NPB news: Feb. 13, 2023

Today in Japanese baseball, Tsuyoshi Shinjo scapegoats his coaches, players are making changes ahead of the WBC and not everyone is happy about it, while the man who wrote the books on Japanese baseball is honored with a prestigious award just and also batted 1.000 in predicting the Tokyo governor’s response to the looming Jingu Gaien disaster.

It’s a busy day so let’s get to it.

Shinjo does another 180

The manager who formerly called himself BIGBOSS changed his tune again on Monday.

It was weird enough that Tsuyoshi Shinjo refused to talk to the press because of a poor showing in a spring training practice game on Sunday, but on Monday, just months after saying his job this year was to let his highly skilled coaches do their jobs and intended to learn from them, he trashed the coaching staff for the players’ failures in a four-error 13-2 loss to the Eagles.

Shinjo summoned the reporters on Monday to explain himself.

“When I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to talk, because I’d only get angry. Not at the players but at the coaches,” he said and explained it was the coaches’ fault that his outfielders played a single into a triple the day before.

“It’s not the fault of the players but their coach, and the person responsible has to take corrective measures…”

Shinjo, who vowed when he was hired to never go on about winning a championship in the spring or early in the season the way Japanese manager routinely do, spent the winter talking about how he intends to win the championship in 2023 and now won’t shut up about it.

I guess we need to get used to whatever Shinjo says to be a bedrock truth for him to have a very short shelf life.

WBC players’ new looks raise eyebrows

The Nikkan Sports this past week devoted its entire front page to a rundown of mechanical changes displayed in camp by players who’ve been selected for the national team. Yes, Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto has eliminated the big leg raise in his delivery, but I figured at first that playing it up was just for the want of a better story on a slow news day.

On Sunday, Yomiuri Giants closer Taisei Ota displayed his new pitching mechanics in an intrasquad game and gave up some hard-hit balls, causing Nikkan Gendai to suggest Samurai Japan’s players are making abrupt changes with a similar sense of planning and forethought to that employed by decapitated ambulatory chickens.

The story quoted another club’s advance scout – or “scorer” in Japanese.

“Did he hit 155 kph? He said the changes are meant to improve velocity. To be frank, his pitches didn’t give that impression of being that hard. Whatever form a pitcher adopts that suits him is fine, but I saw him in an early bullpen, and his pitches didn’t impress me as being anything that would get batters out. I guess there’s still time for him to find his way with it. Because the WBC is in March, I’m guessing he’s pushing himself hard, changing his form this drastically in response to that.”

–Advanced scout from Japanese pro club on Giants closer Taisei Ota

The story also quoted Chunichi Dragons manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. He expressed his concern about pitcher Hiroto Takahashi, one of the surprises of his team’s 2022 season doing working closely with Yamamoto and copying his mechanics.

“He (Yamamoto) has his strengths, Takahashi has his strengths. But them both doing the exactly same thing is nonsense.”

–Chunichi Dragons manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami on his pitcher Hiroto Takahashi mimicking the form of Japan and Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

I came across a video of Yu Darvish speaking recently about his concern that Japanese players might blow the WBC out of perspective and try too hard.

“They need to be careful of having too much fighting spirit,” Darvish said. “They can’t be looking at this like it’s something that if they lose, they can never return home. It’s not war. It’s baseball, and they need to approach it as such, as something they basically enjoy and take it from there.”

While Shohei Ohtani, Seiya Suzuki and Masataka Yoshida are not expected to join the team until just before the official WBC warmup games on March 6 and 7, Darvish has said he’ll be at the Samurai Japan camp on Day 1, Feb. 17. It sounds like he can’t get there soon enough to say, “Come on guys. Calm the fuck down.”

By the by, I’ve also published profiles of Japan’s 30-member roster.

Whiting wins a Chadwick Award, bats 1.000

Japan-based non-fiction writer Robert Whiting was one of three recipients of this year’s Henry Chadwick Award from the Society of American Baseball Research. What a well-deserved honor for a master researcher and story teller.

It’s ironic that I first browsed through his seminal “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat” at a Santa Cruz bookstore while attending UCSC on the very same day I discovered Bill James’ “Baseball Abstract,” since much of my life has been about researching questions about baseball and Japan.

Chrysanthemum, he said, was not originally intended as a book but came about as a series of stories that began as part of a bet with a fellow Japan correspondent. “You Gotta Have Wa.”

It has been a great honor to spend time talking and emptying numerous bottles with Bob, who has written widely on much more than baseball and has a true affection for Japan and its beauty, warts and all.

Appropriately enough, Bob’s Substack newsletter this morning was a heads up by the formidable Rochelle Kopp about what Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike should be asked at her Monday press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan and how she could be expected to dodge questions regarding Tokyo’s steamrolling culture sports and history in the pursuit of “redevelopment.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the Jingu Gaien redevelopment that will destroy the world’s fourth oldest active major league park, Jingu Stadium, eliminate public sports facilities and increase Tokyo’s retail and office space, I wrote about it for this website and in another story for Kyodo News.

“She is also likely to deflect questions about problems with the project by saying “ask Meiji Jingu.” This is her attempt to wriggle out of responsibility for the fact that since the very beginning of project discussions over ten years ago, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been in cahoots with the developers at every turn promoting this project plan and easing it through bureaucratic hoops. (This includes approving the start of construction even though the Environmental Assessment Committee has not completed its deliberations and feels there are many unresolved issues). Also, Tokyo Assembly Member Akira Harada obtained a document through an information disclosure request describing a 2012 meeting between employees of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and former Prime Minister Mori, in which the employees described the concept for redeveloping the park, and discussed the need to convince Meiji Jingu – proving that the plan was not Meiji Jingu’s in the first place, but rather that they were somehow talked into it after it was conceived.”

–Rochelle Kopp in “Robert Whiting’s Japan,” Feb. 13, 2023.

Koike didn’t disappoint:

“This is not a Tokyo Metropolitan initiative. The main operating business entity is the Meiji Shrine. The Meiji Shrine and development businesses are going through a planning process to determine of all the facilities that are owned by the Meiji Shrine, some of which are quite old, what should be left and what should be changed.”

-Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Yuriko Koike at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, Feb. 13, 2023.

Catch you all later.

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