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The Hot Corner: A cultural revolution in Chiba

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The Hot Corner: A cultural revolution in Chiba

by Jim Allen (Aug 6, 2009)

The pathetic part of this year's Chiba Lotte power play is that none of it has been about what is supposed to matter most.

For eight months, the Marines top management, under team president Ryuzo Setoyama, has expended nearly all its energy on ousting manager Bobby Valentine. But in the process, something has been lost: the 2009 season.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting to change managers.

Front-office politics are part of the business, and not all managers are fired for failures on the field. Although Valentine has done very well for the Marines and been handsomely rewarded, it is the owner's right to try different options.

The fans don't like this change, but the best moves are not always the most popular ones. If a move helps the team compete in the present or in the future, the fans can accept it. For a sports team, making money means satisfying the fans with a positive ball park experience, exciting games and wins.

But to maintain the fans' interest, a team needs to make changes with the good of the product in mind--either focusing on winning now or building for the future. Are the Marines doing either?

After his coup d'etat succeeded last winter, Setoyama took two concrete steps for 2009. He stripped Valentine of his duties away from the field and signed second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, who is 34 and won't have much long-term value.

If Setoyama's group was going to support this year's effort by pushing player development and acquisitions, asking Valentine to focus exclusively on winning the pennant could be a defensible policy.

The January pursuit of Iguchi in Okinawa made it look like Lotte's new chief was fulfilling his side of such a bargain. But that's where the focus on 2009 fizzled.

Instead, this year's most noticeable efforts have been a not-so subtle vendetta against the manager the team purports to support: a purge to rid the front office of Valentine's allies, stopping his blog on the team's Web site and stopping the sale of Valentine merchandise in the team's gift shops.

It is ironic Valentine was asked to concentrate on this pennant race when winning now seems such a low priority for top management.

"The only comments the front office have made are about next year. They've never had one comment about this season, not one," said Valentine, who tried to put the focus back on this season by publicly saying on July 26 he would not return for 2010.

"It's totally against everything I've ever stood for, and that is to be committed to excellence at this time, not to be concerned about the past and not to be concerned about the future."

Valentine hoped his announcement might end talk about next year.

"I thought it was the best way for the team to get together and win some games," he said.

While executives might be negligent toward 2009, team brass has stayed busy commenting in the papers about 2010 or at least who might be managing then.

"One can't say the distractions themselves are the reason we've played badly," veteran infielder Koichi Hori told The Hot Corner on Sunday.

"There are distractions every season, but this year so many have had nothing to do with baseball, and it's true that we haven't always been able to concentrate the way we need to."

Hori said it was nothing new to read articles about next year's manager.

"It's often the case in the final months, that one hears stories about the next manager," he said.

"But hearing it at the beginning of the season--and in this case that the manager would not be back regardless of results? I've never heard of that before."

A lot of things have been out of kilter in Chiba since Setoyama announced the team's change in direction last December.

So far, all we've seen is a rebuilding program along the lines of China's Cultural Revolution, less about building a future than a twisted effort to destroy a past--and as long as Valentine occupies the manager's office, that past remains alive and will not officially be discussed.

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