In the absence of our international baseball tours and baseball in general during the COVID-19 pandemic, JapanBall began hosting a series of “Chatter Up!” video calls for its community of international baseball fans. The June 11, 2020 episode of “Chatter Up!” featured special guest Bobby Valentine, former Manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, and Boston Red Sox.
The following is a complete transcript of Bobby V.’s interview with host (and JapanBall owner) Shane Barclay. The full video of the episode also available on JapanBall’s YouTube page.
Shane: So everyone, welcome again to “Chatter Up!” I’m Shane Barclay. Normally what we do is international baseball tours, but in absence of that [due to the Covid-19 pandemic] we’re doing these Zoom calls to give everyone a chance to talk baseball, a little diversion from all the madness in the world, so I appreciate you all coming on. I think this is definitely the biggest concentration of non-Japanese Japanese baseball fans, definitely on the internet, probably anywhere in person that you could ever get.
I think most of you all are pretty familiar with Bobby V, but I’ll give a quick rundown some of the highlights here: he’s from Stamford, Connecticut, where he’s one of the all-time best amateur athletes out of Stamford, and that led to him being a first-round pick of the [Los Angeles] Dodgers. Bobby quickly shot through the Dodgers organization and made his MLB debut at age 19. In over a 10 year career, he pretty much did it all. He played every position on the field except for pitcher, and I’m sure he would have taken the mound if they asked him to do that as well.
After hanging up the spikes, he quickly got a job with the [Texas] Rangers. He managed the Rangers for eight years, and then he went on to the Chiba Lotte Marines in ‘95. The team played well but he was let go after that first year, which I’m sure we’ll get into on this call. And then he went on to the Mets. He had probably one of the most successful runs with the Mets of any manager in their organization, including, of course, the “Subway Series” against the Yankees in 2000. And then in 2004, he went back to Japan [with] the Marines, definitely the most successful run in the Marines’ history, topped off by the Japan Series title in 2005, and Asia Series title which shouldn’t be forgotten as well.
He’s had more success than any foreign manager in Japanese baseball history. He became not only a baseball icon over there, but a pop culture icon for his success on the field and his participation off the field. He really worked tirelessly to turn the Marines into one of the most effective and innovative NPB franchises.
He finished off with the Red Sox for one year and then stayed in the game and in sports in general since then, and he’s currently the athletic director at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. So that is the quick rundown of his career. Did I miss anything there, Bobby?
Bobby: No, that’s that’s the whole thing. That’s the whole program. I don’t think there’s anything else.
Thank y’all for coming. I appreciate it and I had fun!
Shane: All right, goodbye, everyone. No, I think there’s a lot of all the details of that is really interesting stuff. So I took some questions from my guests, and kind of came up with my own so I can ask you what I want to hear first. We’ll start right off. I’m curious about when you were first hired to go to Japan; did that opportunity to catch you off-guard? And what was your decision-making process in deciding to take the job?
Bobby: Well, it wasn’t a sudden thing, you know. I did a lot of work prior to getting offered the job in Japan. It wasn’t really work, it was cultural exchanges. I was invited by the great Hirooka-san in- it might have been 89, I think, to speak to all the Japanese coaches in the country about pitch counts, which I was implementing in the Texas Rangers organization. Prior to that, you know, I was one of the first guys to ever wear Mizuno gloves in a major league game and I had a relationship with the Mizuno family.
So when I got fired by the Rangers and I went to AAA Norfolk to manage, a fella who’s now a very good friend, Koji Takahashi, he 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.” That was at the beginning of the season, and 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.
Shane: So it was an easy decision once they offered it. You mentioned the pitch counts, 20 or 30 years later, they’re actually starting to implement some of that at the youth levels in Japan.
Bobby: Yeah, look. Don’t feel bad about that. Remember, when I was a player in 1973, they established this thing in the major leagues as a three year “experiment”. It was called the “DH.” It was a three year experiment; this experiment is still going on. Now they’re thinking about implementing it in both leagues and get rid of the pitcher hitting if [the MLB] comes back to play this year. So sometimes things in baseball take a long time.
