Hoshino Doesn't Want to Drag Your Chestnuts Out of the Fire

Glory Hallelujah, I was wrong!  You’ll all join me in being glad that I was wrong when I reported rumors of Senichi Hoshino returning to the helm of Team Japan for the World Baseball Classic on this site.  I stand chastened and embarrassed, ask your forgiveness for my lapse, and promise it shall not occur again.  Nonetheless, I’m happy to report that it now looks highly unlikely that Hoshino will skipper Japan at the WBC.

This kind schadenfreude, of course, is exactly the kind of criticism that bothered Hoshino enough to cause him to emphatically state, back in September, that he would not take the job.  A recent news item appearing in The Guardian (via Reuters, which misinterprets NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato’s pro forma disappointment for a “crisis”) repeats comments Hoshino made on his blog (although it does not specify whether it is re-reporting old news or Hoshino reiterated his comments), including this gem:

I’ve already been engulfed in flames once — why should I have to drag someone’s chestnuts out of the fire again?”

Drag someone’s chestnuts out of the fire?

While a few former players of Hoshino’s generation have certainly enjoyed success as managers (including Hoshino in 1985) and others are making good contributions tot he game in other ways, Hoshino’s performance at the head of the national team combined a glaring professional weakness with an equally telling character flaw.

First, Hoshino, more than any other individual, is to blame for what happened at the Olympics.  If a team is in a position where a flubbed play here and there makes all the difference, that team is in deep trouble.  It is no player’s fault that Japan lacked any noticeable coherent strategy throughout the Olympics.  It is no player’s fault that floundering pitchers were left in to dig themselves deeper and deeper into holes.  And it is no player’s fault that Hoshino made dumb strategic decisions.

Furthermore, it wasn’t sportswriters and fans who had their pick of players, entered the Olympics with a gold medal line-up and blew through incompetence.  Short practice time?  Sure, that’s beyond Hoshino’s control, but laying out strategy, getting a team to work together, and getting the team up for games is the manager’s job.  If those were the problems, Hoshino is to blame.

He doesn’t like the criticism?  Grow up.  If there were death threats, that’s out of line, but calling a spade a spade and saying Hoshino didn’t do a good job is fair territory.  Would Hoshino have refused priase if the team had won?

The slightest bit of introspection on his part would have led to a humble apology for what happened.  Don’t hold your breath, though.  (There are a lot of parallels with Tokyo’s Takada here, but I won’t belabor that point.)

Far from a crisis, Hoshino’s refusal to take the job is an opportunity.  It gives baseball officials a chance to circumvent the stifling old boy hierarchy that is crippling the game and maybe bring in some fresh ideas.  Respecting your elders and refusing to move on and recognize that the game is changing and that new ways of looking at strategy are helpful are different things.

Hoshino apparently doesn’t relaize that, but we can hope that someone else in a position to influence decisions will.  Primarily, officials need to realize that a great player plus 30 years does not equal a great manager.  Two different jobs, two different skill sets.  Some guys have both, most don’t.

  • Rob

    And now it’s Hara. I knew it would come to this, somehow. The upside is that there is no downside if/when Hara Japan loses….

  • No downside because deep down inside there would be a certain schadenfreude (for us) to Hara’s failing, or no downside because expectations have been lowered for the national squad? Or something else entirely?

  • Rob

    The first more than the second. I don’t dislike Hara – he was good as a color commentary guy – but if Hara Japan loses I will be, um, less disappointed than I might be with someone else at the helm.

    Even though I don’t like it that much, I admit the WBC has done wonders for Japanese baseball at the ground level. Especially in contrast with Japan getting bounced from the World Cup – the WBC win probably gave the number of kids playing little league a good boost.

  • I hope you’re right on that second point. I like the WBC because I think it has a chance to work into a viable, interesting, meaningful tournament. I wouldn’t mind seeing an international baseball tournament akin to the FIFA World Cup, provided it doesn’t interrupt any of the big leagues’ regular seasons, to which I’m quite attached. I’m strongly in favor of the greater globalization of the game. I like the Asian Championship, I like to see MLB teams play NPB teams, I’d like to see more international college games, and I’ve long thought it would be a good idea to get minor league teams from a few different countries swapping leagues for a short season or something – mix it up, build interest in the game and in other countries’ teams among existing fans.

    That and it gives us some baseball to watch during the offseason and I’d rather watch good baseball than any other sport.