“WTF is D’Antona?” (aka Takada is a Chump)

Ah, Shigeru Takada. Our esteemed manager. Regular readers of Tsubamegun will know that he’s not too popular around these parts, what with our “Takada Count” (currently at 14) keeping a tab on all his boneheaded exploits throughout this season.

For quite some time we’ve suspected personal issues/sheer idiocy have been getting in the way of team selection, particularly in the case of Aaron Guiel (whom Takada has a habit of continually benching against lefties) and also infielder Hiroyasu Tanaka who has been treated pretty badly at times during this season.

In fact let’s have a look at the justification for the last invocation of the Takada Count (from the October 2nd loss to the Carp):

TAKADA COUNT: 14. For continual unnecessary tinkering and abuse of the kind of players that really don’t deserve it. This is for the continual Guiel benching and treating Tanaka (one of the brightest younger players on this team may I add) like your personal bitch throughout a lot of this season. Even if Tanaka was injured, this one stands for repeated misdemeanours and due to the fact that it’s late in the season and I’m pretty much sick to the back teeth of your perpetual cluelessness not to mention your soulless overly blinky expression while watching your team eff up yet again. GET THE F*CK OUT OF MY BALLCLUB!! NOW!

But of course, up until this point it was simply our speculation, along with rumours amongst the Jingu faithful, that Takada let personal issues cloud his judgement. But the events of this week have got us thinking that there may be some truth to it.

A few nights back, a few of us decided to go out for dinner at a central Tokyo eatery and lo and behold, who should we see sitting across the room but a certain Jamie D’Antona, Tokyo’s power-hitting first baseman.

Now unlike some of the fans we know at Jingu, we’re no stalkers, so we didn’t really want to disturb Jamie while he was out enjoying a nice relaxing meal with some friends. But we did manage to grab a few words with him on our way out.

Is D'Antona being treated fairly?

Jamie was in good spirits, and we asked him if he was still suffering from his leg injury that had kept him out for a large chunk of August and he said he had been in fine shape for the last month or so. He was also looking forward to seeing more playing time and was hopeful of Tokyo reaching the Climax Series.

That was about all, and we then left him to get back to his evening sans a bunch of gawping Tokyo fans.

But the few words we had with him got us thinking. The official story is that Jamie has been struggling with a niggling injury that has been keeping him from starting more games, but according to the man himself, he’s fighting fit. What gives?

Since returning from his injury at then end of August, he’s started in 14 games in September, featuring as a pinch-hitter in 6 games and not featuring at all in 6 games. The continual benching of him by Takada in the latter half of September must have been due  to injury, right?

Now remember, this is the player that:

  • Won the monthly MVP award for July, and a guy that played a large part in Tokyo’s excellent first half of the season. It could be argued that the sharp decline in the Swallows’ fortunes and form started with D’Antona’s injury.
  • Is still hitting .279 for the year (the 3rd best average among Yakult’s top team regulars).
  • Still leads the team in RBIs with 80.
  • Has the highest average on the team with runners in scoring position at .338.
  • Has a slugging percentage of .484, second only to Aaron Guiel on the team. His home run total of 20 is also second only to the Canadian outfielder.

Surely this is the kind of guy you would want on your team, especially given the horrific slide the Swallows were in during that month. So if he wasn’t struggling with an injury (as was reported) then there must have been some other reason for his sporadic appearances for the top team.

But it gets worse in October. After starting the first three games of the month against the Carp, Tigers and Giants he has not started a game since. He was used as a 9th inning pinch-hitter in the 10/6 game against Yokohama, didn’t feature in the 10/7 game against the same opposition, was a late inning pinch-hitter again for the 10/8 against the Tigers before not featuring at all in the decisive game against Hanshin on 10/9.

