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Bobby Valentine

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Bobby Valentine
Charles Whipple of the Tokyo Journal interviews Bobby Valentine after he was fired from the Marines.


When he was 35 years old, Bobby Valentine became the youngest baseball
manager in the U.S. Major Leagues, taking the helm of the Texas Rangers. 
Last year, he became the first Major League manager ever to manager ever
to take a managerial position at a Japanese ball club - the perennial Pacific
League cellar-dwellers, the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The team plunged to its usual place at the bottom of the standings at
the start of the season.  After two months, the Marines were still
in fifth place and the front office was getting nervous.  But Valentine
stuck to his guns, maintaining the schedules and the rules he had set.

The team started climbing.  By the end of the season, despite severe
bickering between the front office and the foreign manager, the Marines
had soared to second place.  They had won more games then they had
lost for the first time in 10 years and they had pulled in more fans than
in any time in recent memory.  And then Valentine was fired. 
(October 1995)

The tabloids have been full of acrimonious claims and counterclaims
from the Lotte management and Valentine.  But Kyosen Ohashi, former
TV personality, sports connoisseur and jazz critic, has only one comment. 
"They're crazy.  He got those fans coming to the stadium, and that's
where baseball earns its keep."

It's easy to understand Valentine's appeal.  He is engaging, open
and good with fans.  He signs autographs.  He raises his cap
to the stands.  He smiles, and the world lights up.

 


Give us a thumbnail history of Bobby Valentine in baseball.

Valentine:  High school player signed as number one draft choice
by the Dodgers.  Played two and a half years in the minor leagues. 
Hot-shot minor league player, MVP...  Rookie of the Year.

What were your numbers?

Valentine:  Youngest guy in triple A and I hit .340 to lead
the league.  Led in seven other offensive categories.  Went to
spring training the next year in a leg cast because I played intramural
football and got clipped at the end of January.  Came back in 1972,
had many run-ins with the manager, got traded in '73.  Led the American
League in hitting in 1973, playing for the California Angels.  Ran
into the wall and broke my leg in two places.

Same one as the football injury?

Valentine:  Same leg.  Different injury.  After that,
my career was kind of down-hill as a player.  I learned to play a
lot of different positions.  Rode the bench.  Part-time player,
back and forth between the majors and the minors.  Became a roving
instructor with the Padres and the Mets, and third base coach with the
Mets.

So you have lots of years as coach then?

Valentine:  Oh yeah.  I was minor league coach. 
Then major league coach for three years with the Mets.  Then manager
for eight years with the Texas Rangers.  Then triple A coach with
the Reds, triple A manager with the Mets, and lastly manager of the Chiba
Lotte Marines.

How did you prepare to come and manage the Marines?

Valentine:  Fortunately for me I had two people in spring training
in Arizona - Jimmy Ojiri-san, the interpreter, and Daigo-san, my head coach
- who had Pacific League experience, who know the players on the other
teams, their abilities, names and stuff.  I was learning my team,
my 70 guys, by name, number and ability, and I was also trying to learn
the Pacific League from afar.  Unfortunately, by the third game of
the season, those two had been removed from my sight:  Jimmy was removed
as interpreter and Daigo was gone from the dugout.  They said he drank
too much, but the real reason was because fielding coach Shozo Eto wanted
to be the guy in charge.

How did you react?

Valentine:  I was on my own.  General Manager Tatsuro
Hirooka told me all I had to do was read the Japanese book with all the
names and statistics and everything on every player in the Pacific League. 
The problem was, I couldn't read Japanese.  He said I was studying
it real hard so I should have been able to.

Did you talk to anyone about baseball over here?  The Lee brothers. 
Charlie Manuel.  Anyone?

Valentine:  I talked to Bob Horner.  Charlie.  The
Lees.  I talked to a lot of people.  Read all the books. 
You gotta have Wa. The Chrysanthemum and the Bat. . . the whole
bit.  I wanted to have an open mind too.  I wanted to make my
own decisions, so I think I was very prepared for most of the situations. 
I wasn't prepared for learning a new league by myself.  The Japanese
coaches have to learn three foreign players a year, and it takes them half
the year to know what their abilities are.  I had to learn 28 guys
on five different teams as well as the 70 guys on mine.

How did you do it?

Valentine:  Slowly.  I had videos.  I had statistics. 
But it's still seeing the real thing that counts.  What a guy was
the year before doesn't always mean that's what he will be next year. 
Many players, very good players, weren't as good last year as they were
the year before.  So you have to learn them as you see them.

Did Hirooka or the front office put any limits on your authority when you
were hired?

Valentine:  They told me my authority was ultimate.  That
I had total control.

How long did that last?

Valentine:  Until the third day of the season.  They had
told me that I could move the rosters, but then I sent Nishioka to the
farm team, and he was Hirooka's favorite.  They also said I could
fire coaches if they ever disobeyed me, and that was a false promise.

What specific changes did you decide to make in the team?

