Category Archives: History

articles about Japanese baseball history

Tanaka-induced flashback

It’s going to take a while to get used to seeing Masahiro Tanaka pitching for the Rakuten Eagles again.

For his 2021 debut on Saturday, he drew the last-place Nippon Ham Fighters. The Fighters entered the game having hit two home runs, which if you have to play someone in Tokyo Dome, should be a comforting thought. Before the game, in the midst of his constant chatter about how lovely the Fighters cheerleaders are and who well-dressed he was for the occasion of Tanaka’s return, analyst Tsutomu Iwamoto, said something interesting.

“Everyone in the ballpark is pumped. I’m pumped, the fans are pumped. The press box is packed and the stadium is buzzing, all for Tanaka,” Iwamoto said. “People want to see Tanaka, but what that means is the Fighters are going to be in the spotlight and sometimes that’s an opportunity.”

“Tanaka’s back and we all expect he’s going to energize Japan’s game, but I expected the Fighters are going to be energized and focused because this is their chance to go against a front-line major leaguer when everyone is watching.”

Without an opponent to play, you don’t have a game, and while a lot of people expected Tanaka to dominate, he was merely pretty good, and the Fighters were pumped.

My flashback had to do with Tanaka’s start on April 29, 2011. A month and a half after an earthquake and tsunami decimated much of northeastern Japan’s Pacific coast line, and eastern Japan was short on power due to a nuclear disaster, Tanaka started the Eagles’ home opener in Sendai.

The Eagles ballpark was on the side of the city that was ONLY hit by the enormous earthquake and aftershocks. I visited Sendai a day early to interview people and see what things were like. The city sits on a coastal plain and between the city center and the coast, runs an expressway atop an embankment. The coastal side was a scene of devastation, cars upside down in fields, uprooted trees sticking out of the upper stories of houses battered by a wall of water.

Structural damage was still being repaired at the Eagles’ ballpark when they played their first home game there after four “home” games in western Japan at the Hanshin Tigers’ home park, Koshien Stadium, outside Osaka.

Just like many people came expecting something magical from Tanaka on Saturday, people packed into Sendai’s park to see them beat the Orix Buffaloes, which they did. Park Chan Ho started for Orix and afterwards expressed his distaste for the scenario in which the Buffaloes were expected to lose.

The Buffaloes played hard, of course, but few could be unhappy that the Eagles won behind their ace, Tanaka. Ten years, later, and Tanaka has said that one reason he returned was the timing of being able to pitch in Sendai 10 years after the earthquake. Emotions are no longer as high as they were then, and like the Fighters on Saturday, I expect the Seibu Lions will see next Saturday’s game against Tanaka not as some role in a melodrama but rather as a chance to raise their game when everyone is watching. If every team sees Tanaka not as a threat but an opportunity to test themselves and get better, we’re in for a hell of a season.

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Sunday musings 3-28-21

The return of “Super Miya”

I kind of scoffed when Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times began calling him that about five years ago, but the SoftBank Hawks Kenta Imamiya is truly super or he would be if he were the man of steel and impervious from nagging injuries.

In a recent Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, our PL prediction show, I wondered what was to become of Kenta Imamiya, the PL’s premier shortstop before Sosuke Genda’s ascendence and a number of injuries, now that the SoftBank Hawks have flooded the middle of their infield with a track team, notably stolen base kind Ukyo Shuto.

The Hawks used to do everything better than everyone except steal bases. They had the best starting pitching, best defense, best on-base offense, best power offense, but it ain’t like that anymore. The OBP side of the equation is way down and the steals are way up. The Hawks have finished fifth or sixth in walks the past three seasons.

But Imamiya returned to the lineup after missing most of last season and cracked a two-run homer in his first game back, which reminded me why one would want him playing whenever he’s healthy: He really drives the ball. When healthy, Imamiya’s going to hit 12-15 home runs a year. Last year Imamiya hit 6 HRs in 177. The seven other guys who played at least one game at either second or short for SoftBank last year combined for seven HRs in 1,081 PAs.

On Saturday, Imamiya did it all with his offense and defense, making a huge difference in the Hawks’ Game 2 victory.

Fair compensation

One thing I’ve wanted to do for years but never got around to until this weekend was actually compare the value created by free agents after they moved to their new teams compared to the value of players taken in compensation by the team losing the free agent.