Shane: Yeah, I think that tends to be the case in baseball more than other sports. How did your time in the big leagues best and least prepare you for managing in Japan?
Bobby: Well you know, managing is managing, and in Japan and in Texas and in New York and in Boston, it’s all about trying to establish trust so that you could then get teamwork. The great symbolic gesture, that I have on my walls upstairs and [that] I talk about all the time that happens in Japan, is when the team wins, they take the manager and the team throws them in the air and they catch him, they throw them in the air and they catch them, they throw them in the air and they catch them. The reason they do that is to win that championship, the players must trust the manager, or the kantoku, so that there’s great teamwork. And then after you win a championship, the kantoku must trust the players to catch him on the way down. So, you know, that teamwork is paramount for success. So yeah, it prepared me and that I learned to establish trust. And in Texas, they were speaking a different language too. So, that wasn’t a problem once I got to Japan.
Shane: I didn’t know that about throwing the manager. That’s really cool. In those pictures of you, and all the Japanese managers when they win are amazing. In that vein, you mentioned how the players have to trust the manager. In Japan, the manager is like God. So did you take advantage of that and being able to implement your own system from the top down, maybe more than you would [have been] able to do in the States, or was it kind of a competitive advantage in a way to maybe manage in a more American style that allows for individuality, more so than maybe in Japan?
Bobby: I really tried to get a blend. 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. Whether or not I thought, to start at a certain time when you’re running, to grip a ball when you’re pitching, to swing a bat when you’re hitting, to field the ball when you’re fielding; all the things of baseball, as well as what works during the game, strategically, I had to reprove to myself. 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.
But I also benefited by learning from others. Hirooka-san… I think he was the greatest baseball guy I was ever around, except for Tommy Lasorda. I think that, you know, Hirooka lived the game of baseball; he smelled of it, he looked the part, he understood all facets of the game, and we disagreed on a few things, mainly, the concept of rest. I think if there’s any dividing line that was ever drawn in the sand between the great general manager, manager, shortstop, Baseball Hall of Famer that I had the pleasure of working for, and I, it was that idea that more is not necessarily always better. But remember, that’s how I grew up playing baseball. If I couldn’t hit a curveball, the idea was to practice hitting the curveball. And how long do you practice? Until you can hit the curveball! More was always better when I was growing up, but I moved out of that thinking, understanding that a restful body works a lot better than a stressful body.
Shane: And has that taken hold in Japan? I know that’s still always what they say about Japanese baseball is that they work, work, work; has the kind of more American style of resting, has that been implemented at all to your knowledge?
Bobby: Well, yeah, I think it has. And, you know, I know that Komiyama-san is now at Waseda University as their head coach, their manager and a lot of the concepts are being instilled that a great baseball university with great tradition by someone I love and respect to the end to the end of the world, who’s now doing them. And I’ve heard some players have said that, yes, some of that concept has infiltrated and become more standard practice, but there’s still more practice.
Shane: Yeah, that’s good to hear, that’s progress. So, on the topic of developing players, in the US, the minor leagues are under, you know, got their backs against the wall little bit – on the chopping block. And I know in Japan you had tried to increase the minor leagues there [and] met some resistance. Can you speak a little bit to the importance of the minor leagues and especially how that could impact the Japanese game if they were to really get a deeper minor league system?
Bobby: Well, what I was thinking of in expanding the minor leagues was that I saw that there are players now leaving Japan and going to the MLB. The first year I went to Japan was the year Nomo went to the Dodgers. So I was right in the crosshairs of that crossroads. And as more players started to leave, I felt the only way of having a feeder system that will allow talent to replace talent and not have the league diminishing quality was to have more players drafted and then have more players in the “hopper” being developed.
The crime I felt in [the] Japanese system was that one minor league team where the job of the minor league team was to make sure 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, and there were only eight rounds. Interestingly enough, there’s only 10 rounds this year in Major League Baseball where there used to be 40 rounds. So yeah, maybe it’s going to contract a little but it’s never going to get to the state of Japanese baseball and I still believe with the high school prolific tournaments that they have with the great Koshien summer and spring tournaments and, and 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.
