Tag Archives: Shigeo Nagashima

Knives are out for Ramirez

None of Nippon Professional Baseball’s 12 managers draw more flak from the media than Alex Ramirez. Some of that criticism is just because he is different, but when stories begin to emerge blaming a skipper for a team’s losses and asserting he doesn’t know what he is doing, you can be damn sure there is a reason for it that has nothing to with the guy’s managing chops.

Last year, Ramirez was ripped for batting Yoshitomo Tsutsugo second, with some former players saying it was proof the Americanization of Japanese baseball had gone too far.

Prior to that, the skipper was attacked for batting his pitchers eighth, something I’ve pointed out makes tons of sense. While I’m not a fan of his love of the intentional walk, he’s the one in charge and it’s kind of a small thing.

Ramirez entered the season with 280 wins in four seasons, the third-highest win total in franchise history. He hasn’t yet won a pennant, but only two others have with this club and he is only the third to take the team to the Japan Series.

The attacks resumed Sunday when Ramirez admitted he wasn’t confident one of his pitchers would know the sign for the run-and-hit, so Ramirez let it go without calling for a sacrifice bunt. And as we know, managers are blamed for their teams not scoring when they fail to order a sacrifice since sacrifice bunts result in a 100 percent chance of scoring a run – just kidding.

“I had the fast Tomo Otosaka on first and (pitcher Kentaro) Taira hits right-handers well,” Ramirez said of the second-inning opportunity with one out and a runner on first and a 1-0 lead against the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday.

“I thought about giving the run and hit sign, but I wasn’t sure Taira knew it so I decided against it.”

The BayStars blew an early 1-0 run lead and a 3-2 lead in the ninth, when the Yomiuri Giants tied it against closer Yasuaki Yamasaki, who took the loss when his replacement surrendered a two-run home run.

Masamune Umemiya, writing for the Asahi Shimbun’s Aera.dot, ripped into Ramirez saying it “defies belief a professional would not know the signs.”

Umemiya attacked Ramirez for using an opener and pulling the starter on a bullpen day last (July 16 in Nagoya) after allowing a run in the first inning, and for pulling starting catcher Hikaru Ito after ace Shota Imanaga allowed three runs in the second inning. Ito was deactivated the following day. Other managers do this stuff all the time, but the number of times they are criticized in the media for it is about zero unless there is a larger agenda at work.

Managers wrestle with options whose real percentages are unknowable – except it seems to a few omniscient critics. Few managers have been worse at in-game tactics than Hall of Famer Tatsunori Hara during his first five or six years or his mentor Shigeo Nagashima.

What really matters is that the players respect the manager’s decisions and believe he gives them a reasonable chance to win, and that the manager organizes the team in a way that facilitates growth and success–the real building blocks of championships.

The final component of these attacks in Japan is the “This team is too good to lose” argument.

This was famously made by Tatsuro Hirooka and his surrogates in 1995 to argue that Bobby Valentine had cost the Lotte Marines a pennant that any average manager would have won. I don’t remember the exact number, it might have been 20 games Valentine was supposed to have been worse than average by Hirooka’s calculation. It might have been 10. But even 10 is an unimaginably large number.

In Valentine’s first season, the Marines had their best finish in 10 years and their best winning percentage in 11. But Hirooka, who hired him, didn’t like his style and attacked him at every turn. The Marines finished 12 games back of Ichiro Suzuki and the Orix BlueWave, but as far as Hirooka was concerned, Valentine had ruined a championship-caliber team that no one knew existed until they hired him.

Umemiya wheeled out this argument against Ramirez, by quoting a baseball writer who said many former players considered the BayStars to have the most balanced team in the Central League and the best starting pitching. Therefore, this argument goes, any fault must be the manager’s.

It’s fair to discuss Ramirez’s choices, and to his credit, he doesn’t dodge questions. But when Tsuyoshi Yoda ran out of position players and had to use a relief pitcher to pinch-hit with two outs in the 10th, the bases loaded and his team trailing by a run recently, there weren’t any stories about how he was ruining the Chunichi Dragons.

But since Sunday, there have been a half-dozen stories by reporters questioning Ramirez’s fitness that were supported by the expert opinions of former players.

When one sees that one begins to ask, “Why now?”

In 2011, when batting conditions wrecked offensive numbers all over Japan and the Hanshin Tigers played poorly, a reporter friend said that Hanshin’t press corps was keen to attack the team’s older Japanese veterans for their failure to hit for average, but coaches directed the writers’ wrath to the failures of the imported players, Craig Brazell and Matt Murton. That guidance by the Tigers coaching staff led to some really weird stuff.