A few observations:

  • Jamie’s October fall out of favour coincides with Takada’s announcement that he was returning to the Swallows’ managerial seat in 2010. After the announcement was made after the loss to Yomiuri on the 4th of October, Jamie hasn’t featured at all. A sign that Takada doesn’t fancy him and won’t be bringing him back next year as he’s now concentrating on the players he wants playing for him in 2010?
  • Bear in mind the absolutely terrible injury problems faced by the team during the final stretch of this season. In the infield alone, Aikawa, Tanaka, Keizo Kawashima and Miyamoto were all suffering from injury. We also thought Jamie was amongst them, leading to inexperienced/backup players such as Kajimoto, Noguchi and Hatakeyama being inserted into the starting lineup for some hugely important games. At first base alone, we’ve seen Hatakeyama and Noguchi feature in the field during this last week, all of them inferior first basemen, both with the bat and the glove, to D’Antona. Fine if he was injured, but he wasn’t. It would appear that Jamie’s exclusion is personal.
  • As I mentioned earlier, he did not feature at all in the decisive game against the Tigers. Only Hanshin’s starter that day was the lefty Iwata, against which D’Antona has gone 3 for 5 against this season. Now, the starting lineup for that game included the likes of Hatakayama and Noguchi, both of whom went hitless in the game. Why on earth leave a healthy player on the bench for such a key game who has such a good record against the opposition’s starter, unless it’s personal?

Now with the Climax Series against the supremely strong Chunichi Dragons a week away, surely we want our strongest available lineup on the field to stand any chance of winning. And that strongest lineup includes D’Antona, but if the manager is benching a player for personal reasons to the detriment of the team, it just confirms what we’ve always thought: this is a man who should be no where near the managerial seat of a professional baseball team.

So to Jamie (though I doubt he’s much of a Tsubamegun reader…), we hope you see more playing time this year as boy could we do with the help against the Dragons. We hope you earn yourself a new contract and will be back with the team next year as (to the eyes of this writer at least) you deserve it.

If not, then we wish you all the best in the future, wherever it may be. In an ideal world we’d like to see you back and Takada out in 2010. But the Swallows have never been the smartest of organisations (that’s putting it mildly), with a history of undervaluing their foreign talent.

And to Takada: F*uck off. Please. We don’t want you anymore. Climax Series or not, you’re still, and will always be, a chump.

About David Watkins

David is a baseball bothering Brummie who spends a fair portion of his life fretting over the Tokyo Swallows and the WORLD'S GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM, Aston Villa. He completes the quartet of abusive sporting relationships by being a die hard New York Knicks and Mets fan. You can find him on twitter: @yakulto

  • Rob

    Come on, quit sugar-coating it – what do you really think?

    I can cut Takada a little slack because he has had his hands full with injuries and whatnot, but I agree – a lot of his moves have been perplexing, and his favoritism for players he brought with him from the Fighters has been embarrassing.

    More perplexing has been the extent of the injuries to younger pitchers in the ni-gun, guys who were supposed to make an impact this year. Tateyama has stepped up as a star, but I don’t think anyone was expecting that at the start of the year. Are there training issues? Strength and conditioning issues? Overuse in the ni-gun? I don’t understand, but to have this many young guys injured this often suggests something is wrong.

    1,000 points to y’all for not bugging Jamie during his private time, and 1,000 points to him for being nice. I hope he’s in the TYS line-up this year and I hope he’s back next year, but more than that, I hope wherever he is he’s getting treated properly.

  • It seems Jamie is back in the starting lineup for tonight’s game against the Dragons, a lineup that pretty much consists solely of backup guys.

    Let’s hope he can perform tonight and tomorrow (if he gets a chance) so that he Takada has no choice but to put keep him in the lineup for next weekend.

  • Bryan Crowe

    Just to add a bit of fuel to the fire

    I was walking back to gaienmae station after the first victory against tigers and me and my friend were walking along side jamie as he stormed down the road to get a taxi. This was about 20 mins after the game had finished and he was gone. After a brief chat with my mate. It was very clear that takada does not want jamie around. Jamie wants to stay but it won’t be up to him, was the jist of the convo.

    So there you go…

  • Wow, from the sounds of these stories, Japanese baseball players are commonly seen in the public. Personally, I’ve never seen a sports star from the United States just “walking around”, and I go to the same campus that many athletes take classes in.

    Or, you guys could just be lucky, which is more likely the case.

    • I’d say that, in most cases, Japanese ballplayers are indeed far more accessible than their American counterparts, for many reasons (all of them solely my opinions or guesses):

      1. Scale. NPB, while big and popular, is simply not as big as at least three of the four major US sports (for the NHL, it depends on where you are – Toronto is a lot different from Fort Lauderdale, for example.) Most players would be recognized only by rather regular baseball-watchers.

