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THE HOT CORNER: You can lead Buffaloes to water...

by Jim Allen (May 29, 2008)

This is not about them or us, it is about succeeding. There is no question that Terry Collins' tenure in Kansai was less than successful. As outgoing manager, he owns some share of the responsibility for that

The day after Collins split, interim manager Daijiro Oishi announced his vision: The players should cut loose from the old regime's restrictions and express themselves on the ball field. This is not any kind of revolutionary sentiment: Collins wanted exactly the same thing.

Collins, who quit last week, had hoped Orix would be eager to break with its failed past. The Buffaloes brought the high-octane former skipper of the Houston Astros and Anaheim Angels and asked him to inject some fire into the tired club.

He recognized that change would be hard, but he thought an organization mired in failure would embrace new ideas. Although Orix wanted change, it was not willing to move beyond the horizon of its conventional beliefs. Because Collins could not sufficiently expand Orix's sense of what was possible, he failed.

"People just don't like change. Nobody does." Collins told The Hot Corner by telephone. "But I thought people would be more receptive, that they were dying to turn things around."

One can say the situation might have been better had the Buffaloes not finished last in 2006. But even success is not enough when someone in power isn't buying what you're selling. Just ask Bobby Valentine about 1995.

As manager when the Chiba Lotte Marines charged out of nowhere to challenge for the pennant, Valentine was ostensibly fired for not finishing first. A more plausible scenario is that then-general manager Tatsuro Hirooka could not believe that the skipper's vision had value for Japanese ball. The last straw was likely when Valentine became the face of the Marines' stunning success. As the season drew to a close, Hirooka wasted little time in turning the first-year manager into the club's former manager.

Of course, Valentine is now occupying Hirooka's old office. Things have changed in Chiba because rather than burning the remaining bridges, Valentine repaired those he could and built new ones, too. By creating trust and rapport, he came back in 2004 in a strong position. This has enabled him to implement much of his vision.

Trey Hillman survived a pair of fifth-place finishes because of the personal bonds he built within the Nippon Ham organization.

Hillman was not in complete control--as witnessed by the club's firing of pitching coach Mike Brown in 2006 over the manager's objections. But his ability to communicate with those overseeing the club as well as those implementing change enabled Hillman to be a catalyst.

Because a foreign manager comes out of a different baseball culture, he can bring a fresh perspective unavailable to managers with only a domestic background.

That is the upside.

The downside is that cross-cultural communication complicates everything. It's hard enough for a new manager to evaluate his team's roster. Now try understanding the way an organization in an unfamiliar context functions, who is in charge of what and how well they get things done.

The challenge is that much harder if an organization is incompetent. One doesn't like to be too harsh, but what better word describes a club that expected its field manager to sort out a coat hanger shortage prior to a preseason game, as Orix did this spring?

This club should abandon its Buffaloes nickname in favor of its old one. The BlueWave would be a better name for Orix's ocean of wasted motion. Collins failed to change that, but even a dynamic organizer with a strong background in Japanese ball would likely be lost at sea with this ship of fools.

Although he held himself accountable for the organization's inability to move forward, Collins really didn't stand a chance.

"I had this idea that I could make a difference," said Colllins.

The skipper said he was glad for the experience, even though the game became a grind for him for the first time ever.

"I've been in this for 38 years and I didn't think there'd ever be a time when I thought this wouldn't be any fun."


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