Valentine embraces life in Japan
by Alan Schwarz
December 8, 2005
guy living 12,000 miles away, Bobby Valentine's name has come up an awful lot
this season. Mentioned for managing jobs with the Devil Rays and Dodgers, and
even possibly a general manager position, Valentine not only led his Chiba Lotte
Marines to their first Japan Series title since 1974, but also thrust himself
back front-and-center into major league conversations.
Valentine sat down to talk about his Marines, the lingering lure of the
majors and just what in the world BoBeer tastes like.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Your name was discussed prominently for several managing
jobs this fall. Why didn't those work out?
BOBBY VALENTINE: That's a hypothetical conversation. The job that I'm
doing is a job that I cherish, and it provides me with a great challenge. The
owner and the team have given a wonderful deal of appreciation for the job that I
do and I'm being rewarded quite handsomely. The combination of those things was
never presented as a situation that I could have somewhere else.
I respect the fact that the 30 jobs there are treasured. It's just regretfully
there are a whole lot of people who don't understand that there are 12 jobs here
that are just as cherished, and I feel like I have one of the great jobs in
AS: Did winning your first championship feel any different because it
came abroad, or did it feel like you had dreamt about?
BV: I think that this situation was as good as it gets, culminating
with the parade yesterday with about 300,000 people, people being as happy as
they could possibly be. There is even a different situation here, where the
manager is hoisted into the air by the team three times. You feel as light as a
feather. Teamwork is displayed and trust is shown by the manager and the players,
and it is really a cool way to end the whole thing.
AS: What was the reaction to an American leading his team to the title?
That had never happened before.
BV: I think that there was intrigue during the last couple seasons as
to how I might do, and there was a great deal of adulation once the job was
accomplished. I found very little resentment. I found very little antagonistic
feelings from the society.
AS: Speaking of the adulation coming your way, have you tasted
Sapporo's new Valentine-celebrating brew, BoBeer? Give us a scouting report.
BV: Oh yeah. The proceeds from the sale of a beer go into a charity
fund. I tasted it during one of the victory celebrations. We went through 3,100
bottles of beer being poured on one another and 260 bottles of champagne being
sprayed on one another. It's Sapporo black label, so it's the real thing. It is a
good tasting beer.
AS: Who are some of the star players in Japan who might someday come to
the major leagues, perhaps the next Hideki Matsui?
BV: I just think that this isn't a situation anymore where it is just
one or two players. When Hideo Nomo broke that barrier 10 years ago, people
thought he would return on the next boat back to Japan. Now the talent level is
very similar. Every team has many players who, if they chose to change cultures,
uniforms, languages, etc., I think they could play--well, I know they
could play in the major leagues, but a lot of them could have an impact too.
Kenji Johjima is a catcher who will kind of break that catcher barrier with the
AS: What about Nobuhiko Matsunaka, the Fukuoka Hawks first baseman
who's basically Japan's Albert Pujols?
BV: I doubt that he'll come. He is a terrific player; it's just that
he's also the cornerstone to that entire organization. Tadahito Iguchi has left
that team, Johjima is going to leave that team, and it is a team managed by
Sadaharu Oh. There is the pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's a young guy that has
been rumored to go, and he's really talented. He has probably that little extra
that everyone looks for in a super pitcher--his breaking ball breaks a little
more, his fastball moves a little more than the average. But I don't think he's
going to be able to depart this year. He might, but I don't think so.
AS: You've spoken publicly about having the Japan Series champion play
the major league World Series champion. Give us a prediction of Chiba versus the
White Sox--two pitching-and-defense teams that were shockingly similar.
BV: It would be a great series. There is nothing that the White Sox
have that Marines don't have--everything is very similar. The leadoff hitter is
very similar, the second place hitter is very similar, the pitching staff is very
similar, the bullpen is very similar. I think it would be the team that got the
breaks, just like in every seven-game series.
I think that series could be bigger than the owners, bigger than the players,
and if it was played in Hawaii where it was halfway between both countries, the
stands would be filled, probably half for each team. The money that could be
raised, which would be an awful lot of money, should and could go into a
worldwide charity fund that benefits kids, and becomes a win-win-win situation
for everyone who cares about baseball.
Five groups need to really be involved. I think the fans would crave it, and
then there's two groups of owners on each side of the pond and two groups of
players on each side of the pond. If the leader of any of those groups is opposed
to it, I think they should stand up and be counted--let the world know they are
opposed to it and give reasons why.
AS: What about the upcoming World Baseball Classic, which you have
criticized as merely an exhibition for individual players?
BV: I don't think it takes the place of the series to determine the
best team in the world. If you want to determine what country has the best
players, that is what the World Baseball Classic will be for. But I think all of
baseball's fans know that baseball is a great team sport, and that teams come
together over a long period of time. They learn to work together, play together,
be together and usually the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Exhibition series show exactly what individual talent can do against individual
talent, and that is a great thing for the world to see.
AS: Word has it that you bicycle everywhere--particularly to every
BV: I live in a waterfront community, so our stadium is right on the
bay of Japan, and there is beach from where I live to the stadium, so most days
during the spring and summer I ride a mountain bike that goes over all terrains.
It's a cultural thing, getting to experience the area, but it's also an exercise
routine for me. A couple times I've almost caused some accidents by people being
surprised that I was riding my bike beside them.
AS: As far as immersing yourself in the culture, do you really study
Japanese for an hour every day?
BV: I have my iPod mixed in with a lot of the music that I enjoy with
my Japanese lesson. So I'll be reciting verse while I'm riding, or if I'm in the
gym doing my workout I'll have my headphones on. It's a tough language, and I'm
an old, dumb guy, so it's not like one of these things where after two years I'm
totally fluent. I enjoy the language and I enjoy learning new things.
AS: How do you say, "Thank you for the three-year extension?"
BV: It's four years--you never know what you read in the
paper. I can say that pretty easily, because I did: Ato yo nen ga honto ni
You can reach Alan Schwarz by
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