Long train running

I first got interested in this subject back when I was at Yomiuri and became friendly with Yakult outfielder Kazuki Fukuchi. He was a great story. Like a lot of speedy Japanese outfielders, he switched back and forth between the outfield and infield as a young player.

A junior high hurdles champion, Fukuchi turned pro with the Hiroshima Carp, who had no idea what they had when they needed someone to trade for marginal reliever Hayato Aoki.

To the Carp, Aoki was just another defensive replacement reserve outfielder and pinch runner. But in his first regular playing time with the Seibu Lions, Fukuchi proved he could hit for average, and draw enough walks to be a danger on the bases with his speed.

Then the plot thickened, the Lions decided they would be better off with Hiram Bocachica in the outfield. Bocachica is a kind, fascinating guy and a heck of a player, the only one who has ever told me his ambition was to write a children’s book, but the Lions decided Fukuchi was expendable and didn’t put him on the protected list when they signed free agent pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii.

In exchange for a good pitcher on his final legs, the Swallows got an everyday outfielder who could fly and lead the CL in stolen bases for two straight seasons. Fukuchi told me he bought Ishii dinner after that for reviving his career.

So about 12 years ago, I thought, I wonder how often a player received in free agent compensation turns out to be better than the free agent, as Fukuchi easily was – although the Lions won their last pennant the year they signed Ishii, so they can’t be too unhappy how that turned out.

Where’s my second baseman?

On Friday, however, second baseman Shunta Tanaka drove in six runs in his debut for the DeNA BayStars against the team that gave him away as free agent compensation, the Yomiuri Giants.

I like to dump on manager Tatsunori Hara for his inability to settle on a second baseman and joke that he has a smart phone app called “Who’s my second baseman,” so it seemed poetic justice that he let one get away. But to be fair, he’s only averaged using 7.5 different players at the position, his successor for three seasons, Yoshinobu Takahashi takes the cake among modern managers with over 400 games managed with 8-2/3 different second basemen per season.

You’re probably not curious, but in case you are, the champion of second baseman switchers was Yasuji Hondo, who from 1963 to 1965 as manager of the Orions, used 11-2/3 different guys per season as he finished fifth twice and fourth once.

On Saturday, Takayuki Kajitani, the player whose signing sent Tanaka to the BayStars, hit a grand slam, while on Sunday, the player the ‘Stars got in compensation for the Giants signing Shun Yamaguchi – currently with the SF Giants – threw six scoreless innings against his old club.

So after that weekend, I had to finally break down and do the study, using win shares to measure value. The study starts with pitcher Hirofumi Kono going to the Giants from the Nippon Ham Fighters after the 1995 season and Tadayoshi Kawabe going to the Fighters, the first player taken in compensation after two years without a single player being taken and ending with the first transaction with players still active, Kan Otake and Ryuji Ichioka.

The list

Free agents are listed on the top above the compensation player. Values are given using Bill James’ Win Shares total for all the season each player played for their teams after the transaction.

Of the 14 pairs where at least one player produced a minimum of 10 WS after the move, the free agent produced more value 10 times, which is about what I suspected. The Fukuchi-Ishii pair is the most lop-sided pair.

Teams don’t take players as compensation that often because it’s hard to get real value and taking no player means a larger cash package.

  • Hirofumi Kono, Giants: 8
  • Tadayoshi Kawabe, Fighters: 1
  • Yukinaga Maeda, Giants: 15
  • Kazuhiro Hiramatsu, Dragons: 0
  • Shinichi Kato, K. Buffaloes: 5
  • Yuki Tanaka, Orix BW 17
  • Shigeki Noguchi, Giants: 1
  • Kohei Oda, Dragons: 11
  • Kiyoshi Toyoda, Giants: 20
  • Akira Eto, Lions: 7
  • Hiroki Kokubo, Hawks: 73
  • Shintaro Yoshitake, Giants: 2
  • Ken Kadokura, Giants: 1
  • Kimiyasu Kudo, BayStars: 7
  • Takahiro Arai, Tigers: 97
  • Masato Akamatsu, Carp: 38
  • Kazuhiro Wada, Dragons: 159
  • Shinya Okamoto, Lions: 3
  • Kazuhisa Ishii, Lions: 23
  • Kazuki Fukuchi, Swallows: 39
  • Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Tigers: 1
  • Takuya Takahama, Marines: 5
  • Shuichi Murata, Giants: 83
  • Shugo Fujii, BayStars: 9
  • Saburo Omura, Marines: 20
  • Takayuki Taguchi, Giants: 0
  • Hayato Terahara, Hawks: 11
  • Takahiro Mahara, O.Buffaloes: 4
  • Keiichi Hirano, O.Buffaloes: 19
  • Kazuya Takahama, Tigers: 0
  • Yasutomo Kubo, BayStars: 22
  • Kazunari Tsuruoka, Tigers: 6
  • Kan Otake, Giants: 20
  • Ryuji Ichioka, Carp: 24

