We had a pair of new manager hirings announced Friday. The Hiroshima Carp, who had been sort of silent as they stood in the wake of Shinji Sasaoka’s outgoing second-hand smoke trail, reached, as Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times put it, into the OB bag, and pulled out Takahiro Arai to be their next skipper, while the Lotte Marines went for continuity and chose their thoughtful and funny pitching coordinator, former Mets, Rockies, and Expos pitcher Masato Yoshii.
But while Yoshii’s hiring makes perfect sense for a team keen to have a plan, it makes one wonder what in the heck the team’s owner was saying about a careful and thorough search.
Carp search goes Arai
The first comment I saw coming from an unnamed top executive said the team expected him to provide “strong leadership,” which is about the most throw-away quote I’ve heard, because the guy isn’t going to say, “he’s a big likeable guy who’s never done anything like this before and we kind of hope things go right for him.”
Arai is a big likable guy, and I enjoyed talking with him when he was with the Carp, both before and after his seven-year Hanshin Tigers adventure, when frankly he was uncharacteristically uptight. He was in charge of the players union, so at least some people believe he has something on the ball. But it probably didn’t hurt that he was a popular player.
Lotte sticks with the program
The Marines, the first NPB team to hire a Japanese former MLB player to manage, have chosen to replace that guy, Tadahito Iguchi, with another former MLB player, Yoshii, which makes sense since the Yoshii has been, if not the architect of Lotte’s regimen to protect Roki Sasaki’s arm and develop his pitching talent, at least in the center of that discussion.
Yoshii studied coaching at Tsukuba University’s graduate program of sports science where his mentor was a pioneer in applying biomechanical research to baseball. He coached Shohei Ohtani in his final two seasons in Japan, and two years later was coaching Sasaki, whose high school coach had also studied at Tsukuba and essentially lost his job for taking extreme precautions with the youngster’s arm.
The interesting thing about Yoshii’s hiring was how Lotte’s proxy owner, Katsumi Kawai, said three days earlier, that a careful and exhaustive search was going on and that it was only just beginning.
I’m not saying they got the wrong guy, but if they were at the beginning of a thorough and exhaustive search on Tuesday, then those words might have different meaning within the Lotte corporation than they do to most of the rest of us. It’s also likely that the words, like “we expect the manager to exhibit strong leadership” are just something the boss thought should be said without worrying whether they reflected on the truth. One sees a lot of that.