recent message, Marty said about managing in Japan, “It was a great experience and a true test of my patience which I passed. I wish both organizations the best in the future and have nothing but good memories of my time as a manager.

“I made a lot of true friends and met my (Japanese) wife who is very happy here with me in the States. I would always look at going back to Japan as a manager but with my eyes more open in the future. Now I am going to get back to what I truly love: the development of major league talent and teaching the players to win.”

Collins, 61, was recently named manager of the New York Mets. He previously managed the Houston Astros and Anaheim Angels before taking over the Orix team in 2007. He resigned in May of 2008 but showed up in Tokyo a year later as manager of the China national team in the Asia round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Now he’s back in the big leagues with a high-profile team in a city where the pressure to win will be intense. About his time with the Buffaloes and his new job in the Big Apple, Collins said simply, “I loved my time in Japan, and my knowledge of how the Japanese play the game will help me in the future.”

Hillman, 47, had his first shot at managing a major league team with the Kansas City Royals in 2008-10 and is now the bench coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers under new skipper Don Mattingly. He earned respect in Japan during a five-year stint as field boss of the Fighters in Tokyo and Sapporo and brought a Japan Series championship to Hokkaido in 2006.

Hillman was scheduled to arrive in Japan for a nine-day visit on Saturday and had this to say about his Japan days and his new gig:

“I loved my time in Japan and with the Fighters. I learned so much getting to be there for five years, and we still have so many wonderful friends over there. I am very excited about coming back to visit.

“I am really looking forward to working for Don Mattingly and the storied franchise of the Dodgers. They are a great organization, and I am very blessed in getting this assignment as the next step God has for us in our baseball journey.”

Valentine, 60, was manager of the Texas Rangers (1985-1992), New York Mets (1996-2002) and Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995 and 2004-09, winning the Japan Series in 2005. He previously said he had hoped to remain in uniform until the age of 70 but next year will do TV commentary on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”

Those games are carried in Japan on J-SPORTS, so we should be hearing Bobby’s booming voice during the coming season and, when they do the occasional telecast booth shots, we’ll get to see that trademark Valentine smile.

Transitioning from the dugout to the broadcast booth, Valentine said, “I will always think of my days as manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines as some of the greatest of my life. The friendships I made and the many things I learned will stay with me forever. The players and fans are second to none in the world. I enjoyed my return to Japan this year and look forward to many more trips.

“I have had opportunities to manage in MLB but decided to take a very prestigious job with ESPN.”

We wish Marty, Terry, Trey and Bobby the best in their new endeavors. Thanks, guys, and otsukare sama deshita.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk: wayne@JapanBall.com

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