Japanese baseball is weird some times. The DeNA franchise fired its most successful manager ever, Hiroshi Gondo, because his outspoken criticisms of traditional pro baseball customs irritated the older former players in the media who couldn’t forgive his insolence and attacked him the way Ramirez is now being attacked. Like Ramirez, Gondo was no fan of the mindless, automatic sacrifice bunts Japan championed. Despite his success with a team that had been a traditional doormat, nothing Gondo did was good enough.

In his first season, Ramirez became the first BayStars manger to finish third in 10 years. When he finished third the next year, there were calls that his contract should not be extended. One suspects that the reason for those stories and these new ones is that the old guys whose opinions fill the airwaves and the sports papers have a specific candidate they would like to have instead of Ramirez.

That became crystal clear on Tuesday when a story was published about a minor league game in which DeNA’s farm team had executed four sacrifices in a 6-4 Western League win over the Yomiuri Giants

As soon as stories like that appear, about how a popular former player is succeeding Japanese-style in THE MINORS, at a time when the first-team manager is under fire for not bunting in the second inning, then you know there is an agenda propelling those stories.

Sayonara Nomu-san

Katsuya Nomura, one of the greatest baseball players in history, a player worth comparing to Josh Gibson, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella, died suddenly at the age of 84 of ischemic heart on Tuesday in Japan.

An elite slugging catcher, Nomura played in an era when Japan’s talent depth was quite a bit lower than it is today. And like some of his peers, Shigeo Nagashima, Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto, Nomura was able to stand above the crowd like a colossus and added to his legend by becoming a superb manager and a celebrity analyst.

In a 27-year career, Nomura won nine home run titles, led the Pacific League in runs three times and RBIs seven times. He was a Triple Crown winner and a five-time MVP.

A driven, gifted athlete, Nomura was also blessed with a keen mind that he constantly exercised in his bid to stay one step ahead of his opponents — a talent that helped him become the most successful manager of his generation. The peak of his managing success came with the Yakult Swallows from 1990 to 1998. Taking over a team that had been perennial weaklings, Nomura won four Central League pennants and three Japan Series championships.

On Tuesday, the impact Nomura had on his players and rivals echoed around Japan as word of his death spread. Players recalled how he motivated them with his harsh words and how he educated them and trained them to win.

Nomura turned pro in 1954 with the Osaka-based Nankai Hawks, then in the middle of a dynasty under the leadership of Hall of Fame manager Kazuto Tsuruoka.

From 1970 to 1977, Nomura served as the Hawks’ player-manager, although it was largely a collaboration between him and influential coach Don Blasingame. After winning the 1973 pennant, Nomura became the first Hawks manager to fail to win a pennant in four consecutive seasons since Tsuruoka had Hawks to their first pennant in 1946. But turmoil within the club, that Nomura blamed on a faction aligned with Tsuruoka, and Nomura’s enemies blamed on the skipper’s future wife Sachiyo — the mother of their five-year-old son — came to a head and Nomura was fired after the 1977 season.

Nomura moved to the Lotte Orions in 1978 before finishing his playing career with the Seibu Lions, which in 1979 were transplanted from Fukuoka to Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, on the western outskirts of Tokyo.

Although Nomura would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame required candidates to be out of uniform for five years before they could go on the ballot. Since many stars became managers and coaches, this created a huge logjam of worthy candidates and Nomura was not elected until 1989. The following year he took over as manager of the Swallows and turned them into a minor dynasty.

Just as he had been the leader with Nankai, the Swallows were built around their catcher, bespectacled big-hitting defensive wiz Atsuya Furuta, the second player Nomura took in the 1989 draft and a future Hall of Famer.

In his stints as Hawks and Swallows manager, Nomura showed a talent for working with young pitchers, getting big performances out of them and then overworking them.

He was also an incredible evaluator of talent, and a motivator. Former outfielder Atsunori Inaba, who someday should be voted into the Hall of Fame, credited Nomura with turning his career around by telling him his outfield defense was useless. Inaba responded by turning himself into a superior right fielder.

He is best known, however, for his fascination with analytics and advance scouting in formulating game plans against opponents, something he had begun as a player studying films of opposing pitchers to discover how they were tipping their pitches. The Swallows famously shut down PL MVP Ichiro Suzuki in the 1995 Japan Series.

Nomura was ahead of his time in building a club made of guys with high on-base percentage, often collecting aging castoffs like Eiji Kanamori, a slap-hitting on-base machine, thus earning the Swallows the nickname of “Nomura’s recycling factory.”

