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Friday, March 28, 2003

Yamashita aiming to revive BayStars

Staff writer

Daisuke Yamashita returns to the Yokohama BayStars this season as the team's new manager following a two-year stint as a broadcaster and head coach of Japan's national team for the Asian Games.

News photo
Daisuke Yamashita, the new manager of the Yokohama BayStars, is hoping better communication with his players will help the team improve results after it finished last in the Central League in 2002. JT: TOSHIKI SAWAGUCHI

Yamashita has spent his entire 23-year career in professional baseball as a player and coach with the Yokohama franchise. A seven-time Golden Glove shortstop with the Taiyo Whales during his playing days, the 51-year-old Yamashita made a name for himself as an articulate and colorful television commentator for NHK on major league games.

In an exclusive interview with The Japan Times, Yamashita explained his plans for rebuilding a team that won the Japan Series in 1998 but finished in last place in 2002.

The Japan Times: How are you planning to rebuild the BayStars?

Yamashita: I want to evaluate each player very carefully and create an environment where they can excel. I often say that if you pursue your vision of ideal baseball, you may have to force your players to do what they are not good at doing.

A team that wants to improve should combine what skills it does have and make the best of them. Then your team gets better.

You have stressed the need for good communication with players. What kind of relationship are you seeking with them?

I think the manager's job is to help the players do their best. And I have to be true to myself. I would rather be myself than spend a lot of time thinking about how the ideal manager should be.

I don't want to have to force the players to do what I want them to do. I have to judge all of the players' abilities and then decide which ones to use on the field.

I want to communicate with the players and I think communication is not only talking but sometimes just watching. I will continue watching the players and sometimes they won't talk to me. The key is to wait until they begin to talk to me.

When Hiroshi Gondo was the manager of the BayStars some thought he was too loose with the players. When Masaaki Mori became manager after that, many thought he was too tough. Do you see yourself as being somewhere in between?

I don't think so. My style is my style. It's fine if people want to think that, but I don't think my style is somewhere in between them.

There aren't many players left from the team that won the Japan Series in 1998. Basically just outfielder Takanori Suzuki and shortstop Takuro Ishii. How important are they to the rebuilding of the BayStars?

We need their experience. When we won the pennant, they were core players along with other veterans. But the team failed to nurture younger players after winning the championship.

Since then, we have had a generation of players with 3-6 years experience. But to prepare younger players such as (third baseman Katsuaki) Furuki to replace the veterans, we need the veterans' experience and there's still a lot they can contribute to the team.

Japanese players often remain with one team much longer than players in the major leagues. Do you think this hurts the development of younger players?

I think some veterans do stay too long, but it doesn't mean we are going to stockpile only young players. I am going to utilize all of the players I have.

We do have some positions where we need to use young players and we're going to use the young kids there.

When the BayStars won the championship they were know for their "Machine Gun" offense. The past couple of years they relied more on fundamental baseball. What style of play are you seeking?

Our team is on the way to improving. We have some complete players in the veterans, but we also have some some weaknesses.

My goal is to create a balanced team by fixing our weaknesses, but we don't have all of the ingredients to do that right now. Our team looks great when things are going our way, but we are not consistent.

When you were a player did you ever think you would become a manager?

I wouldn't say I never thought about it. The Whales had a long drought when I played and I sometimes considered how I could make the team better if I were the manager. But I didn't think about it all the time.

As a player, I always wanted to win the pennant but never did, so I would like to do that now that I'm the manager.

When he you left the BayStars as a coach following the 2000 season, you had been with the organization for 22 years. Did you see yourself returning to the team someday or did you think that was the end?

I thought I was finished with the BayStars.

So you were surprised when the BayStars contacted you about returning to the team as manager?

Yes. I was very surprised.

With Hideki Matsui going to play in the major leagues, it seems like the aura of the Giants has been diminished somewhat. Do you think psychologically the pennant race will be more wide open than in the past?

I don't want to say it will be easier for us to fight for the pennant just because a team has lost a player. But to be honest, the BayStars are not at the stage where we can analyze other teams and determine our strategy.

The first thing we must do is improve ourselves, improve our level and perform at our best.

What will the starting rotation of the BayStars look like this season?

(Chris) Holt, (Yuji) Yoshimi, Domingo (Guzman), (Kenichi) Wakatabe, and possibly Takashi Saito.

What do you think about (ex-Yokohama star) Bobby Rose and his aborted attempt to return to Japanese baseball with the Chiba Lotte Marines after a two-year retirement?

It was surprising. We spent eight years together with the BayStars. If he had stayed in Yokohama, he would not have quit and left because he and his family know this town very well.

But I can't forgive what he's done to the Marines and can't understand it. You shouldn't do what he did.

Through this incident, Japanese teams should learn the lesson that we shouldn't evaluate a foreign player only by his past statistics.

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