Leading Figure in Baseball Lambastes Hanshin
“They Don’t Know Baseball! They Don’t Know Player Development!”
Hanshin, whose season slogan is “cho-henkaku” (ultra reform) is forcing itself to play in some hard games. On the 10th, the team lost 0-9 to Hiroshima at Koshien Stadium, making it the 4th time this year it has been swept in a 3-game series, extending its losing streak against the Carp to 7 games, and allowing the gap between them and league-leading Hiroshima to stretch to 15.5 games. The Nagashima-led Giants came back from 11.5 games in 1996 in dramatic fashion. The Hara-led Giants came back from a 13-game deficit to the Okada-led Tigers while the latter saw the “magic number” disappear next to its name in 2008. These Tigers have already lost the possibility of winning their way to the pennant on their own, and light of history, the chances of Kanemoto’s crew reversing this debt and winning the Central are getting increasingly slim.
Rookie Shun Takayama combined with youngsters Shintaro Yokota, Taiga Egoshi and Naomasa Yohkawa to give the start of the season bright new hope. Fumihito Haraguchi went from developmental player to roster player and has been selected to the all-star team, while Fumiya Hojoh and Masahiro Nakatani are currently being used as starting members right now. However, the team’s .240 average and 44 home runs are both league-worst numbers. The team has been searching for the right lineup, alternating young guys in and out of the lineup, but other than Kosuke Fukudome, the veterans (including Takashi Toritani, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Mauro Gomez) have not been consistent, and Matt Hague, who was brought in to take Matt Murton’s import slot on the roster, is on the farm squad. This lack of run production has had an effect on third-year starter Yuta Iwasada and rookie Koyo Aoyagi as well. Just as the young pitchers have started to show promise, they have stopped being able to keep their team in games.
Kanemoto has even gone as far as to say, “It’s not the manager of the coach’s job (to break out of this funk). It’s up to every individual player.” Surely his words were an attempt to wake up his veterans who should be the core players on the team, and to coax more effort and growth from the stagnated youngsters.
“The manager and coaches don’t know baseball. He doesn’t know the right time to change his pitchers, and hasn’t discerned the best use of his fielders, either. Even below Kanemoto on the coaching staff, there’s such a dearth of experience. These guys have never developed players before, and sometimes fielding practice just looks like the coaches and fielders just playing around.”
He insists that it’s up to the manager, the coaches, and even the front office to break the team out of its current tailspin.
“They can’t lay down their bunts. The basics of bunting are to keep your center of gravity low and to ‘kill’ the ball as it misses the sweet spot on the bat. If you remember the proper form you can easily apply it to game situations. But when you’re up there with runners on first and second, there’s a lot of pressure to get it right. So it’s not just about bunting technique then, but having the mental strength to handle that kind of situation. I’m not sure the Hanshin coaches have the ability to teach either the technical side or the mental side of this. The coaches aren’t studying the game, either. I suppose part of the problem lies in that Japanese professional baseball really has nowhere for coaches to go and study the game. That’s a problem, too.”
Kataoka, Hanshin’s hitting coach, was a cleanup hitter during his playing days, so he has very little bunting experience, which would make teaching the technique to others kind of difficult. On the other hand, head coach Takashiro and infield coach Kuji were both experts at bunting during their playing days, so it’s not like the team has no one to teach the players the art, says Hirooka.
He continued, “Hanshin has done a terrible job of developing the players they have drafted. They have no clue of what it means to develop their own players in the first place. This starts with putting Kanemoto, a man with no experience developing young talent, in the managerial position. But the problem is also in the core of the organization’s history, which has relied way too heavily on free agent signing and foreign help,” lambasting the team’s laziness when it has come to developing the young talent it chose in the draft.
The fact that Toritani is the only starter who is homegrown talent is a terrible state to be in, and asking Kanemoto to rebuild the team from scratch while still winning is a tall order to place.
“The bright side is that Kanemoto was developed in the Hiroshima franchise. Because of that team’s financial structure, it was never able to bolster its roster through free agent acquisitions, and had to develop its own homegrown talent. That process has given them the know-how when it comes to player development. Kanemoto experienced that firsthand as one of their players, and looks to develop Hanshin’s players using the Hiroshima model. From what I have heard, Kanemoto does not want to rely on free agent acquisitions, insisting on developing the players at hand instead. I fully agree with his thinking, but in order to make it work, it’s going to take more than just the manager and coaches. The front office has to be patient, too. They have to be resolute in bringing this plan to fruition, but the manager and coaches also need to study the game as well.”
Before taking the manager’s seat, Kanemoto demanded that the whole organization unite to rebuild the team and get rid of all the organizations long-standing bad habits. At a recent press conference, team owner Sakai rejected the idea of strengthening the team through the acquisition of more foreign talent, instead confirming that the team planned to take the time necessary to develop its locally drafted talent.
As Hirooka points out, Kanemoto himself was a 4th round pick who had to practice copious amounts to crawl his way up to the top squad and earn regular playing time. His experience as a player with the Hiroshima organization appears to be the foundation of his platform as manager. But it won’t be so easily implemented on a team that has relied so heavily on outside talent for so long and forsaken the practice of developing young players. If anyone can accomplish this formidable task, though, it will be Kanemoto. The “ultra reform” won’t fully realize itself without struggles along the way.