Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bobby Valentine in Japan

Given all the, um, success that the Red Sox have had with their Japanese players, it's a smidgen interesting that the owners (sorry, I mean Cherington) picked a manager who is most notable for the success he had in Japan.

Let's review. 

Valentine was hired by the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995 as the first American-born manager of a Japanese baseball team.  He quickly started doing things his own way -- under Valentine, practice sessions lasted only three hours, rather than nine hours as was typical.  In the process, he turned around what had been a pretty woeful team.  In 1995, they finished 69-58, compared to 55-77 the year before.   But, Valentine didn't get along with the GM or the other coaches.  Especially the coaches -- at one point, he wrote a letter to the owners suggesting that they be replaced.  In Japan, it's never a good move to go behind the GM's back,  and so bam!  Just one year into his two-year contract, the Marines fired him.

The GM had won that battle, but not for long.  In the coming years, the GM was fired as well, and the team quickly dropped back into the cellar.  So, in 2004, the Marines decided to do the only thing they could think of to dig their way out -- try again with Valentine.  As luck would have it, Valentine had recently been fired by the Mets, and was available to sign on with his old club.  And he missed them.  As he told GQ in 2004: "I kind of like that I can tell a guy to hit ten straight balls into right field in batting practice, and if he doesn't, he comes over to me afterward and apologizes ... I like that."

Back in Japan, in the second year of his second stint with the Marines, Valentine took them all the way:  in 2005, they won the Japan Series (the Japanese championship).  After winning, he challenged the 2005 World Series winners, the Chicago White Sox, to a "Real World Series," claiming his team could go toe-to-toe with any team on the globe. 

The White Sox didn't bite, but the fans loved it.  Suddenly, it was impossible to get a ticket to the stadium that had once never been more than half full.  Valentine suggested major improvements: luxury boxes, deluxe suites, and an HD screen.  Other changes came as well, such as 3-meter high Bobby murals on the walls of the stadium, and concession  stands selling Bobby lunch boxes and Bobby bubble gum.  Nearby, a street was named after him. 

The improvements that Valentine had suggested to the stadium were popular with the fans, but they didn't lead to the increased revenue that he had promised the team.  When management began cutting bonuses to players, Valentine responded by paying them out of his own pocket. 

The Marines came within a game of returning to the Japan Series in 2007.  However, 2008 didn't go so well, and in December 2008, the team announced that they wouldn't be renewing his contract in 2010.  Valentine suggested he would be willing to revise the cost of his contract downward, but management didn't budge.  It was clear to all that it wasn't about the money -- ownership was dissatisfied with his power, his influence, and his way of doing things.

The decision to now renew Valentine's contract didn't just leave him as a lame duck -- it also made his very, very enthusiastic fans quite unhappy with management.  How enthusiastic were they?  Here is a YouTube video of a crowd at a Japanese baseball game, singing a fight song about how much they love Bobby Valentine.  As much as Sox nation loved Francona, it's hard to imagine them singing a similar love song to Tito at Fenway.

But perhaps the ultimate tribute to Valentine's popularity in Japan is that Sapporo beer issued a limited special edition "Bobeer" with his face on the front of the can. 

Here's hoping that Sam Adams will have cause to do the same!

Related posts:
First Impressions on the Bobby Valentine Hiring


  1. To go along with this Japanese connection, Chad Finn says this about BV and Dice-K (remember him?): "I suspect he'll respond to Valentine to the point that he's not just salvageable, but an actual asset to the Red Sox' pitching staff." His point was that due to his years in Japan, BV understands the Japanese players mindset and might be able to get through to Dice-K where it was clear the other regime couldn't.

    Wouldn't that be nice if all of a sudden Dice-K became a servicable pitcher! Sure would solve a lot of problems.!

  2. more Bobby V commentary, seems the players may not be so happy about the hire:

  3. BoBeer. In THIS clubhouse. Um. Awesome?
    At least we have a manager. At least we FINALLY made a decision.
    So... that's something?

  4. Awesome indeed. Though, last I heard, you could only get BoBeer in Chiba. In 2005. But I'm sure there's a case in a warehouse somewhere. Someone needs to send some over pronto.

  5. the LAST thing we need is cheeba in the clubhouse... we have enough problems!!

  6. Obviously, my good man, you don't know what kind of clubhouse Bobby Valentine runs. Let me enlighten you:

  7. interesting use of the "farm system".