Although he would have preferred to remain in Hiroshima, Marty Brown is overjoyed with his challenge as the skipper in Sendai this season.
Fifth place finished his run as Carp school master after four seasons, but Brown wasted little time accepting an offer to run the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
"I think I said yes before they finished the sentence," Brown told The Hot Corner recently by telephone.
As much as he loved Hiroshima and burned to bring the city a winner, Brown's efforts were consistently undermined by a poor organization.
When he was hired for the Hiroshima job, Carp ownership publicly called for sweeping changes, for "a prescription of strong medicine." But top management's push for change effectively ended with that statement.
Since 1993, when new rules allowed clubs to freely sign up to two blue-chip amateurs a season, Hiroshima's development record has stagnated. Among the 10 current franchises then in existence, the Carp rank ninth in talent developed since 1993. Only awful Orix has been worse at turning amateurs into productive pros.
Brown's efforts to rebuild the small-market club through the farm team were hindered by the owner's hobby of meddling with his Western League squad. Guys who needed playing time were not getting it; young pitchers, whose arms needed protection, were throwing marathon bullpen sessions.
Despite ownership's determination to keep veteran fan favorites on the Central League roster despite their lack of value, Brown gave his good minor leaguers real chances to play at the top level.
In four years, Brown made regulars out of four position players and five pitchers. In the six years prior to his arrival, 11 Carp became first-time regulars. Two of those 11 are particulary interesting cases.
The first is former pitcher Shigenobu Shima. Despite a solid work ethic and a sweet swing, he rotted on the farm because of his limited defense. In 2004, at the age of 27, however, Shima forced his way into the lineup. He started hitting on Feb. 1 and didn't cool off until he owned the CL batting title. Given Brown's record, had he been manager in 2000, there was no way Shima would have had to wait so long.
The other case is that of Akihiro Higashide, a 19-year-old regular in 2000 who was demoted three years later. In 2006, Brown gave Higashide an opportunity to revive his career and he's now one of Japan's best second baseman.
The club fought Brown's effort to upgrade the roster by clinging to low-value veterans. On another front, ownership vetoed Brown's efforts to enforce practice limits on players who needed rest.
Brown wanted to protect star hitter Kenta Kurihara for the regular season by limiting his swings in the spring, but top management turned him down.
The organization's position was that it was more important for him to practice hard than to be concerned about the possibility of losing him through injury.
"Quite honestly, I think they wanted me to lose," he said. "As an American, it would have been easy for me to take the hit. I was hired in a no-win situation."
Hopefully, those days are over.
Just as Higashide got a second life with Brown, the skipper is getting his own second chance in Sendai. Although the franchise is entering just its sixth season, its talent development record in the last four years under former skipper Katsuya Nomura was second to none.
Sure, question marks remain.
Will a foreign manager have the clout to influence the minor league development program? Will Brown, who is cautious about how much his pitchers throw, be able to find a happy medium with hurlers nurtured on brutal bullpen sessions and high pitch counts?
For now, Brown is as positive as he was four years ago--before he learned how dysfunctional the Carp family was.
"I'm not in the dark. It's such a positive situation in Rakuten," he said. "We all work together. The ownership makes a difference. You put good people in position to do their jobs and you come together.
"In Hiroshima it was like paying someone to build your house for you and then coming and telling them how they should use their hammer.
"How smart is that?"