As a manager, Nomura displayed amazing verbal acuity. He loved to make up little phrases, quips and songs about players and rivals. And while he was a master storyteller, he often couldn’t resist the urge to rip into others in public. His constant jabs against the Swallows’ top rivals, the Yomiuri Giants, and their manager, Nagashima, became tiresome for the club’s executives and they cut him loose after the 1998 season — although by all accounts he was as tired of them as they were of him.

He went off to manage the Hanshin Tigers, where he figuratively put his foot down on the team’s prima donna, celebrity outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Nomura left him on the farm team at the start of the season and said he might use him to pitch, but had no use for him otherwise. As it had with Inaba, Nomura lit a fire under the Tigers poster boy, who followed by turning in three of his best seasons.

Although the Tigers finished last for three straight seasons under Nomura, the talent he nurtured there provided the foundation for the club’s 2003 and 2005 Central League championships. Nomura’s run, however, was cut short after his wife, Sachiyo, was arrested on suspicion of tax evasion in December 2001.

After a successful run as manager of corporate league side Shidax, Nomura was asked to rescue the Rakuten Eagles, who fired the club’s inaugural skipper, Yasushi Tao, after the club’s 2005 disastrous debut campaign. Nomura again was able to make big strides in the development of a young pitcher. This time, however, it was in the form of powerfully built youngster Masahiro Tanaka, who blossomed under Nomura’s tutelage.

The Eagles reached the playoffs for the first time in 2009, but that proved to be Nomura’s swan song. Once more, turmoil within the front office left people pointing fingers and Nomura was out.

My only real interactions with Nomura were during that time with Rakuten, because he was supremely approachable. While most field managers who meet the media before the game do so in sessions lasting five to 15 minutes before wandering onto the field, Nomura came out early, sat on the bench, where his cushion and bottle of green tea would be waiting for him.

For the entire Eagles practice, he would chat with reporters, covering the usual team news, but also telling stories. It seemed like the responsibility of the beat writers to keep him engaged so he would continue to tell his tales. It was magical stuff we may never see the likes of again.

Once more, however, some of the groundwork he laid in Sendai contributed to a later pennant. After a failed 2010 season under Marty Brown, the Eagles hired Senichi Hoshino as their fourth manager. Hoshino, who had succeeded Nomura with Hanshin and won the 2003 CL pennant, steered the Eagles in 2013 to their first Japan Series championship.

In between managing gigs, Nomura was at his critical best as a sharp-tongued TV analyst, harshly laying into managers and players who failed to meet his high standards on the field. It wasn’t simple bitterness, but rather a powerful mix of his love for the game, a dislike for half-measures and his talent with words.

In 2012, one of his former Swallows players, Hideki Kuriyama, took over as manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters and led them to the Japan Series title in his first season. Asked about the form journeyman outfielder turned analyst and university lecturer, Nomura said, “The Pacific League has certainly gotten pretty weak if that guy can win a pennant.”

As teams lowered their flags to half-mast on Tuesday at their spring camps and held moments of silence in Nomura’s memory, Kuriyama said, “I never heard a single word of praise from him. I’ve been giving it all I’ve got up to now so that I might once hear him say, ‘You’ve done a good job, I see.’ I so much wanted him to see me take that next step forward.”

NPB games, news of Sept. 26, 2019

The Hiroshima Carp lost their chance to cruise into the playoffs on Friday, while it was a farewell night for Kensuke Tanaka in Sapporo and a preview farewell for Shinnosuke Abe, where he was honored at Tokyo Dome ahead of similar celebrations certain to follow in the postseason.

Central League

Dragons 4, Carp 1

At Mazda Stadium, Takuya Kinoshita doubled in the tie-breaking run in Chunichi’s three-run seventh and scored on Naomichi Donoue’s two-run pinch-hit homer to beat Hiroshima in the day’s only meaningful game.

Hiroto Fuku pitched the Dragons out of a two-out, two-on jam in the eighth by striking out Ryuhei Matsuyama.

The Dragons’ win gave them a chance to clinch the CL’s final playoff spot if they can win their final three games.

Giants 6, BayStars 4

At Tokyo Dome, Shinnosuke Abe hit a game-tying homer in his final regular-season game at Tokyo Dome as Yomiuri beat DeNA in what could be a preview of the CL Climax Series final stage if the BayStars win the first stage at home against either the Carp or Tigers.