Shane: Thanks. That’s interesting stuff. Interesting one to follow going forward.
Bobby: Long winded answers. I’m sorry.
Shane: No, that’s good. We like that, that’s why we want to have you on. You’re a good talker. Getting away from some of the more technical stuff about baseball. So, you are obviously known for being a larger than life character off the field and on the field in Japan. Was there something particular about the Japanese game or the Chiba community that made you want to be like that? Or is it something that maybe you were doing in the states and it just isn’t maybe as much of a spotlight, because of your role in the States not being such like a foreigner?
Bobby: Well, I wanted to embrace the society and the community, especially the second time back. When I went there the first time, I was going to just show everybody how to do it and then get out of dodge. But when I had the opportunity to return ten years later, and Shigemitsu-san saw me in New York City, like the week that I got fired and said, “Hey, being you’re not with the Mets anymore, do you want to come back?” And I didn’t even I didn’t even hesitate, I said I’d love to come back. And I had time to reflect then on how I wanted to do it better. And the way I wanted to do it better was to be more part of the community. The first time, I was kind of the nice guy who signed autographs and had adulation.
The day that I arrived in Japan for my first press conference in January the first time I was there was the day of the Kobe earthquake, and the reporters were actually interviewing me at the airport, when they got the word of the earthquake in Kobe. And everyone left, and I thought it was something I said, or my breath or something after 15 hours on a plane, but all the reporters were scurrying away. And I felt a connection to the earthquake and the victims, and we opened up the season in Kobe. And I said, “Geez, you know, what would I do if I was doing this in my hometown, or my home country? I’d try to raise money.” And so I had this idea and incredibly, the Japanese leagues and people went along with a game that I just watched on DVD the other night, which was that “Dream Game” that they called, which was an all-star game, between all the best Japanese players and all the “Gaijin” and all the money went for charity victims, I think, in the area. We sold our uniforms, and I think they went to build the community back. So I wanted to give back as much as I could while I was there, and when I came back the second time, that’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to create stuff. We helped build a home for wayward children and we did a lot of tsunami and earthquake work after 2011 together. So yeah it was just something that I love doing and the people, without any BS, made me feel like I was living in their neighborhood and they were living in my neighborhood and that was a great feeling.
Shane: That’s awesome. That’s good to hear. And I’m sure in New York they weren’t didn’t always make you feel like that.
Bobby: Well, New York wasn’t bad. Boston was a little, maybe. And Texas, I mean, hells’ bells, I was a foreigner everywhere I was. I went to Texas as a guy from Connecticut; people in Texas thought Connecticut was a city in Pennsylvania. I went to Japan, and obviously I was an American. I went to Boston, and they didn’t even recognize Connecticut as being in New England. So everywhere I was I felt like I was a foreigner. And I think I embraced and the community embraced me as much in Texas as they did in Japan. And I was part of the New York Community. I was never really embraced in Boston.
Shane: We don’t talk about Boston then. I’m often asked that, as a tour guide in Japan, American fans want to pick a team in the NPB to root for and I think especially based on your last answer, I know your answer to that question, but give your case for the Marines if I’m telling people why they should refer them
Bobby: Well because they’re that other team, they’re the small-town team, they’re the new team [in] a new city, it was built after the war and it has a new feeling to it. If they get out there and see the widened streets and the big glistening buildings and feel the atmosphere of that ballpark and their fans, I think it’s a real easy take for people to catch on to the Marines. Most other teams have more tradition, I guess. You know, Rakuten doesn’t and neither does Hokkaido. But you know, we are a great place and if they root for the Marines and they go to Makuhari and Chiba to watch a game, they could always get a bite to eat on Valentine Way.
