Tag Archives: Trey Hillman

NPB wrap 10-27-21

The Orix Buffaloes are champions, and they celebrated COVID style, remotely from behind closed doors at Kyocera Dome Osaka, after they watched the Lotte Marines lose on the dome’s big screen to end Lotte’s quest for a dramatic come-from-behind championship.

Sasaoka’s back and Shinjo’s on deck

The Hiroshima Carp on Wednesday announced that Shinji Sasaoka will be back to manage the club in 2022 after they made a late rush for a playoff spot this season but finished fourth. Also on Wednesday, the Fighters officially installed Atsunori Inaba as manager, while Nikkan Sports reported that Tsuyoshi Shinjo will be named the next manager in the coming days.

Former Fighters manager Trey Hillman, whom some reports linked to the Fighters’ job after he left his gig as Miami Marlins bench coach, said Tuesday he is looking for work along the lines of a special assignment coach that won’t take him away from home for a prolonged period of time because his priority is enjoying spending as much time as he can with his father in Texas.

He did mention that there was some interest in him from Japan, but that it had been from the SoftBank Hawks. Hillman retains close ties with the Fighters through international director Kenichi Iwamoto, and the club was probably aware of his preferences.

Wednesday’s game

Eagles 2, Marines 1

At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, Lotte’s Kazuya Ojima pitched great for six innings, but couldn’t do everything the Marines needed to avoid a loss by himself. Reliever Chihaya Sasaki (8-1) surrendered two hits, that—with a sacrifice by veteran Ginji Akiminai—were enough for Rakuten to break an eighth-inning tie and end the Marines’ shot at their first pennant in 16 years.

Lotte got off the mark with a run in the first on a Takashi Ogino leadoff single, a sacrifice and a two-out double when Takahiro Norimoto left a 2-1 splitter in the zone, and Brandon Laird pulled it past third.

Ojima worked a 1-2-3 first, thanks to a good catch in the gap by center fielder Hiromi Oka for the second out, and Norimoto struck out the side in the Marines’ second, ending the inning with his 1,500th career strikeout, tying him for 57th all-time.

Shimauchi singled to lead off the Eagles’ second. A groundout and a wild pitch put him on third with one out, but two sharp grounders couldn’t bring him home as Ojima retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced.

A meaningless game for the Eagles, skipper Kazuhisa Ishii pulled Norimoto after three innings, to give rookie lefty Takahisa Hayakawa some work ahead of the playoffs. Norimoto struck out five, raising his career total to 1,501, 10 back of former Giants ace Tetsuya Utsumi and 14 behind former Tigers ace Atsushi Nomi.

Hayakawa retired all nine batters he faced and the Eagles tied it after two were down in the fifth. Ojima got two easy outs but walked Kazuki Tanaka. Ryosuke Tatsumi lined a 2-1 fastball to put runners on the corners, and light-hitting catcher Hikaru Ota lined a fat 2-2 two-seamer over the plate into left for an RBI single.

The Eagles loaded the bases in the sixth after Shimauchi singled with one out to start the threat, but Ojima popped up Tatsumi on a good cutter up and in.

Shimauchi beat out a leadoff single to open the eighth and pinch-runner Yuya Ogo was sacrificed to second. An intentional walk put two on for pinch-hitter Hiroto Kobukata, and his single did the damage. Sasaki got a double play to limit the damage but Sung Chia-hao struck out the side, starting with Leonys Martin and Laird to end it with his seventh save.

Thursday’s starting pitchers

Carp vs BayStars: Mazda Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Daichi Osera (9-5, 3.27) vs Masaya Kyoyama (2-6, 4.44)

Active roster moves 10/27/2021

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/6

Central League


SwallowsP14Hirotoshi Takanashi
SwallowsP17Noboru Shimizu
SwallowsP37Scott McGough
SwallowsIF5Shingo Kawabata

Also, the Hanshin Tigers deactivated their entire roster.

Pacific League


EaglesIF5Eigoro Mogi
FightersP15Naoyuki Uwasawa
FightersP41Bryan Rodriguez
FightersOF4Yuya Taniguchi
FightersOF66Chusei Mannami

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Points of view

Was I ever wrong.

I thought the 2021 Hall of Fame votes were clearly in the rearview mirror until today’s story about Nobuhiko Matsunaka coaching the Lotte Marines in spring training.

When rushing to cast my Hall of Fame vote, I admit only glancing at the ballot’s pitchers on the ballot and may have underestimated what good arguments some of them have for inclusion. Yet, there was little doubt in my mind Matsunaka was the best choice of the bunch, a guy the Players’ Division voters should have intentionally walked into the Hall of Fame.

When I saw the story about Matsunaka, however, it reminded me that he was named on a piddly 17 percent of the ballots, and the way voting can be skewed by how “journalists” see a player. That’s because Matsunaka was complicated.

It wasn’t just his triple crown stats that made him such a strong candidate. There are players who are always alert on the field, who over and over make good decisions on tough plays. That was Matsunaka — at least the part of his game that constantly amazed me — his ability to advance on fly balls that many faster players would never have risked.