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Don Nomura chat

On Monday, March 15, player agent Don Nomura joined jballallen.com subscribers for a live chat on the freeing of Hideo Nomo, the business of Japanese baseball, his stepfather, baseball legend Katsuya Nomura and the differences between the way baseball is seen in Japan and in the States.

The freeing of Hideo Nomo

In 1994, Japanese baseball had just instituted free agency under pressure from the most powerful of its 12 teams, the Yomiuri Giants, who like most baseball people in Japan and the majors inferred a kind of social Darwinist vision of baseball: that because MLB was a tougher league, Japanese players were inferior.

Hideo Nomo disproved that belief big time, and Don Nomura was instrumental in giving him the opportunity to play in the States against the wishes of his team, the Pacific League’s Kintetsu Buffaloes. It did, however, come at a cost Nomura said he was unprepared for.

Nomura tells of how he became connected with Hideo Nomo, Jean Afterman, and the rest of the saga.

One of the side issues was that Katsuya Nomura, Don’s stepfather was then managing the Central League’s Yakult Swallows, and Don’s effort to free Nomo meant that amid the firestorm from the media, the elder Nomura was forced to take a public stand, which Don said was particularly ironic given Katsuya’s love of American baseball.

The realities of Japanese pro baseball

Although there is tremendous quality in Japan’s game thanks to the efforts of players and coaches, domestic and imported, it has some rules that Nomura is not a fan of. The biggest are: a) Japan’s limit on four imported players in a game, and b) it’s reserve system that allows a team to keep a player contract for however many years it takes him to achieve seven-plus years of first-team service time.

When asked about whether it might be a tough sell to have a team of imports in Japan, Nomura said, “What are we looking at? A baseball game or the color of the skin?”

Here’s Nomura on what he would do if he were put in charge of Nippon Professional Baseball.

Japanese baseball is full of potential

One of the ironies of Nippon Professional Baseball is that it is a magnificent structure, but one whose rules have more holes in them than Albert Hall. Hideo Nomo was able to make his getaway because nobody assumed a player would.

Japan’s contract structure allows any player, amateur or professional, who knows the rules to negotiate the most remarkable deals with the team that wants to sign him. This is a massive difference from how it is in MLB. There — even international professionals — who are defined as amateurs by MLB and its players union — can only be guaranteed a minimum minor league contract and a signing bonus that is part of a team’s capped maximum.

What Japanese amateurs need to know

Asked what he thought Japan’s players union could do for the game, Nomura said, “Educate the players.”

What about international amateurs

Although MLB scouts keep tabs on Japanese amateurs they might want to recruit, NPB teams spend virtually no energy on scouring the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean for amateur players who might turn pro in Japan.

However, a number of people have suggested that Japan may be the best place in the world for an amateur ballplayer to turn pro, not only from the living conditions, the quality of play and coaching but also from the contractual possibilities Japan offers that MLB teams cannot match.

Nomura said it was a huge opportunity, and that Japan was failing badly to take advantage of it.

The most important lesson

When Katsuya Nomura died a year ago, Nomura wrote that his stepfather taught him more lessons than he could count, the biggest of which, Don said, was not about baseball.

Giant tricks, old and new

After their second straight Japan Series 4-0 sweep at the hands of the SoftBank Hawks, no one was surprised when the Yomiuri Giants’ public response to their failure was to claim the rules put them at a disadvantage. Even though it’s an old story for the Giants, this new one comes with a hidden twist and the possibility of the organization actually doing some good.

The irony of Yomiuri blaming a system that it has managed and contorted to suit the best interests of its team alone at the expense of its other 11 business partners was not lost on anyone.

When the Pacific League jumped on the Olympic baseball bandwagon in 2000 by sending stars and not playing on national team game days, Tsuneo Watanabe, the president of Yomiuri publicly threatened to kick the six PL teams out for breaking NPB rules.

Four years later, when Yomiuri became an Olympic sponsor and pushed “Mr. Giants” Shigeo Nagashima to manage the team, Yomiuri became was the loudest advocate for the Athens Olympics’ baseball tournament.