Abe’s home run was off a straight inside 2-1 fastball from Koo Nakagawa, not quite the batting-practice cookie that some players get in their farewell games, but Abe is still a quality hitter and had little trouble knocking it 20 rows back into the right field stands.

Game highlights are HERE.

Pacific League

Buffaloes 5, Fighters 1

At Sapporo Dome, Kensuke Tanaka wrapped up his career by breaking up a shutout with his second hit, an RBI single as Nippon Ham wrapped up its season with a loss to Orix.

Taisuke Yamaoka (13-4) allowed nine hits over the distance.

Game highlights are HERE.

Giants fans share the love for Abe

Here is a segment of Shinnosuke Abe’s postgame press conference.

Abe: “The Giants went to so much trouble for this day. I am so appreciative.”

How did you feel when the crowd roared as you were announced at catcher?

Abe: “At that instant I was speaking to Mr. Nagashima (his first manager Hall of Famer and Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima). He said, ‘Congratulations’ and even just that little bit thrilled me.”

“It was about like I expected (at catcher) though it was the first time since the preseason. I experienced everything a catcher does, including taking a real foul tip off my body.”

You got to catch (Scott) Mathieson to open the game. (Abe had mentored Mathieson in the ways of Japanese baseball and the right-hander responded by becoming a polished pitcher.)

Abe: “I felt like it was fate for us.”

When Hirokazu Sawamura took the mound as the second pitcher, you went out to the mound all of a sudden. (Abe famously had gone to the mound in the 2012 Japan Series to call the pitcher an idiot after he threw the wrong pitch).

Abe: “You know, a wide issue in society now is that of abuse of power (‘power harassment’ in Japanese). I thought with the way things are doing that again would not be permissible. I thought about it and went out to the mound without smacking him.”

“I thought today in the farewell ceremony I’d cry like an idiot, but (when the end does come) in the Climax Series or the Japan Series, I think I’ll cry plenty then.”

NPB games, news of Sept. 18, 2019

6 and 10 for Lions’ Neal

The Seibu Lions, warts and all, suddenly find themselves in the driver’s seat of the Pacific League pennant race after Zach Neal fell three outs shy of a Maddux on Wednesday in a 5-0 win over the Orix Buffaloes.

Neal (11-1) has allowed five runs in winning his last six starts, and became the fifth foreign-registered pitcher in Japan to win 10 straight decisions. He struck out five without issuing a walk for the third game in a row. The 10-straight winning decisions tied a Lions record for a foreign pitcher set by Kuo Tai-yuan, the “Orient Express.”

Afterward he paid tribute to shortstop Sosuke Genda and second baseman Shuta Tonosaki.

“Genda and Tonosaki are out of this world,” he said in Japanese.

“It’s special and so nice to have them behind me. I can pitch my game and be aggressive and not have to worry about much. So I’m thankful to have them.”

Here’s the Lions’ hero interview with Neal and Tonosaki, who scored twice and drove in a run with his 25th home run.

Orix manager Norifumi Nishimura gave more of the credit to his hitters’ inability to adjust.

“It’s not the first time we’ve faced him, but he’s beating us the same way as before,” Nishimura said. “Guys need to think more.”

The game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 6, Hawks 2

At Yafuoku Dome, Manabu Mima (8-5) allowed four of the first five SoftBank hitters to reach base, but allowed just two runs, one earned, over five innings as Rakuten won to pull within a half-game of the PL’s final playoff spot.

Handed a two-run lead in the first inning, Mima pitched out of trouble early and often, and the Eagles took the lead in a three-run sixth inning, when Hawks starter Rei Takahashi (11-5) allowed the first four batters to reach.

The Eagles, who were playing the first of six games in six days, brought in closer Yuki Matsui to pitch the ninth with a four-run lead.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Dragons 3, Giants 1

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi broke up Yomiuri starter Yuki Takahashi’s no-hit bid in the seventh inning with two hits with no outs ignited a three-run inning. Yohei Oshima delivered the big blow with a two-run homer off lefty Kazuto Taguchi.

Tigers 3, Swallows 2

At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin came from behind to beat Yakult as Koji Chikamoto raised his season hit total to 153, tying the record for CL rookies set in 1958 by Hall of Famer Shigeo Nagashima. Thirty-nine-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa stranded a pair of runners in the ninth to record his 13th save in 13 opportunities.

Game highlights are HERE.

NPB games, news of Sept. 6, 2019

Kodai Senga, who lobbied the SoftBank Hawks last winter in vain to post him, became the first player who turned pro after signing a developmental contract to throw a no-hitter.

