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Valentine not Suprised by Hirooka's Firing

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Valentine not Suprised by Hirooka's Firing
The Daily Yomiuri's Jack Galagher had an interview with ex-Chiba Lotte Marine manager Valentine about the recent firing of GM Hirooka.

While Bobby Valentine wasn't surprised by Lotte's decision to ship out
general manager Tatsuro Hirooka, he won't gloat over it either.

Valentine says he can sympathize with the man who engineered his ouster
as manager of the Marines, saying it is indicative of a troubled team lacking

Valentine, who was fired by the Pacific League club after leading the
Marines to a second place finish in 1995, feels the team's plunge to fifth
place this season was the result of the players not responding to the change
in managers.

"Hirooka is a good baseball man," Valentine said by phone from
the New York Mets' minor league facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida. 
"He just got himself into a weird situation.  The players understood
the difference between right and wrong.  They knew we were making
special progress and that to revert backward was not the way to go."

As he stated many times since leaving the team, Valentine said misinformation
was the reason he was forced out, and ultimately, what put Hirooka in his
present predicament.
"Bad information led to his downfall," said Valentine.

Following his firing last year, Valentine specifically identified Hirooka's
assistant, Masuichi Takagi, and third base coach Shozo Eto, as the catalysts
for his troubles.

Takagi and Eto were thrown overboard by the Marines along with Hirooka
at season's end.

"It's regrettable when anyone loses their job," said Valentine. 
"Hirooka-san has such value in his experience and knowledge, that it's
a shame he's not associated with a professional baseball team."

Added Valentine, "I think he could be a lightning rod for progress in
the right situation."

Valentine, who has always been a class act on and off the field, clearly
does not hold a grudge against Hirooka, and has been in the game long enough
to know that it is a business.

However, he did find irony in the different tune that Hirooka was singing
when his dismissal was announced last week.

Last November, Valentine stated that he left his final meeting with
the Marines' vice-owner Takeo Shigemitsu and Hirooka at the end of the
season "with a good feeling from the owner, but a bad feeling with Hirooka,
because he said he would have to check with his coaches before making a
decision on whether to bring me back."

When told of Hirooka's recent comment that Shigemitsu made the final
decision to fire him, Valentine sighed.

"They (Shigemitsu and Hirooka) would be the only ones to know
whose decision it really was.  But Shigemitsu told me he hired Hirooka
'to make decisions'."

Despite it all, Valentine and Hirooka have patched up their differences.

This summer, Hirooka traveled to the United States in search of new
foreign talent for the Marines after Jack Daugherty and Randy Ready. 
He met with Valentine in the hopes of getting some leads.

"Our meetings were very civil, very professional, I didn't
notice any dramatic personal problems between us.  I gave him a list
of players who I thought cold help the Marines."

Valentine, who keeps up on Japanese baseball via the Internet, was not
enthralled with the signing of ex-Yokohama BayStars manager Akihito Kondo
to a three-year deal as the new Marines manager.  Kondo replaces Akira
Eijiri who was fired at the end of this season.
"I do not think they should have gone that way," Valentine
said.  "They had many options available to them.  I'm very disappointed
with their decision."

One of the choices the Marines could have made was to promote coach Lenn
Sakata, whom Valentine brought over to direct the Marines farm team in
1995.  But as is often the case on both sides of the Pacific, the
old boys network won out over innovation.  (In Japan, OBs or old boys
networks of teams, companies, or universities exist as social groups. 
However, in many instances these OB groups are much more influential than
just social clubs.)

The Marines may think they have cured their ills by dismissing Hirooka
and his disciples, but they still must address the desire of ace pitcher
Hideki Irabu to play in the Major Leagues, as well as the disenchantment
of lefthander Eric Hillman.

Hillman, also brought to the Marines by Valentine in 1995, went 14-9
with a 2.40 ERA for the team this season.

According to Valentine, Hillman's days in Chiba appear to be over.

"I think there is no chance Eric is going to be back with Lotte
next season."

Source: The Daily Yomiuri

By: Jack Gallagher


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