Yomiuri and its Central League minions have done this over and over, denigrating every Pacific League innovation, until they worked. Every successful PL policy has gone from being the target of CL ridicule to being coopted by the CL with a new name slapped on it.

This is why Japan’s postseason games between the regular season and the Japan Series are not called playoffs because the Climax Series was based on the PL playoffs. The CL owners made a few superficial changes and slapped a new name on it, although a decidedly stupid one, in the hope people would look see them as something more than whiny unimaginative imitators.

In the past, Yomiuri responded to its team’s failure to dominate by changing the rules.

  • 1934: Blackmailed amateur pitcher Victor Starffin into joining Yomiuri’s new pro team by using the owner’s influence to get the pitcher’s father off a murder rap.
  • 1948: Tampered with Hawks ace Takehiko Bessho to force Nankai to let him go to the Giants.
  • 1978: Failed to create a loophole that allowed Giants to sign amateur pitcher Suguru Egawa. When that didn’t fly, they forced NPB to accept a trade that sent the player to the Giants with pitcher Shigeru Kobayashi.
  • 1993: threatened to quit Nippon Professional Baseball if the other 11 owners didn’t go along with a free agency system that would let the Giants scoop up Japan’s top veteran players.
  • 2021: Having failed to win a Japan Championship for a franchise-record eight years running, the Giants suddenly realized that the PL’s designated hitter rule, adopted in 1975, gives that league an unfair advantage.

Of course, nobody is fooled by this Yomiuri PR move, since nobody thinks the organization cares one bit about the quality of pro baseball beyond that of players wearing Giants uniforms.

The Giants’ bullying and hypocrisy are normal. What is new is the stuff the Giants aren’t talking about, a renewed effort to build a talent base from the ground up, through the developmental roster.

A review of the developmental system

The first time I heard of the developmental “ikusei” system was a CL official complaining that it was just another Yomiuri scheme to hoard talent to keep it away from other clubs.

Yet, the Giants were one of the first two teams to grasp the possibility of the developmental draft. I don’t profess to know much of this story, but Giants manager Tatsunori Hara had a good relationship with Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine, who was that PL club’s de facto GM from 2006 to 2008.

Valentine was an advocate of broader minor league development and after the Rakuten Eagles made the minor Eastern League a seven-team circuit, the Giants and Marines collaborated on a plan to get extra games between the teams’ youngest players and the EL team without an opponent for a few days.

After drafting more developmental players than the rest of the PL combined between 2005 and 2009, Lotte’s enthusiasm for developmental players waned after Valentine was ousted in the team’s infamous 2009 coup. The small amounts paid out in developmental contracts mean few opportunities for front-office grift and kickbacks that once were common in front offices.

It’s probably no surprise that the team that became the new champions of developmental deals started doing so in 2010. The winter before, SoftBank cleaned its front office, replacing the old-school grifters and hangers on with a more dedicated group, led at first by GM Itaru Kobayashi. After drafting no developmental players in 2009, the Hawks began grabbing five or more every year.

Signing lots of developmental players itself is no sign of a well-run organization, but when a team drastically changes the number of players it takes after the regular draft ends, it may signal a policy change.

What this has to do with the Giants

I didn’t notice it until doing this year’s rosters, but Yomiuri drafted 20 players in the regular and developmental drafts, almost a sixth of the 182 signed by all 12 teams combined. Of those, the Giants set an NPB record with 12 developmental picks.

With major league penny-pinching reaching new heights, people have for the past three years talked about when Japanese teams might take advantage of the situation. Until now, MLB has depended on Japan’s foreign player limits to prevent NPB teams from dipping into the majors domestic and amateur talent pool.

The Hawks, and more recently, the Chunichi Dragons, have been able to profit from some of Cuba’s impressive talent, but it took the signing of American pitcher Carter Stewart Jr in 2019 to crack open a door that MLB had expected would stay shut forever.

This past week, the Giants opened that door a little further by signing two 16-year-old Dominican prospects, outfielder Julian Tima and shortstop Jose De la Cruz to developmental deals.

Although there is no minor league free agency in Japan and players can only become free agents through first-team service time, developmental players can only be reserved for three years, by which time Yomiuri will have to either sign them to their 70-man roster or release them on Nov. 31, 2023.

