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A Knuckleheaded Move By Chunichi

by Patrick Newman (Sep 23, 2011)

When I woke up this morning and did my daily check of the news, I was surprised to see headlines that included the words "Ochiai" and "leaving the team". My first thought was, "why is Hiromitsu Ochiai stepping down as manager of the Chunichi Dragons?" But he's not quitting, Chunichi's management has decided not to renew his contract, electing to replace him with 70 year-old former Dragons manager Morimichi Takagi. When given the news from Chunichi owner Bungo Shirai, Ochiai said, "yes, understood", and later commented "that's the kind of world this is."

This is either pure baseball idiocy or there's something behind the scenes that isn't public knowledge. Ochiai's Dragons have done little other than win since he took over in 2004. In the seven seasons he's managed, the Dragons have finished first or second every year, except 2008, when they finished third. The Dragons have also made four Nippon Series appearances under Ochiai's watch (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010), winning the big prize in 2007. This year, despite my predictions, the Dragons are again in second place, within striking distance of first place Yakult as the season winds down.

The Dragons' success has come in spite of losing star contributors like Kosuke Fukudome, Kenshin Kawakami and Tyrone Woods over the years. Chunichi for the most part hasn't acquired expensive replacements for their departed stars, instead extracting useful performances from bargain bin foreign players like Tony Blanco and Enyelbert Soto, and developing prospects like Wei-Yin Chen, Kazuki Yoshimi and Masahiko Morino. The one notable free agent signing Chunichi made, Kazuhiro Wada (to replace Fukudome), blossomed into an MVP winner under Ochiai.

So I don't get it. I think this is the worst NPB managerial change since Yomiuri forced Tatsunori Hara out and replaced with with the reviled Tsuneo Horiuchi following the 2003 season (Hara's crime: finishing second to Hanshin). The winner could wind up being Nippon Ham, the team Ochiai finished his playing career with, if they can convince him to move north to Hokkaido and replace outgoing manager Masataka Nashida.

Update: Daily Sports says Ochiai is on his way out because of his high salary (JPY 370m) and the fact that Chunichi never turned a profit during his run as manager.


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