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NYT: Japan Shifting Views on Managers

by on Aug.26, 2010 @ 12:28 pm, under NPB

The New York Times is carrying an interesting article on the current managing landscape for foreign managers in Japan titled Japan Shifting Views on Managers.

Here's a snip:

The Japanese have long favored a regimen aimed at developing muscle memory that allows pitchers to throw as much as they feel necessary, even for relievers who sometimes face only one batter in a game. Brown said he is sensitive to this and other differences.

"I'm an American in Japan, but I've adapted to the Japanese game," he said. "I pick and choose my battles to fight. I still fight for what I believe, but I don't demand. The front office knows that I believe in a chain of command, so they back me on my chain and I back them on theirs. If they really feel strongly about something, then I'm fine with that. I walk out of the door and I support it."

The article also mentions a column Yutaka Enatsu wrote that points to the decline at Rakuten and the rise in Lotte as indicators that foreign managers are no longer needed in Japanese baseball.

Enatsu supports his conclusion by citing two of this season's surprises: last year's cellar-dwelling Chiba Lotte Marines have been fighting for first place under the new manager Norifumi Nishimura and the Pacific League runner-up Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles have been floundering near the bottom after hiring Brown to replace Katsuya Normura. For Enatsu, the explanation is plainly obvious: "The biggest reason is Lotte changed managers from Valentine to Nishimura" and "Rakuten's troubles stem from the exact opposite move."

I think that's a bit of leap, especially since I think luck played into a lot of what happened last season with the Eagles.  And Lotte...  Well, that's a whole other story there, but to keep things simple, it isn't like they're fielding the same exact team from last year.

In any case, I found the last paragraph of the article the most interesting.

The flicker in the trend of American managers in Japan may be nothing more than the natural ebb in a cycle. However, this season there are 12 Japanese players who have returned home for another go in the domestic leagues after experiencing the American major leagues. Several of them are thought to have managerial aspirations. The next trend may be the implementation of American ideas by Japanese managers who learned them as players in America.

I am indeed quite curious to see how Japanese players with MLB experience fair as managers.  In the end, they might be the next key to changing the way the game is played in Japan.

Incidentally, for those interested, about a week before the Times piece, John E. Gibson wrote an article about Brown over at Daily Yomiuri Online titled Japan needs Brown-like passion.