Shane: That’s a good enough reason. I have one non-Japan question. I know you had Ralph Branca as your father-in-law who was famous for [giving up] “the Shot Heard ‘Round the World” but I know he was known to have handled that infamy with a lot of class, and then I saw that your college roommate was Bill Buckner, another infamous baseball character; what takeaways do you carry from your relationship with these two men who have such a distinct role in baseball history?
Bobby: You know the one thing was in both cases that the injustice that can present itself in a game, [and] in a baseball community. Ralph had to walk around with that scarlet letter, even though he was one of the best pitchers on the team and he shouldn’t have been pitching and relieving the game to begin with, he had started a day and a half earlier, and Billy Buckner shouldn’t have been on first base other than you know, he asked John McNamara if he could be on the field for the ninth inning, because he had never celebrated on the field with the team that won. And after putting Dave Stapleton in the game for defense through the entire pennant race, they didn’t. John McNamara did not put Dave Stapleton in to replace Bill Buckner and Bill had to walk around with that scarlet letter.
So, you know, there are things that happened while I managed that I got blamed for, and they were probably my fault. But in these two cases, the two managers never got blamed one inch. The players were the ones who had to walk around and have the insults thrown at them all of their lives when it was really a managerial flaw in both cases.
Shane: Yeah, it’s a shame how they kind of had to live with that and I don’t think it’s fair. So, on a lighter note, so I have a few multiple-choice questions. They’re easy ones, don’t worry. And so first one, and everyone can vote on this. What is your preferred Japanese beer? Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi, Yebisu?
Bobby: Oh, that’s easy for me, you guys know that if you know anything: mine’s Sapporo. Sapporo was the beer that helped me raise money for charity by doing Bo Beer and they charged another quarter per can, and our charity got the money. So yes, Sapporo is mine. And interestingly enough, when that happened when I had the Bo Beer, the company was owned by an American, had no idea that they were doing a promotion with an American. And today I am in business with that guy in a youth baseball league. How about that?
Shane: Wow, I purposely left out Bo Beer because I was going to put that as a fifth one and I thought that wouldn’t be fair, but Sapporo was the winner. So, the second question, favorite ballpark that you’ve managed in: the two stadiums in Arlington, Chiba Marine Stadium, Shea Stadium, Fenway Park.
Shane: Well, the coolest park was Fenway Park. The coolest fans were in Chiba. The worst stadium was in Texas. I never got to go manage in the new stadium. I helped design it but got fired before that came around and Shea Stadium was a dump. So yeah, I love the fans of Chiba, I love the fans in Texas and New York too. But I think if I had to go back to one and manage one game, I’d like to go back to Chiba.
Shane: Well, then would you go back and manage in Japan?
Bobby: Well, I think those days are behind me. I think it’s a younger man’s game. Even though in Japan they respect the aged a lot more than they do here. But yeah, I think all those jobs are taken and spoken for. But the answer is of course I would because if I’m telling you I loved it so much, of course I would. I’d go back for a week with no pay. I’d go back for a month with no pay of course I would.
Shane: All right, last one. Controversial multiple choice: best home run hitter of all time. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, or Sadaharu Oh.
Bobby: Well, Sadaharu hit more of them, no doubt about that. I never saw him firsthand. I saw Barry Bonds, I think Barry Bonds as the greatest hitter that I’ve ever seen. And so, I’d have to give my nod to Barry Bonds. Yet I don’t have any autographed pictures of Barry Bonds around my house. And I have three of Sadaharu Oh, so maybe that says something.
Shane: Alright, so I think you’re gonna jump to some of the Q&A that we have from some of our guests. Eric Peterson wants to know – the hardest adjustment for American players making the transition to Japan and vice-versa. You spoke a little bit about the managerial part, but how about from a player’s perspective?
Bobby: Oh, the food without a doubt. You know you are what you eat. The Latin players adjusted the food a lot more, because I think, you know, there’s rice-based food and culture and in Latin America as there is in Japan. But the food and coming back this way, of all the players that I had played for him who came back with Japanese players, the food was the biggest struggle that they had. There is no English in any restaurants, so it was difficult to order back then, but there were photographs in most menus. And then they started to get to be more English and they’re a little more meat-based for some of the guys but some guys just couldn’t exist because of the food, on both sides.
