Book Review – Hey Young Tigers!

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Masayuki Kakefu is easily one of the most prolific and recognizable hitters and names in Hanshin Tigers history. He made his way into the heart of the order quite quickly after joining the club, and remained there for most of his playing years, which unfortunately ended too soon. For decades after his retirement, he mysteriously stayed off the team’s coaching staff, but spent plenty of time in the play-by-play booth. At long last, at the start of the 2013 season, he was named special development coordinator – a position that was new to the team and to baseball in general. With an unclear role and no coaching duties during games, what would Kakefu do? What was his baseball philosophy and how could he use it to benefit the young Tigers players?

Kakefu often took players to his home, where he had a special “swinging room” set up. He would toss special balls to the players and watch their swings from right in front of them. The balls made a distinct sound when good contact was made, enabling both player and coach to know if it was a good swing or not. He would then talk with players immediately afterwards about the sessions, and made sure to be a good listener. He also always tried to find something positive to say before offering advice. He believes that this generation of players does not respond to the same coaching style as he faced growing up – in fact, his one regret with his own son is that he was unable to coach him in an appropriate fashion, and blames himself for his son’s lack of success in baseball.

A few players that Kakefu talks about specifically in this book are Issei Morita (who was released after the 2014 season and is now studying English in America, apparently) and Hayata Itoh, whom the Tigers are still hoping will turn into a solid outfield option. He praises both and speaks highly of their potential to be the type of hitter that he once was.

Though slightly off topic, Kakefu digs in to the magic of the 1985 title – the trust relationship manager Yoshio Yoshida built with his players, the things he sacrificed for the team’s sake, and so on. He also talks about the truth behind his retirement – the pride of being a cleanup hitter and how he did not want to end his career in a diminished role, despite injuries taking their toll on his body and leaving him unable to be the hitter he was in his prime. He talks about other teams that sent him offers to join them for a season or two as player-coach and then joining the staff… but all the advice he received and all the thinking he did on his own led him to the conclusion that he was a lifetime Tiger, and didn’t want to wear any other uniform.

Interestingly, he also shares his opinion on what made Katsuya Nomura’s stint as Tigers manager unsuccessful (criticizing players through the media), as well as why Senichi Hoshino and Akinobu Okada were successful. What is the truth behind the rumors that he and Okada didn’t like each other? What makes a good manager? (Playing to “not lose” and being aggressive right from year 1 and having a strong hitter in the 2-slot.) What makes a good clean-up hitter? Who should the Tigers’ clean-up hitter be now? Is Toritani a good choice as captain? What does it take to be called an ace pitcher? What young pitchers on the Tigers have a chance to make an impact?

Kakefu ends the book with a chapter each giving advice to team management (Wada, coach your way but don’t be the source of trouble for the players), the young Tigers (take care of your equipment, play other sports in the offseason), and the front office (communicate better with coaching personnel).

Overall, this was one of the more enjoyable Tigers books I have read recently. Kakefu really has thought through his philosophies as coach and is worthy of the new position he was given to start the 2016 season: farm manager. I look forward to seeing what he can do with some of these young Tigers, and hope he can be part of creating a new #31 that can help carry the team to greatness once again.

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.