      2. Demographics. Security is just not as big a concern – violent crime is exceedingly rare and threatening stalking of male professional athletes, while it probably occurs, is rare enough that it doesn’t seem players or teams are all that worried.

      3. Culture. In most cases, Japanese fans seem too shy (for lack of a better word) to do much more than say hello and offer a bit of encouragement if they do approach.

      4. Opportunity. Because of the three prior factors, players at many stadia will walk between clubhouse and stadium, etc. with minimal security, thus giving fans an opportunity to approach players. Likewise, big as Tokyo is, with so many teams here, near here, or traveling through here, there are perhaps more chances to run into a player by chance, esp. a single guy (more likely to be out in the evening.)

      5. Attitude. It seems to be more drilled into players here that their job is to entertain the fans. Perhaps some sort of mixture of that and culture leads to players being less likely to see fans as a nuisance or leads players to see themselves less as celebrities.

      6. The players one sees. As with the US, the bigger the star, the less likely he is to be out and accessible. You’re less likely to run into Aoki than Kajimoto, for example.

  • Charles Moon

    “Benching a player for personal reasons” ?????????

    Is this Little League or Professional Baseball????

    Doesn’t this seem contrary to the team motto of “Just Play To Win”??????

    You asked WTF is D’Antona? I for one certainly hope the answer will be – In the starting lineup for the Swallows in the CS and in 2010 and in the years to come

  • Once again, the almight Kantoku must rule his people with an iron fist. Guess what? Same thing happened to the Rakuten Eagles where Nomura ‘my way or the highway (to postseason losses)’ kantoku DEACTIVATED Todd Linden.

    Nice. Really nice.

    At least Takada didn’t deactivate Jamie, BUT, it is sounding more and more like a de facto deactivation. I love NPB, but, man, some of these managers are just bone-headed doofuses who would rather LOSE than to lose face. If you really want to know what I think is going on is this:

    Giants/Tigers/Dragons all will get their usual sell-outs.

    Swallows/Carp/Baystars MIGHT see a little bump in attendance based upon a winning record. For example, even with the Swallows competing for a playoff spot, attendance has been its usual, spotty self. The owners say ‘see, if weren’t not the Giants/Tigers/Dragons or playing the Giants/Tigers/Dragons…attendance is virtually identical. Better not rock the clubhouse boat, let the manager have full ride….but to make sure we don’t piss off the really loyal fans, we’ll play a little Kabuki-theatre by firing/kicking the former manager upstairs.’

    The only teams that show wild swings in attendance based upon winning % are Nippon Ham and MAYBE Chiba (surprisingly attendance has been extremely good for them) and/or Rakuten.

    Orix – doesn’t matter what they do, attendance sux.
    Seibu – see Orix (although this year after improving the Seibu dump, attendance seems to have risen….last year even as Japan Series Champs they saw pretty weak regular season attendance);
    Softbank – always draws well, no matter what.
    Rakuten – has seen a slight bump in attendance this year, but even so, not that big a bump considering that this is their first year as a playoff team in Sendai.

    So, not surprising that Nomura did virtually the exact same thing to one of his suketto’s. Really, really lame.

  • Eddy

    When reading about stalkers, I was thinking, maybe you guys are talking about me? I hope not… Not a Swallows fan but living in Tokyo, Jingu is the stadium I most often go to. Swallows is my 2nd favorite CL team.

    Anyhow..I have a lot of respect for fans who are not afraid to state their opinions instead of fans who are told by “ouendan” or the team how to have an opinion. To me you guys are the real fans. Keep up the good fight.

    Takada is a knuckle head. Growing up in Japan and having lived here for many years, I can say from my own personal experience. There are many knuckle heads in this country!

    This D’Antona drama seems complicated. Takada probably has no sense of humour who has been indoctrinated in the Showa era when Japan was a highly rigid place with no room for opinions and then comes D’Antona who is a free spirited young player. And then..bang! A clash of ideas and mind set. It is too bad when this happens. However more often than not, it is the player who lose. If there really is a severe conflict, D’Antona is fighting a losing battle. I hope D’Antona can stay strong and keep his cool as I want to see him playing for the Swallows for many years to come. He got my support!

    • Don’t worry Eddy, we weren’t talking about you!

      Everything else you said is very true though!