Red Sox manager Valentine should be right at home in return to MLB


So, Bobby Valentine will be the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. Surprised? Not me. The now 61-year-old former skipper of the Texas Rangers, New York Mets and Chiba Lotte Marines said a few years ago while still working in Japan, “I plan to be in uniform until I’m 70 years old.”

After two years of not wearing a team logo, Valentine will be back where he belongs — in the dugout, this time at historic Fenway Park.

The news broke on Wednesday Japan time that Boston had decided to hire Valentine over Gene Lamont, the other of two finalists for the job. At the time, Valentine was en route back to the U.S. from Japan where he had come to participate in a few charity events, including further assistance to victims of the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami disasters.

Valentine will be leaving his job as an ESPN baseball analyst and, although most who of those with experience both managing and broadcasting may prefer being behind the microphone because of the pressure of making decisions from the bench, it is easy to understand where Valentine would rather be. It is most certainly not in the telecast booth.

The consideration and eventual selection of Valentine as the successor to Terry Francona drew a mix of comments from Red Sox fans on the team website. Many said Valentine’s personality would not be a good fit in Beantown; others insisted their club, torn apart by a disastrous September performance and failure to make the playoffs, needs a guy like Valentine to light a fire and reignite the winning ways the Red Sox have enjoyed for the most part since 2004.

At the end of the coming season, one of those two groups will be saying, “I told you so.” Knowing Bobby, I’ll bet it will be the latter.

Remember how Valentine’s managerial career in Japan came to an end with Lotte after the 2009 season? No one wants to go out that way, and now he will have one more shot as a big league field boss of one of the American League’s high-profile ballclubs.

You can be assured he will make the most of his chance with Red Sox Nation at fascinating Fenway where the “Green Monster” looms, the New England clam chowder is tasty and the crowd joins with Neil Diamond’s voice in singing “Sweet Caroline” prior to the bottom of the eighth inning of each home game.

No doubt all of Valentine’s friends and fans in Japan will be pulling for him to succeed, and the Baseball Bullet-In wishes him the best of luck in his exciting new job.

You read where former Hankyu Braves and Kintetsu Buffaloes manager Yukio Nishimoto died Nov. 25 in Osaka at the age of 91. A long-time popular baseball figure in the Kansai area, Wakayama Prefecture native Nishimoto was one of those not-so-great players who went on to become a successful manager.

He assumed his first managerial position at age 40 when he took over the Daimai Orions in 1960, winning the Pacific League pennant. Nishimoto then managed the Braves from 1963 to 1973, accumulating five more PL titles. His career as a field boss ended in 1981 after eight years piloting the Buffaloes during which time he tacked on two more league championships.

In eight trips to the Japan Series, however, Nishimoto never won, not even once, and he is perhaps best remembered for what was perceived as a blunder in the 1979 final. Playing at home in Osaka against the Hiroshima Carp with the bases full, one out and down by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, the manager flashed the suicide squeeze bunt sign.

Kintetsu batter Shigeru Ishiwata missed the pitch thrown by Hiroshima reliever Yutaka Enatsu, the runner from third was tagged out, and the Buffaloes never scored. Since two of the team’s best hitters, Toru Ogawa and Charlie Manuel, were due to follow Ishiwata, Nishimoto took a firestorm of criticism for the failed strategy move.

Besides managing Manuel, the currently successful manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Nishimoto also directed another colorful foreign slugger from Japanese baseball history in Daryl Spencer with Hankyu.

In 1971-72, Spencer, at age 42-43, served as Nishimoto’s first base or third base coach but was kept on the active roster and, in a move rarely-if ever-seen in today’s game, the American would often come off the coaching lines late during a game in a key situation for a pinch-hitting appearance.

After retirement, Nishimoto stayed in the game for a while as a TV and radio commentator but will always be remembered as a perennial Japan Series runnerup and for that suicide squeeze incident of 32 years ago.

Finally this week, author Robert Fitts who wrote “Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball” is coming out with his next book. This one is “Banzai Babe Ruth,” and it is billed as a tale of murder and espionage centering around the 1934 postseason trip to Japan by the Sultan of Swat and other major league all-stars.

“Banzai Babe Ruth” comes out in February, but Fitts says Amazon.com has recently posted the book for pre-ordering. Fellow author Robert Whiting, the king of books about Japanese baseball including “You Gotta Have Wa” and “The Meaning of Ichiro,” said, “Banzai” is “Fitts’ best work and will be a valuable addition to any baseball (or Japan) lover’s library.” Check it out today.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at Wayne@JapanBall.com