By Coop Daley
Bobby Valentine has an employment list a mile long. Before his current job as the Athletic Director at Sacred Heart University, he served as a Manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) with the Texas Rangers, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox; however, it was his gigs as the kantoku for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) that garnered the most attention when he joined JapanBall’s “Chatter Up!” on June 11.
Valentine, who managed the Marines for one season in 1995 and for six between 2004 and 2009, spoke extensively about his time in Chiba City, mentioning how he was first invited by the great Tatsuro Hirooka to become the first non-Japanese manager in NPB history:
“A fella who’s now a very good friend, Koji Takahashi, gave me a call and said, ‘I’m going to be going around the States with Hirooka-san. He’s looking for the first non-Japanese [person] to manage in Japan. We’re going to come by and see you some time.’ I saw them about five times during the season before the job was offered, and by the time that they offered it, I was praying that they would.”
Discussing his experience further, Valentine said that he originally had no idea about the amount of authority NPB managers have compared to their MLB counterparts. In addition, he had to find new ways to communicate with his players due to the language barrier (although he is now conversationally fluent after many years of studying). Overall, however, he said that the experience was of huge benefit to him and his process, as he had to find new, creative ways to coach his players to success:
“I had no idea the Manager had so much authority, but you know, because I was the protruding nail that many people wanted to bang down, I had to prove myself; all of my baseball had to be reworked… I thought I figured it all out, but getting to Japan was a great learning experience for me, not only to learn my own stuff again because I had to inspect what I expected when I was teaching because I didn’t have the language to talk through it.”
The process worked. In 2005, the Chiba Lotte Marines won their third Japan Series in franchise history, and celebrated with the NPB tradition of throwing their Manager high into the air. Valentine says the whole experience was a testament to the teamwork and trust he had built with the players over the long season.
Beyond being the first foreign Manager in NPB, Valentine also spoke on his efforts to develop a larger minor league system for the league, an idea that met resistance from the higher offices. When asked what his motivation was for the proposal, he said that he felt that not only would it allow more “homegrown” talent, but more of the younger players would get a chance to prove their skills outside of high school:
“The crime I felt in [the] Japanese system was that [there is only] one minor league team, where the job of the minor league team was to make sure [that] when the major league team needs someone, that the veteran is well-tuned and ready to give you three or four weeks of good play. And in order to do that, the veteran would take away playing time from the young person who was drafted… All the people who love the game of baseball so much in college and the industrial leagues, it’s a shame that they can’t continue to play the game of baseball. And the reason they can’t is because there’s no opportunity in the minor leagues.”
Valentine, however, was not limited to just talk about the Marines and Japanese baseball, as he spoke about all parts of his baseball-filled life. These included being roommates with Boston’s Bill Buckner and the son-in law of Ralph Branca (who were both the goats of two of the greatest games in MLB history), but also his favorite sushi roll and stadium to manage in. If you’d like to read these discussions and more, you can check out the full transcript of the conversation here, or even watch the full call verbatim on our YouTube page.
From Queens to Chiba City, the game of baseball is better with Bobby.