Tsuneo Horiuchi, the worst manager in the history of Japan’s oldest existing pro baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, blew his top Thursday night when the team sent their top pinch-runner, Daiki Masuda to the mound to get two outs in an 11-0 blowout loss to the Hanshin Tigers.
Horiuchi, the 72-year-old former ace, managed the Giants in 2004 and 2005. His .480 winning percentage over 284 games makes him the only skipper on the club’s long history with a sub .500 record.
The current skipper, Tatsunori Hara, has won eight pennants in 13 seasons, tied for second in team history and next year will have more managing wins than any other Giants manager.
On his official blog, Horiuchi wrote a post called “You must not do this.”
“Daiki Masuda took the mound. This must not be done. The Giants are not that kind of team.”
“This team is leading the league. It is not permissible for a strong team to do this. I wonder what the opposing team must think. They must think we are taking them lightly.”
“When Masuda took the mound, I turned my TV off. I couldn’t stand to watch any more.”–former Giants ace and manager Tsuneo Horiuchi in his official blog
Horiuchi is a wonderful personable guy, but old farts disease can strike anyone.
Emergency pitchers to save the bullpen are never needed in Japan, because games only go 12 innings, this year 10 because of the coronavirus, and teams have 29 active players to choose their 25 game-day players (this year 31 and 26). Because of that, teams have between three to five starting pitchers who are active, but not taking up space on the game-day roster.
Take that, and a day off every week and the ability to call up minor leaguers an unlimited number of times with no chance of them running out of options, and voila, no emergency pitchers.
Unlike most weeks, the Giants don’t have Monday off, and were using Thursday as a bullpen day, so they were pretty stretched out and in a game with virtually no chance of winning. Masuda, a former high school pitcher, walked one batter and recorded two outs against the heart of the Hanshin Tigers lineup at the end of a game the Giants had virtually no chance of winning.
It was a creative adaptation to circumstances by a manager who has revolutionized an organization by organizing his team along the lines of a meritocracy–as it had once been in the days under legendary skipper Tetsuharu Kawakami.
Horiuchi turned pro out of high school under Kawakami and earned a reputation as a great, great player, but also a kind of selfish brat.
In a famous incident, described by Sadaharu Oh in his autobiography “A Zen Way of Baseball,” Horiuchi was talking loudly on the phone at an inn while his teammates were trying to sleep. Horiuchi was so annoying that even Oh, the Giants’ calm, stoic superstar slugger, had enough and punched him out.
The Yomiuri’s ownership pushed Kawakami out in 1974 to make way for Shigeo Nagashima, who was Japan’s most popular player ever but utterly unprepared to manage. That move signaled an organizational change that put popularity on an even footing with quality.
As a player Hara was a popular star who was hyped as the next Nagashima. Hara was a very good player who was hyped excessively. Hara considered Nagashima a mentor, but as a manager, but other than an occasional attempt to explain something through a catchy but nonsensical phrase, Hara was little like Nagashima as a manger.
Hara broke with tradition and benched stars so that unheralded fringe players could contribute. This was big because for nearly 10 years the Giants had sucked up most of Japan’s free-agent talent, and signing old big-name guys had made them SLOW and a poor defensive team. Hara cultivated youngsters who produced on the farm whether anyone had heard of them or not.
When Horiuchi replaced Hara for two seasons from 2004 because Hara quit over then-Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe’s bizarre Steinbrenner-like behavior, the team turned into a rudderless mob. It was ugly. Horiuchi attacked his players and got into a pissing match with popular but unmotivated slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara, resulting in the manager being booed by the fans at Tokyo Dome.
It was ugly.
If the Onion were writing this story, the headline would read, “Lousy manager angry former team looks this bad without him in charge.”