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THE HOT CORNER: Finally, playoffs with a climax

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THE HOT CORNER: Finally, playoffs with a climax

by Jim Allen (Oct 29, 2009)

Typically an anticlimax, the two Climax Series are just the quarterfinals and semifinals of a tournament that culminates in the Japan Series. Still, the CS marks the end of four teams' seasons, and the changes those ends bring to some of those in uniform.

In a perfect world, the ends of players careers or a manager's last day in uniform would be opportunities for organizations, players and fans to join together in an outpouring of affection. It's great if teams recognize their own and honor them, but the very best endings are those with a minimum of stage managing.

Saturday's Climax Series clinchers saw a pair of big names bow out as the Chunichi Dragons' Kazuyoshi Tatsunami played his last game and Katsuya Nomura managed his last game for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Tatsunami's farewell was simple but poignant. Seventh on Japan's all-time hit list with 2,480 and first in doubles, Tatsunami came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning to a rousing ovation from the entire crowd of 46,535 in the Yomiuri Giants' home park.

"Even though I didn't get a hit, I felt no regrets," said the 40-year-old Tatsunami, a five-time Golden Glove winner who has been the Dragons' pinch-hitting specialist since 2006.

"Getting that applause from the Giants' fans made me particularly happy, it was out of the ordinary."

It was a fitting and appropriate curtain call for a player of his stature. Nomura's farewell in Sapporo Dome was also fitting and appropriate, but for the wrong reasons.

Nomura said a year ago this would be his last with the Eagles. When 2009 became a banner season for the fledgling franchise, he must have expected the club to offer him another contract. But it turned out to be yet another example of how success has not brought Nomura the respect he believed he deserved.

A perfectionist and caustic agent of change in the dugout, Nomura has been fired twice due to off-field troubles related to his current wife, Sachiyo. In his second managing gig, Nomura managed the Yakult Swallows for eight seasons. A year after his fourth league title and third Japan Series championship, he split to manage the Tigers.

He built up Hanshin's talent base but finished last in three straight seasons. Before he could make it four, he resigned when his wife was arrested for tax evasion.

Nomura excels at reviving the careers of out-of-favor veterans, allowing him to fill roles with freely available players. He has gotten amazing performances from talented young pitchers--although none of those youngsters, with the exception of Kazuhisa Ishii, has been effective after the age of 27. With the Eagles he oversaw a dramatic talent growth that resulted in a second-place finish this autumn.

The Eagles finished sixth in his first year in charge and followed that with a fourth and then a fifth. This year's finish raised hopes Nomura might be asked back. But it was not to be. The organization was content to let him go.

Whatever the reason, the decision to cleanse the club of Nomura's influence was likely meant to free front office paper-pushers from Nomura's criticism and give them peace of mind. It certainly had nothing to do with results in a business where success should supersede office politics but do not.

As much for his success and skill, Nomura has become an icon for his wit and his fondness for using it to shred those who don't meet his expectations.

"I love Rakuten," said Nomura, who is all about results and will do anything to win. "It's the front office I can't abide."

The late Dale Carnegie once said: "Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get."

So after his club failed in the Climax Series, Nomura got a joyous finish, a spontaneous outpouring of emotion from fans and all the men in uniform from both the Eagles and the Series-bound Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, who all joined to give the skipper a ceremonial toss.

They saw what Rakuten did not: Nomura deserved better. And they gave it to him. And for once this Climax indeed came with a happy ending.

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