He is a big guy who was never overly fast, but I never saw a player so good at scoring from third on flies hit so shallow into the outfield. Matsunaka was, for a while at least, the team’s unofficial morale officer. When Julio Zuleta first arrived with the team, he told me Matsunaka took him under his wing to provide some of the extra support that new guys — particularly new imports — often need.

Trey Hillman said Matsunaka was one of the two players, the other was Takeshi Yamasaki, who always greeted him at the start of a series, showing him the kind of respect players often give to opposing Japanese managers.

So that was one side. Matsunaka’s other side was that he could be prickly. Once at spring training, while wandering through the Hawks’ indoor practice facility, I decided to break the ice with him with humor. My Japanese then was pretty crappy, but I don’t think it would have mattered. I asked Matsunaka, who was wearing a phiten necklace the size of an ox collar, if it was big enough for him. He said something under his breath and stalked off. That was the last time he spoke to me.

A year or so later, a colleague who’d covered the Hawks for years with their local paper, Nishinihon Sports, told me that Matsunaka was no longer the big guy, that he was overrated and all the young players saw shortstop Munenori Kawasaki as the team leader.

I don’t know if it’s related to anything, but Matsunaka signed a six-year contract with the Hawks before the 2006 WBC. When Japan advanced to the quarterfinal round in Anaheim, he told reporters that nobody on the team had better dare see it as a chance to show off for major league scouts.

Years later, when Zuleta joined the Marines, we talked about Matsunaka again, but his opinion of his former teammate had shifted. I mentioned his hustle and judgment on the bases, and Zuleta rolled his eyes and said, “You better look again.”

As injuries took their toll, Matsunaka became a bench player after the 2009 season and wasn’t productive after 2011. The team would have loved to dump him but those things involve huge PR hits, so they hung with him.

As a player, the only possible cloud on Matsunaka’s legacy was his complete inability during his best years to perform in the postseason. At the very end, he snapped out of it. But it was painful to watch the country’s best hitter do so badly when everyone was watching. It didn’t help that the Hawks during those years were managed by Sadaharu Oh. Oh is one of the people I admire most in the world, but he was a terrible manager in big games.

Oh and Matsunaka were an interesting combination. Oh told me he relied on the slugger to be the warm and friendly face of the team to newcomers because his own phobia about being too close to the players. The skipper, now the SoftBank Hawks chairman, is so well respected that I wonder if some players wanted to win big games so badly for him that they tightened up. I could certainly see that happening with Matsunaka.

My point is that if you look at what Matsunaka actually did, be the best player on a team that won three Japan Series, and led the PL in regular season wins five times, that’s plenty. I’m guessing that in addition to his ability to play baseball, he also had a talent for pissing people off, but that’s just a guess.

I wrote in this week’s newsletter that unlike America’s National Baseball Hall of Fame, Japan’s doesn’t have huge elephant-in-the-room issues balancing players’ PED use, domestic violence and sexual assault with their career value to determine their worthiness. I mentioned Craig Calcaterra, who has had enough of the whole exercise and decided he doesn’t care anymore about what being a Hall of Famer means.

“if one does not need the Hall of Fame to assess baseball greatness, and if the Hall of Fame is hopelessly ill-equipped to assess the character of players, why should anyone care about an institution that not only tries to do both of those things, but tries to mash them together into a single assessment?! “

–Craig Calcaterra in his Dec. 31, 2020, “Cup of Coffee” newsletter.

We do things much more simply in Japan, at least for now.

It seems to me that Japan’s standard is to vote for players who were kind to you and don’t vote for those who told you to piss off.

That’s not because Japan doesn’t or didn’t have those same problems, but because Japan’s problems are not well known. That’s how things work. Abuse is a huge problem in societies, but many assume that because it rarely makes the news in Japan, it doesn’t exist. In a kind of Trumpian chauvinist bravado, use that lack of reporting as the reason to praise the Japanese for their innate moral character.

Former Japan Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu once told his South Korean counterpart that no Koreans had been brought to Japan to serve as forced labor during or before World War II because there was no record of such a thing. This prompted a flood of 50-year-old documents from Japanese companies confirming their rosters of conscripted Korean laborers. Kaifu then committed political suicide by issuing an apology to South Korea.

Times change, and it’s hard to predict when information that had been hiding in plain sight will flood the landscape and force a reckoning or at least encourage people that a reckoning is in order.

Before long Japan will no doubt catch up in its awareness of claims of sexual assault and domestic violence — even against ballplayers. At some point — and we might already be there without my knowing it due to the lack of public dialog about the voting — voters may ask “How good does a player have to be to get into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Famer despite credible allegations of domestic violence?”

Beat writers know a lot more about players’ lives than guys like me who poke around and talk to people on different teams when I have time. Who knows? Perhaps some players’ poor performance in the voting is due to beat writers expressing their wrath about things that aren’t public knowledge.

Before writing this, I was optimistic Japan’s voters will find a better solution to the problem than those in the States have, but four years ago I also held some naive sliver of hope that Donald Trump wouldn’t be a total dumpster fire as president.

Having thought about it again, @craigcalcaterra may be right.