Valentine:  We had to be a better defensive team.  So
the first day of spring training I got away from all this "individual"
batting practice and "individual" fielding practice and worked on team
batting and team fielding.  Which was probably the key to our team
by the time the season ended.  It took a long time for them to realize
team play, team defense, and team offense.  But they figured it out,
and they put it to work.  We needed a shortstop, and Koichi Hori filled
the spot though he was late due to a car accident.  We needed a lead
off hitter and Kenji Morozumi filled that spot.  He was late too,
because his father died and he left Arizona.  As punishment, he wasn't
allowed to join the first team until the middle of May.

What was the difference between the Marines at the beginning of the season
and the team that beat Orix four straight games at the end?  (The
Marines stopped the Orix BlueWave, who had all but locked up the Pacific
League Pennant, from clinching in front of their home fans)

Valentine:  We built character.  It wasn't an easy thing
to do with this team.  And for sure it didn't happen in spring training. 
We had to go through our ups and downs; we had to learn about ourselves;
we had to find out if we were good.  We had a measles epidemic in
May, where seven of our star players were out four or five days at a time,
yet we got stronger because of those things.  We got to be a good
team, and once we got strong and healthy, then we could play.  We
could play anyone.

If you could pick some Japanese players to take back with you to the Major
Leagues...

Valentine:  From my team I'd take Hatsushiba, I'd take Hori,
I'd take Kawamoto, Narimoto, Irabu, Komiyama, Morozumi, maybe even Jozume. 
I could take young players like Kuroki and Nomura.  It would be wonderful
to have them in the big leagues.

What about other teams?

Valentine:  Plenty of them.  Plenty.  Obviously the
first choice would be Ichiro.

What do you think of him?

Valentine:  I think he's the best offensive player in the world.

What is the difference between American and Japanese coaches?

Valentine:  American coaches put an emphasis on individual
instruction.  Japanese coaches put an emphasis on individual work.

Let's take a specific example of coaching differences.  Hirooka keeps
bringing up the success of Minamibuchi as a prime example of why your wrong-why
players must practice everyday.

Valentine:  I think that's a great example.  Minamibuchi
worked as hard as they wanted him to work.  And his statistics went
down from the year before.  Hori worked the way I wanted him to work,
and he had the best season of his career, maybe the best season of anyone
on our team.  He was the one that did NOT work extra.  He's the
one that Coach Eto said "practices less than anyone on the team." 
And all he did was finish second in the league in hitting.  He didn't
play any games at shortstop in spring training, and yet he was the all-star
shortstop.  You figure it out.  Doing it their way, Minamibuchi
had a worse season than last year.  And doing it my way, Hori had
one of the best seasons in the league.

Right now there seems to be a spate of "Bobby Bashing" going on. 
Did you keep up with the press as manager?

Valentine:  Yeah, as best I could.  Remember that my best
translator was taken away from me.

Let's go over some of the many accusations being made against you in the
press.  On the front page of the Sankei Sports, the headline
says you have asked for an extra 320 million yen (over $3,000,000) for
a two year contract?

Valentine:  That would be great.  If it was legal, I'd
like to get it.  That would mean I would be making almost as much
money as Hirooka.  You know, he gave me a verbal contract for three
years, then cut it to two years in writing.  And that two-year contract
is for far less than half that number you mentioned -- IF I were to get
all the dollars that were mentioned in the contract.  I DID ask for
a review of my contract.  I asked them what they were going to do
-- honor Hirooka's three-year contract that he gave to me verbally or honor
the two-year contract that's in writing.  And they never responded.

You had a meeting on October 1, (1995) with Hirooka and some others. 
Did you get any hints then that it was all over?

Valentine:  Sure.  That's why I asked which contract they
would honor.  I said, hey, if you're going to make a decision, make
the decision and let me know.  But I told them I thought we should
be opening champagne instead of Pandora's box.  Hirooka said that
he wanted to talk to three coaches and if those three coaches said they
could work with me next year then I could come back.  So I said, "I
thought you hired me to make those decisions."  I don't think its
the coaches' job to hire and fire me.

Here are some more comments from Hirooka.  He says that the Marines
came in second in spite of you.  That they could have come in first.

Valentine:  That's a tough one to comment on.  I just
don't want to discredit the team.  I think they played there hearts
out, they gave every ounce.  I don't know - there might have been
two or three games that we could have won.  There were 15 games we
might have won with a good pinch hitter early in the season.

Hirooka also says the Lions stole all your signs, that's how they beat
the Marines

Valentine:  Well, the fact of the matter is that we
beat the Seibu Lions more than they beat us.  We beat them more at
the end of the season than we did at the beginning.  The fact
of the matter is, we had their signs.  That is the truth that
the scouts could tell you.  Especially scout Uchida, who did it and
video taped it, and gave them to us.  So that's one of those things
that would make the players laugh if they read about it.

There have been comments in the press about how you started winning when
Akira Ejiri, who will take your place as manager, was hired to help coach
the Marines

Valentine:  Well, the day Ejiri got there, we had won six of
the last seven games, so I don't know how you could say that we started
winning when he got there.  Ejiri was a big help.  He was a bridge
between me and my third-base coach Eto.  And I needed that. 
I couldn't stand it any longer.  He was a big help and he is a very
good guy.