Shane: What food do you miss the most in Japan and Bob Hayes wants to know if you learned to like natto or not.
Bobby: I never go to a sushi restaurant without having my last roll be a tuna and natto little roll to help me digest and make it all happen. Natto alone is still not one of my favorites. I can’t get by the smell. But in a roll, I’m really good with it, and it helps me.
Shane: A couple of questions about managing and the championship. Another one from Eric, how does managing in the Japan Series differ compared to managing in a World Series and then Steven Ericson just was asking more in general, just managerial difference between the two leagues. I’m not sure if there’s a difference between the championship series or not, but yeah, those two questions.
Bobby: Well they weren’t announcing starting pitchers until 2005. So, it was different going into that. We weren’t sure how that was all gonna work out. I think the interleague games, the starting pitchers weren’t announced and we had to send out scouts to figure out who was shagging balls and who’s faking and all that before we made our lineup. I think the lineup exchange is a little different because there’s a little earlier announcement of lineups. But the excitement and the idea that at the end of the day, there’s only one left standing, and you get to win the last game played in your season is a spectacular thing anywhere, Japan or I’m sure it’s that way in Korea, Taiwan, or even in the Little League World Series; they were both spectacular.
And the interesting thing is, how is Major League Baseball doing what they’re doing right now trying to get back on the field and playing a shorter season and having more teams in the playoffs… in trying to figure out what they’re doing with the team that wins the division and how they can make it a reward so that everyone plays to try to win the regular season… how is it that they haven’t adopted the idea if you win your division that in the first three-game series, you only have to win one, and the other team has to win two, as they do in Japan? Why is that just too simple a thought to reward that winning team or is it beneath MLB to take something from the Japanese Baseball League? Just a side note. I’ve been saying that at every radio program here and everyone thinks it’s a great idea… except for the people making the decisions.
Shane: Sometimes it’s a little too obvious. You mentioned the pitchers; Rob Crittendon wants to know about when you didn’t announce your pitchers with the Mets in the World Series. It was a bit controversial at the time. Was that your idea? Is that something that you had done before or after? And is that something that relates to the Japan experience with announcing the pitchers.
Bobby: Well, I think it was just for that one swing game when I didn’t know who was going to start. And it wasn’t the World Series, I think it was the playoff game against the Giants, where I didn’t announce the starting pitcher until I got to the ballpark. It was going to be between Al Leiter and Bobby Jones and Al Leiter was going to pitch on short rest, and Bobby Jones was going to pitch on regular rest; Al Leiter was the star, and Bobby Jones was the guy who threw 85 miles an hour and it was the must-win game. And when I was walking toward my clubhouse, Bobby Jones’ wife was walking toward me in the runway. And I said hello to her, and when I did, she said, “Please start Bobby. He’ll pitch the game of his life.” And I walked into the clubhouse without going to my coaches or going to the press and walked right over to Bobby Jones’ locker and said, “Bobby, you’re starting. You’ve got the ball.” And you know what? He pitched the game of his life. It was a one-hitter and we sent the Giants home. Yeah, I think that was the only time and maybe I’ll have to go reread that stuff.
I’m doing some of that revisionist history. I’m watching videos for the first time. I’m watching games. I never saw those 2000 games on video or DVD as it is. I can’t believe what some of the announcers were saying. One time I left Glendon Rusch in with men on first and second playing against the Yankees, and they pinched-hit Jose Canseco. The announcers were saying, “I can’t believe this Valentine, he’s leaving Glendon Rusch in to pitch to Jose Canseco.” Before the game started, I told Glendon Rusch “if you pitch in relief, you’re going to strike out Jose Canseco.” And with two men on and two outs in the sixth inning and you know what he did? He struck out Jose Canseco. So, it’s kind of interesting on all that stuff. Yeah.
Shane: Maybe not having live baseball isn’t so bad then.