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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008

SPORTS SCOPE

Hasegawa qualified to manage WBC team


There has been much discussion about who should be the manager for Japan's 2009 World Baseball Classic team. The now-retired Sadaharu Oh won't be the skipper and Senichi Hoshino has repeatedly stated he will refuse to accept the job if it is offered to him.

Ed Odeven

That leaves current Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles field boss Katsuya Nomura as a likely top candidate for the job, though he may say thanks but no thanks, too, as he'll be busy preparing his Pacific League team for the 2009 season next spring when the WBC is taking place.

Instead of the aforementioned three skippers, I propose that ex-big league pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa gets a chance to be the manager.

Hasegawa, who pitched for the Orix Blue Wave from 1990-95 before playing for the Anaheim Angels and Seattle Mariners in a professional career that lasted until 2005, is a worthwhile candidate.

For starters, he is well-versed in the American style of baseball, having spent nine seasons in the majors. He also knows the Japanese brand of ball, growing up here and becoming a standout reliever for Orix before making his mark in the United States.

All told, Hasegawa appeared in 659 games as a professional pitcher, an experience that gave him a lot of knowhow in terms of in-game strategy, adjustments and the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses of opposing players.

Hasegawa's experiences on both continents could be advantageous to him as a skipper. He could be a flexible manager, using tactics from Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball during the WBC.

Hasegawa is only 40 years old. Oh, Nomura and Hoshino are much older, and the stress of managing the national team is something Oh and Hoshino don't want to deal with now. Nomura could feel the same way.

Bobby Valentine, who led the New York Mets to a World Series appearance in 2000 and later guided the Chiba Lotte Marines to a Japan Series title, is an ideal candidate for the job, but it's unlikely that he'll be offered the position by NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato.

Maybe it's time for Kato to think outside the box and offer the prestigious WBC managerial job to an unlikely candidate.

Hasegawa speaks fluent English, has served as a baseball commentator on NHK and could inject youthful enthusiasm as the manager. Of course, he could also appoint experienced coaches to serve on his staff.

No one would say it is easy to follow in the legendary Oh's footsteps as Japan's second WBC skipper. The next man in charge will face immense pressure to win as this baseball-crazed nation wants to keep the world title it won in 2006.

That said, Hasegawa is an intelligent man. He has written two books, "My Way to Study English" and "Adjustment," the latter of which the Los Angeles Times described in 2001 as the way "he suggests how Japanese business executives can adapt to American customs and practices."

"Language is important to enjoy life," Hasegawa told The Seattle Times in a June 2002 interview.

Sports managers need to make on-the-fly adjustments. They need to be able to manage massive egos. And they also need to be effective communicators.

Hasegawa has taken the time and effort to be an articulate communicator in English. In his native tongue, he is more than willing to speak his mind, too.

After a disastrous fourth-place finish (with NPB players only) at the Beijing Olympics, Team Japan is eager to redeem itself by winning the gold medal in next year's WBC.

And current big-league ballplayers from Japan, such as Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and Houston Astros infielder Kazuo Matsui, have observed the way Hasegawa carried himself as a professional in the United States and how he became a well-respected veteran ballplayer in his adopted homeland.

Like politicians offering stump speeches for others, Ichiro and Matsui could lend their support to Hasegawa if he became manager. They could remind the team's younger players that Hasegawa's wealth of baseball knowledge is top notch and inspired them to succeed under his leadership.

It's the notion here that Hasegawa is a suitable Plan B candidate. Even though he has not been a pro manager, I've not seen or read nothing that states otherwise.

Furthermore, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pitching coach Masato Yoshii, another longtime player in the United States, and Ichiro (a player-manager?) could be unorthodox candidates with the right mix of moxie and charisma to lead the team to success.

Let the debate begin.



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