Did you have problems with Eto because he is older than you?  Seniority
is important, you know.

Valentine:  Maybe.  Maybe it's because he's never managed. 
It seemed like he had a chip on his shoulder.

Takagi the assistant general manager, said:  "(Valentine) was fired
because he was judged deficient in baseball ability.  He seems to
be saying that we came in second because of him, but it was everybody's
effort."

Valentine:  I don't think there's been one word, ever, out
of my mouth, that said this team did what they did because of me. 
It was because of this team.  A very good team.  Because of the
coaches, as I said at the end of the year, and because of the general manager. 
And because of the fans.  The main emphasis in the success of this
team is because the players were very strong -- strong willed and strong
hearted.

How would you rate baseball skills, Japan vs. the U.S.?

Valentine:  Pitching in Japan is better.  Base running
is better in the States. Fielding is more spectacular in the States, more
steady in Japan.  Except pitchers fielding and catchers blocking balls
-- that's better in Japan.  Hitting better in the States.  Power
is better in the States.  Attitude is better here.  Teamwork
is better in on a good team in the States, better on average team in Japan.

U.S. teams use players from half a dozen countries.  Many don't speak
English well.  Like Nomo.  Still they function.  Look at
the World Series.  How can they do it?  Why do they have some
many problems here?

Valentine:  I didn't see it as a problem.

You're saying you didn't have a problem?

Valentine:  No.  I had a problem communicating but it
was up, not down, so I didn't think I had a problem.

Is there anything that Japanese teams could do to bring their baseball
up to Major League standards?

Valentine:  Yes.  They could allow their players to build
strength instead of always working to break it down.  They need to
communicate, associate and develop relationships with the fans much better. 
They are at the brink of the same disaster the States has already experienced.

You had something going with the Lotte fans.  It seems that 15,000
fans signed a petition for you be retained.

Valentine:  Twenty-four thousand.  It's the most amazing
thing that's ever happened to me in my life.  Some of those fans stood
on street corners and collected signatures.  Amazing.  No doubt
about it.  The fans were an important part of our success.

You've also been full of praise for your conditioning coach, Ryuji Tachibana. 
Did you hire him?

Valentine:  Hirooka hired him after the Kintetsu Buffaloes
fired him.  He had done some understudy work with my Texas Rangers,
so I knew him a little.

What effect did he have on the team?

Valentine:  He made the team.  He kept us healthy all
year.  My usage of players and his prehabilitation of players - by
that I mean the prevention of injuries - kept our team free of leg injuries,
kept our pitchers pitching all year long.  It's the first team I've
managed that had no leg pulls.  Other teams... guys are out to weeks,
three weeks at a time because of leg injuries.  Tachibana's the best
there is.  Even though the powers that be don't appreciate him.

Really?

Valentine:  Yeah, they didn't think thet he was working the
players hard enough.

What did your experience in Japan teach you?

Valentine:  I learned some things about practice habits that
I'll take back to the States.  Or to my next team in Japan. 
I also learned about a foreign country that's not the hostile place that
I was led to believe it was.  It's a very warm and friendly country. 
People will take you into their home.  You can have great friendship
with people whose language you don't speak.  And I learned that a
lot of people can do very orderly things in small areas.  I now have
a greater appreciation for space.

What advice do you have for the next foreign manager?

Valentine:  Get comfortable with the language before you get
here.  I spent two hours a day every day, trying to memorize five
verbs a day or whatever, and it took a lot out of me.  Frustrated
the heck out of me because of my lack of progress.  So either get
a tutor, like I asked for, so you don't have to go knocking on doors asking
favors, or learn the language before you get here.  Get a working
vocabulary.  Learning 150 players is a very difficult thing. 
You need to get as big a jump on it as you can.

Which Japanese team do you think is the best managed?

Valentine:  I don't want to answer that.

What changes would you have made for next season, if any?

Valentine:  One of the reasons for the contention between me
and management is the list of seven things I thought should be done next
year.  Jimmy, my interpreter should have been retained.  Julio
Franco should have been retained.  Takagi, the little guy (assistant
GM), should not have anything to do with teaching baseball - get him off
the field.  A straighter line of communication should be established
from the coaches to Hirooka and from Hirooka to the coaches through me. 
Regular meetings should be set up between me and GM Hirooka.  And
we should take full advantage of the Hawaii winter league and send some
of our young players there to develop rather than stay here and rot.

The word for gaijin (foreign) player in Japan is suketto, which means helper. 
But it also has the connotation of mercenary, someone you call in for reinforcement
and then send packing when the enemy is beaten.  Were you a suketto
at the Marines?

Valentine:  I have no idea. Smarter people than me would have
to figure that out. I was here to do a job. I thought I did...  Fuck... 
What did I get myself into?


Source: The Tokyo Journal

Interview by: Charles Whipple

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