He did it touching 98.8 mph with his fastball and throwing bulls eyes with his breaking pitches, and as the game went on shifting to more splitters, the pitch he ended the game with.

“Before the game I wanted to use more big breaking pitches, and (catcher Takuya) Kai called those really effectively.”

Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi said he instructed his batters to be aggressive on the first pitch, but it was no good.

“He located his breaking pitches well,” the skipper said. “We talked about swinging at the first pitch, but we weren’t able to get good swings against him.”

No hits are not enough

Senga led 2-0 in the ninth, when he walked the first two batters. With one out, he had a runner on third, and couldn’t afford a wild pitch, since even if he won 2-1 and didn’t allow a hit, it wouldn’t enter the record books in Japan, which doesn’t count no-hitters, but only no-hit shutouts.

Excluding Japan’s newest team, the Rakuten Eagles formed in 2005, the Hawks have gone the longest without having a pitcher throw a no-hitter. In fact, Senga’s was the first they’ve had since the Pacific and Central leagues were formed in 1950’s expansion.

The last Hawks pitcher to achieve the feat did so on May 26, 1943 in Kobe, when future Hall of Famer Takehiko Bessho beat Yamato, also by a score of 2-0.

Outsiders

In addition to Senga, who was undrafted in 2010 until taken by the Hawks in the fourth round of the subsequent supplemental draft, catcher Takuya Kai was taken shortly after, in the sixth round.

Can’t touch this

“His fastball and breaking pitches were amazing,” said Lotte slugger Seiya Inoue, who struck out to end the game with the tying runs on base. “It’s always fun facing him.”

“At the end, he was really throwing at his best. He didn’t throw me anything good to hit, so it would have been hard to just wait for him to throw something I could handle.”

Pacific League

Hawks 2, Marines 0

At Yafuoku Dome, SoftBank’s Kodai Senga (12-7) threw the 91st regular season no-hitter in Japan’s elite level pro ranks in a pitchers’ duel with Mike Bolisnger (4-5) thanks to two routine fly balls dropped in center field by Lotte’s Leonys Martin.

Martin let two nearly identical flies hit off the heel of his glove, one in the fifth, that led to the Hawks’ first run, and one in the sixth that scored an insurance run from first with one out.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 5, Eagles 4

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Takeya Nakamura was at it again with the bases loaded, hitting his 20th career grand slam as Seibu held on to beat Rakuten 5-4.

In his past three games, Nakamura has had two grand slams and a three-run double. Of his PL-leading 115 RBIs, 49 have come with the bases loaded.

“I was half laughing (when I came up with the bases loaded again), thinking this can’t be happening,” Nakamura said of his fly that just barely cleared the fence in left. “I got jammed a bit, but I did put a good swing on it.”

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 6, Buffaloes 2

At Sapporo Dome, Toshihiro Sugiura (3-4) won for the first time since May 23, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out six over six scoreless innings as Nippon Ham beat Orix to snap an eight-game losing streak and drop the Buffaloes into last place.

Taisuke Yamaoka (10-4) allowed five runs on five walks and nine hits over five innings to take the loss.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Swallows 5, Giants 2

At Jingu Stadium, Wladimir Balentien reached 30 home runs for the eighth time in his NPB career with a two-run shot in the first inning, and Masanori Ishikawa (7-5) allowed one run over six innings.

The Giants’ only run off the lefty came in the fourth, when the first four batters singled. The win was the 170th of his career.

Carp 6, Tigers 3

At Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima blew the game open in a five-run third against Hanshin’s Haruto Takahashi (3-7) to move within 4-1/2 games of the league-leading Giants.

Dragons 8, BayStars 4

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi hammered DeNA right-hander Kentaro Taira (5-4) for seven runs over 3-2/3 innings to collect their fourth-straight win. Dayan Viciedo walked and scored in the first, broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run homer in the third and singled in a run in the fourth to lead the Dragons offense.

News

Chikamoto moving up in rookie ranks

Hanshin rookie Koji Chikamoto’s double and single on Friday against Hiroshima lifted his season hit total to 139, tying him with Shinichi Eto, who went on to win three batting titles, for fourth on the CL rookie hit list. The record is held by Hall of Famer Shigeo Nagashima with 153.

Blister disappoints scouts as Sasaki makes early exit

A flock of scouts who descended on Japan’s WSBC Under-18 World Cup game against South Korea on Friday were disappointed when flame throwing high schooler Roki Sasaki left the game in the first inning after breaking a blister on his pitching hand.