Since he first became a celebrity ballplayer with the Hanshin Tigers, Tsuyoshi Shinjo has cultivated a persona as a baseball free spirit, unbridled by convention or common sense. You can’t make up a scene like the weird introductory press conference the Fighters had for him a year ago.
But on Monday, he decided to turn a page, and become more orthodox.
Shinjo’s plan last season, as far as I can reckon, was to be more entertaining than the typical Japanese manager, while poking fun at the obligatory lip-service phrases managers are expected to utter, and giving as many of the organization’s players as he could a chance to impress him in the majors without regard to overall wins and losses.
The skipper, who was signed after he impressed the team with his fire by attending NPB’s tryout in an effort to revive his playing career, turned their season into a 143-game tryout camp in which Nippon Ham had an NPB-high 18 players with 100 plate appearances.
About a month into the season, it became clear that Shinjo, who had never coached prior to managing the Fighters, was struggling with pitching changes, and the team relieved him of those duties.
When results failed to materialize, Shinjo said the important thing was that the kids got experience and did well when given their shot, while complaining that any player who hit .250 in his 50 at-bats was not going to make it.
For him, it was all about effort on the field and not shouting “our only goal is winning the pennant” while proclaiming he would never say the team was aiming for the pennant.
On Monday, Shinjo attended a staff meeting at the minor league facility in Kamagaya, Chiba, and said that he would no longer make things up as he went along.
“This year, I’m not going to do whatever I like.”
“Last year I was allowed to do whatever I wanted, although I understand how valuable the strength of the coaches is. This year, I’m going to discuss things with the coaches as we go along, and want to lean on their strength.”
Shinjo said this year would be about playing at game speed from Day 1.
“From the first day I want to play intrasquad games, and want a schedule that allows us to focus on having as many games as possible. It would be great if we could 14 or 15 innings at a time.”
“What I’m thinking is that if we can settle on the regulars there, we can achieve a situation where we won’t be swapping players in and out all year.”
“The team has prepared ES CON FIELD Hokkaido and I think that’s why I was hired to manage, so from the bottom of my heart I want to see what it’s like to win a pennant. I spent the offseason thinking we can win a pennant.”