Manager Bobby Valentine knows that times are tough and businesses everywhere are being forced to cut back.
"I get that," he said Wednesday at Jingu Stadium as his Lotte Marines prepared to take on the Yakult Swallows in an interleague tussle. "I really do."
Valentine is referring to his own situation, which is a little bizarre, to say the least. Prior to this season, Marines ownership announced that Valentine would not be back in 2010 to manage the club for an eighth season, citing economics as the main factor in the decision.
What Valentine has trouble with is the rationale behind the decision. He claims to want to stay in Japan and manage a ballclub here, preferably the Marines. The fans and many of the players want him to stay, so why not renegotiate his contract?
"I've never been asked to renegotiate," said Valentine, who reportedly makes a salary somewhere in the ballpark of $4 million (383 million yen) a season, although some team officials have speculated that the figure is considerably higher--perhaps even double--once you factor in perks like housing and the cost of his "entourage," which includes a coach and a data analyst brought over from the United States.
"No one (from the organization) has come to me and said, 'What would you do?'"
Like many companies these days, the Lotte empire is feeling the pinch financially and the word has come down to team president Ryuzo Setoyama to cut costs. However, any new manager that is hired will likely bring in some of his own coaches, so to lump in those costs under Valentine's package seems a little unfair.
Bookkeeping matters aside, this whole episode has not sat well with the team's dedicated fan base, who revere the 59-year-old American skipper. Bobby V is more popular in Chiba than his players, which was made clear when fans recently submitted a signed petition to management with over 100,000 names on it asking that they reconsider letting Valentine go. The Marines faithful have held rallies in his honor and signs backing Bobby V for 2010 are commonplace at Chiba Marine Stadium.
And all this despite the club languishing in fifth place in the Pacific League with a 25-30-3 record through Wednesday.
For Valentine, whose popularity stems largely from the fact that he led the Marines to a Japan Series championship in 2005--the first for the franchise since 1974--this whole situation is not completely uncharted territory. In 1995, he skippered the club to a very respectable second-place finish in his first stint with the team--only to be fired after the season by then-general manager Tatsuro Hirooka.
Valentine says that while the outcome may be similar this time, the circumstances are very different.
"Back in '95, it was all about philosophical differences with Hirooka-san relating to baseball," Valentine, also a former New York Mets and Texas Rangers manager, recalled. "My philosophy on the game, my managing style did not mesh with his, and that was the root of the evil back then.
"My tenure here has validated my ability to understand Japanese baseball and blend it with an American style," Valentine continued. "The philosophical differences now are an economic banging of the heads. What my value is, what I bring to the table, is too expensive (for what the team feels it gets in return), I guess. They don't have a problem with me changing my lineup around or how I prepare the team. With Hirooka, it was all on-field stuff, like our practice schedule. We were just two very stubborn baseball men."
Valentine, owner of a successful sports bar in his native Connecticut, uses a business model to illustrate what he feels is taking place here. He points out that if someone was hired to open a chain of American restaurants in Japan, for example, that person could well become a victim of their own success.
"If you do a great job and the business is successful, your salary will go up," Valentine said. "Eventually, the only way for the company to make more money is to get someone to do your job at a cheaper price. So I get the economics, I get what's going on (with the Marines), but the fans out in right field don't care about that stuff.
"If you cut costs and keep the revenue the same, you make more money. That's the premise."
As for his future, Valentine said that will all work itself out. There has been talk in the U.S. media of him going back to manage his old club, the Mets, or perhaps even their crosstown rivals, the Yankees. Another possibility is him taking over the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the team with which he cut his teeth as a major-league player. Also, the struggling Washington Nationals appear to be another possible option, as does a return to the TV studio as a baseball analyst.
For now, Valentine says he just wants to focus on this season with the Marines, as difficult as that may be. When pressed on where he hopes to be next year, Bobby V sidesteps the issue like the ballroom dancing champion that he is.
"I just want to be where it's a real team effort," Valentine said. "I want to be in a situation where everyone's pulling together."