A full-count story said the Giants see the pair as long-term investments and are preparing a support program that will include Japanese language instruction. Although the Giants have been big believers in mass farming of cheap amateur talent, the idea that 16-year-old imports were worth a longterm investment and a new setup is noteworthy.

If the Dominican amateur talent stream becomes a river for Yomiuri, it would be no surprise if the team that once boasted its pure Japanese lineup despite its best star, Sadaharu Oh, being a foreign national suddenly decided the four-player foreign limit was antithetical to the spirit of Japanese baseball and needed to go.

If that happens, it is easy to see how the Giants might find a way to combine their old trick, changing rules to suit their needs, with their new-found trick of mining foreign talent and, for once actually try to make the entire pro game better.

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Spring wrap 3-12-21

Yamamoto turns back the clock

Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto reminded us how it used to be on Saturday with a 99-pitch, eight-inning preseason exhibition start.

Daily Sports reported that according to NPB BIS, the eight innings tied him for the longest preseason start in Japan since 1999. But that’s nothing, in March 1975, 13 pitchers threw complete games in preseason exhibitions.

Yamamoto, the Buffaloes’ Opening Day starter, struck out eight, while allowing a run on three hits and a walk. Yoshihisa Hirano, freshly returned from a three-year stint in the majors, surrendered two runs in the ninth in a 3-2 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.

Here are all eight of Yamamoto’s strikeouts:

The Giants’ Opening Day starter, Tomoyuki Sugano, struck out three over five scoreless innings. Giants catcher Takumi Oshiro homered and doubled off Yamamoto, which counts as a good day regardless when it happens.

Sasaki takes mound, really

Roki Sasaki only faced three batters on Saturday at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, but because of him, the Lotte Marines sold all 5,000 tickets they offered for their Friday afternoon exhibition against the Chunichi Dragons.

Sasaki struck out Dayan Viciedo on a borderline outside pitch to end his 1-2-3 sixth inning on 12 pitches. So after more than a year as a pro, Sasaki, who may have been the hardest-throwing Japanese high school pitcher in his history, has finally played in a game.

Sasaki came on in relief of Kota Futaki. Lotte’s Opening Day starter struck out four without a walk over five scoreless innings.

Dragons starter Shinnosuke Ogasawara, whose left elbow may bear a good housekeeping seal since its been cleaned so many times in his brief career, allowed three runs over five innings on three walks and six hits. The lefty’s one strikeout victim was Leonys Martin, who had two hits and singled in a run for Lotte.

Yota Kyoda and Shuhei Takahashi each hit solo homers for the Dragons.

Tigers’ rookie Sato blasts off again

At Koshien Stadium, Teruaki Sato, one of the two big prizes in last autumn’s NPB draft along with rookie Rakuten Eagles lefty Takahisa Hayakawa, blasted yet another opposite-field home run to Koshien Stadium’s remote left-field stands in a 3-3 rain-shortened tie with the Seibu Lions.

In another match-up between Opening Day starters, the Tigers’ Shintaro Fujinami and the Lions’ Kona Takahashi each allowed three runs over five innings.

Lions catcher Tomoya Mori, the PL’s 2019 MVP, got the better of his reunion with Fujinami, whom he caught during their time together at Osaka Toin High School, with a first-inning RBI double. Fujinami struck out three, walked three and allowed three hits.

Chen Wei-yin and Robert Suarez each worked a scoreless inning for the Tigers, while Jefry Marte hit his second homer of the spring off Takahashi. The right-hander allowed seven hits, struck out three and walked three. The PL’s 2020 rookie of the year, Kaima Taira, worked a scoreless sixth.

Murakami goes deep against Hawks

At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Yakult Swallows youngster Munekata Murakami homered for the second straight game, hitting a two-run shot off the SoftBank Hawks Opening Day starter Shuta Ishikawa in their 8-8 tie.

Seiichi Uchikawa, whose free agent move to the Hawks in 2011 was the first by an elite CL player in his prime and ushered in SoftBank’s decade of dominance, got one hit in two plate appearances with his new club.

Ishikawa struck out seven while walking four, which is normal for him, but the nine hits and five runs in 5-2/3 innings were out of character.

Swallows right-hander Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa, their Opening Day starter, worked five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out five. But the Hawks bashed enigmatic right-hander Juri Hara for six runs in the sixth.

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Having a plan

On this week’s Japan Weekly Baseball Podcast, John E. Gibson interviewed Yakult Swallows scout Tony Barnette and asked if the team has any clear vision about how to build up like they did 15-17 years ago.

