Not sure what to think about the Yomiuri Giants choosing Yoshinobu Takahashi as the team’s new manager. He is just 40 and did not even get a chance to retire as an active player before being selected to lead the club as its field boss in 2016.
The situation reminds me of the time 40 years ago when superstar third baseman Shigeo Nagashima slid right into the manager’s chair immediately after ending his playing career at 38 following the 1974 season. If you go by the league standings in 1975, Nagashima’s first year as skipper was a disaster; the Giants finished dead last in the Central League.
There was criticism Nagashima was not a good leader that first season because he had no experience coaching, he had always been on the field as a player and thus could not “study” the strategic moves by his manager Tetsuharu Kawakami, and he may have been “soft” with his players who had been his teammates just prior to his taking over the helm.
Takahashi’s circumstances are a little different. He’s two years older than Nagashima was when he retired, was listed as a player-coach in 2015 and, although he started some games this past season, Takahashi was used mostly as a pinch hitter, so he got to spend a lot of time on the bench observing his predecessor, Tatsunori Hara, and the decisions Hara made.
Nagashima made his decision to retire from playing while the 1974 season was still going on. “I realized my limitations,” he had said at the time. When that year ended, and the Giants failed to make the Japan Series for the first time in 10 years, the timing was right for the aging Kawakami to give up the manager’s job, and there was the super-popular Nagashima supposedly ready to take over.
Following the last game that October, Nagashima gave an unforgettable sayonara speech, the video of which has become an iconic piece of Japanese baseball history. That followed what everyone knew would be Nagashima’s final at-bat as an active player.
Takahashi has not yet had his sayonara game; as late as mid-October, he most likely did not expect to become the Giants manager. Had Yomiuri defeated the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the Central League Climax Series final stage and gone on to play in the Japan Series, Hara might have stayed on as field boss, and Takahashi would likely have been a player-coach again in 2016.
When the Giants’ season ended after losing to Yakult on Oct. 17, Hara stepped down, and speculation arose about who would be the next Kyojin manager.
Maybe former Giants and New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui?
Or ex-Yomiuri pitcher Suguru Egawa?
Perhaps Hara’s head coach Masahiro Kawai?
In the end, it was “The Wolf,” Takahashi, who got the nod.
So, what kind of a manager will he be?
Can he revamp the Giants offense, which sputtered in 2015, and maintain the excellent pitching staff that carried the club to a second-place CL finish this past season?
Will he be able to overcome the rookie skipper problems faced by Nagashima in 1975?
It should be mentioned Nagashima came back to lead the team to pennant victories in 1976 and 1977 and was a much better manager in his second tenure between 1992 and 2001, winning three pennants and two Japan Series. That’s when he was older, more mature and experienced and more of a father figure disciplinarian than an easy-going buddy to the players.
As for Takahashi’s sayonara game, if he so chooses, he can make his final plate appearance, albeit an unofficial one, at a home exhibition game in March, and that would most likely draw a capacity crowd to Tokyo Dome for a preseason contest.
Kawai, by the way, has been designated as the Giants san-gun (third team) manager, while this season’s varsity pitching coach, Masaki Saito, becomes the ni-gun (second team) skipper.
The multi-functional John Turney, an interpreter for Giants foreign players the past two seasons, returns to his former job as a training coach.
Meanwhile, new Yokohama DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez will be supported by an all-Japanese coaching staff.
Beginning with Bobby Valentine in 1995, the four Americans who most recently managed Japanese teams had at least one foreign bench, batting or pitching coach to support them.
Valentine had Tom Robson and Lenny Sakata and later Frank Ramppen as coaches during his two terms as manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines. Trey Hillman had help from Gary Denbo, Dave Owen and Mike Brown while managing the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Marty Brown relied on assistance from Jeff Livesey with the Hiroshima Carp, and Terry Collins was joined by John Debus with the Orix Buffaloes.
However, with 15 years’ experience living and playing in Japan, Rami-chan has achieved a degree of fluency in the Japanese language, so should have no problems running the BayStars without an English — or Spanish-speaking coach to share the decision-making.
Tom O’Malley will be back to continue his work as a batting coach with the Hanshin Tigers under new manager Tomoaki Kanemoto.
Another former Japan pro baseball player has become a major league manager as well. Andy Green, the new San Diego Padres pilot, was an infielder who played under Hillman with Hokkaido Nippon Ham in 2007.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com
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