Now in the final month of the 2014 Japanese baseball regular season, the “A-Class” teams in the Central and Pacific leagues look forward to October’s Climax Series of playoffs, while the three also-rans in both divisions begin thinking about next year.
How many clubs will change managers is a question to be answered in the coming weeks, but it seems likley the Tokyo Yakult Swallows will be looking to hire a new skipper. The Seibu Lions, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Yokohama BayStars may also be thinking about getting a new field leader.
Yakult has been in last place in the Central circuit despite having the highest team batting average (.283) in the CL through Friday, thanks to the emergence of second baseman Tetsuto Yamada (hitting .333), third baseman Shingo Kawabata (.317) and right fielder Yuhei Takai (.318). On the flip side, the Swallows also have the highest pitching staff ERA (4.73) in both leagues.
The current manager, Junji Ogawa, did an excellent job upon taking over on an interim basis early in the 2010 season, leading Yakult out of the basement to a strong fourth-place finish. He was given the job full time and got the Swallows into the Climax Series in 2011 and 2012.
After that, the Birds finished last in 2013 while many of their front-line pitchers and first-string position players went down with injuries. The deep disabled list continued into this season as well but, that excuse has gotten old, and it is doubtful Ogawa can survive another year as manager.
The Lions, meanwhile, began the season with Haruki Ihara at the helm. He stepped down though in late May with the team in last place, and coach Norio Tanabe took over with the “interim” label. Tanabe has done a halfway decent job of improving the club, but it is still in fifth place and not playing all that consistently.
The Eagles have gone from first to worst. The 2013 Japan Series champs are last in the Pacific League, and the big question at Rakuten is the health of 67-year-old field boss Senichi Hoshino, sidelined earlier this season with an illness.
There is lots of improvement in Yokohama, where manager Kiyoshi Nakahata has lifted the BayStars to fourth place after finishing fifth in 2013 and sixth in 2012. He should be wanted back in 2015, but his contract runs out this year, and we will see if he wants to go for a fourth year leading Yokohama or return to the broadcast booth as a commentator with NTV.
With all that in mind, the Baseball Bullet-In would like to throw out two names for consideration to any Japanese team looking for a new manager, fresh blood, new ideas and a shot in the arm. Both are foreigners and long-time veterans of Japanese baseball: Tom O’Malley and Alex Ramirez.
O’Malley is currently a batting coach with the Hanshin Tigers where he oversees a cleanup trio in the lineup consisting of the Central League’s leading hitter, Matt Murton, RBI leader Mauro Gomez, and Takashi Toritani, a .322 hitter. As a player, O’Malley won the CL batting title in 1993, hitting .329 while playing first base for Hanshin.
Ramirez played independent league baseball this season after spending 13 years as one of the most prolific hitters in Japanese baseball. In 2013, the Venezuela native became the only foreign-born player to achieve 2,000 career hits in Japan, gaining entrance to the exclusive Meikyukai, or Golden Players Club, for hitters who reached that plateau.
Both O’Malley and Ramirez have experience exciting Yakult fans. O’Malley, after transferring from Hanshin, led the Swallows to the 1995 Japan championship while earning MVP awards for the regular season and the Japan Series.
Rami helped Yakult capture the 2001 JS in his first year in the country and went on to win a league home run crown and a pair of RBI titles during his seven seasons in a Swallows uniform.
O’Malley turns 54 on Christmas Day and has managerial experience with the Newark Bears of the U.S. independent Atlantic League. He also coached with Hanshin in 2002-2003.
While happy in his current job, O’Malley said, “It would be a dream come true if I were to become the manager of a team in Japan.”
Ramirez, meanwhile, has made no secret of the fact he would love to be the manager of a Central or Pacific League club. He will turn 40 next month and would jump at the chance to take over as skipper of a Japanese team.
“That is my eventual goal,” he said during an interview last spring.
It should be pointed out “Rami-chan” has gained a degree of fluency in the Japanese language over his 13-year career with Yakult, Yomiuri and Yokohama.
An era of American managers in Japan occurred between 2003-10, during which time Trey Hillman, Bobby Valentine, Leon Lee, Marty Brown and Terry Collins called the on-field strategy for six Japanese teams. Valentine and Hillman led the Chiba Lotte Marines and Nippon Ham Fighters, respectively, to Japan Series titles.
Is it time for another wave of foreign managers here? Not sure, but, if it is to begin, Tom O’Malley and Alex Ramirez would be a couple of great guys to call.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com