I wanted to know that, largely because like most teams, the Swallows appear to have no clear way of doing things other than to get the players who are available, see how they pan out, and then take it from there, which I would call the “zero accountability” plan.

You can listen to Tony’s answers when the podcast drops on Monday, and I won’t tease it here, but what the Swallows did 17 years ago was tell everyone, “We’ve tasked our new manager (Shigeru Takada) with developing the young pitchers.”

That kind of announcement is pretty rare here, and sometimes it’s just PR. But in the Swallows’ case, the team began following a program. Older pitchers who weren’t big contributors were shipped out to the farm, where players who couldn’t catch the ball, like first baseman Kazuhiro Hatakayama, also got stuck.

Takada built an underpowered team that could pitch and catch. When he left, new manager Junji Ogawa, let his big hitters play and the Swallows got good in a hurry.

A clear plan offers the chance to learn from mistakes and adjust and organize the workload. It is also, however, an open door to accountability.

Baseball people love to talk about players and managers being held accountable for their results, but front offices rarely are. Teams most often just hire a manager, let him set an agenda that the front office may or may not cooperate fully with and then fire him when it doesn’t work.

When teams hire foreign nationals to manage, the press release often includes something changing the team culture. Sometimes creating a new culture is actually part of the plan — as it was when the Nippon Ham Fighters hired Trey Hillman in 2003, and the Lotte Marines went back to Bobby Valentine a year later.

When the Hiroshima Carp in 2006 hired Marty Brown, and when the Orix Buffaloes turned to Terry Collins in 2007, both teams talked about changing the culture, but both guys were met with blank stares when they tried to work out overall policies that included the minor league team and player development.

If you are working in a Japanese company, and hold any place of influence, one of your colleagues is eager for you to make a mistake so that they can take your job. One way of avoiding being caught out and being shoved aside is to avoid accountability by not having clearly defined organizational plans that could fail.

Instead, it seems most teams’ planning revolves around setting expectations for individual players, that might involve specific skills or even physical strength unless you’re the Hanshin Tigers. If the players meet the team’s goals then it’s time to set new goals.

That is part of the picture for every team, even the Tigers, but if your entire policy is “let’s see how good this year’s players are,” then that’s no policy at all.

Looking back

The 2008 Swallows weren’t the only recent team to define an organizational approach with a comprehensive policy.

The SoftBank Hawks clearly have a policy about team development that revolves around filling their minor league facility with guys on developmental contracts and seeing who rises to the top — something the Yomiuri Giants apparently are now copying after they picked an NPB record 12 players in last year’s “D” draft.

Here are some of the policies I can identify in particular order:

  • The Carp way: Adopted in 1975 through the confluence of combustible American manager Joe Lutz and the acquisition that year of hard-nosed scrappy infielder Tsuyoshi Oshita, the Carp revolves around quality defense and base-running, which has the added advantage of being fun to watch.
  • ID Yakyu: The “ID” stood for “Import Data” and was coined by the late Katsuya Nomura during his time with the Swallows. It likely originated with Nomura through the influence by his Nankai Hawks manager Kazuto Tsuruoka and Nomura’s right-hand man, Don Blasingame. Essentially, it meant using data to identify opponents’ weaknesses and exploit them, but it also meant surrounding his core stars with veteran hitters other teams discarded because their main skill was getting on base.
  • Don’t call me ‘Manager’: Yokohama BayStars skipper Hiroshi Gondo wanted to rid his team of meaningless customs, starting with asking the players to call him “Gondo-san.” Despite managing the team to one of its two championships and a franchise-record .541 winning percentage during his three seasons, Gondo got fired because nobody likes a good manager if they talk trash about the game’s honored but idiotic customs.
  • We’re using the whole roster: This was Tatsunori Hara’s mantra when he took over the Giants in 2002. Hara eliminated Yomiuri’s 25-year-old tradition of basing roster selection on seniority, star-status, and popularity, and began giving meaningful opportunities time to no-name players who performed well in the minors. When the head coach then, Yoshitaka Katori, told me of the policy that spring, I believed it was 100 percent eye-wash. It wasn’t.
  • Let the geezers play: This was the invention of the Rakuten Eagles’ first manager, Yasushi Tao, a former batting champ who’d spent the final years of his career doing whatever it took to earn playing time. Tao believed a roster packed with veterans, given one last shot to prove themselves, would make the 2005 expansion Eagles competitive. It didn’t.

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