Sunday, October 2, 2016

Report: Seibu Lions hire Hatsuhiko Tsuji to be the next manager

In a move that was anticipated for days, the Saitama Seibu Lions made their move to fill the last manager void in NPB. On Monday, General Manager Haruhiko Suzuki announced that Hatsuhiko Tsuji would be the new skipper for the baseball team in Tokorozawa.

Tsuji, who will be 58 at the end of this month, was previously the Chunichi Dragons strategy coach. He spent two different stints with the Dragons and was also a coach with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows from 2000-2001 and Yokohama Baystars from 2002-2003.

As a player, he was the 2B during the Lions golden era from 1984-1995 and spent some final playing years with the Swallows from 1996-1999. He never was employed by the Lions after leaving in 1995.

While we hinted on our podcast of a possible "I'm coming home moment", this isn't exactly what we anticipated. The Lions interviewed multiple candidates and in reality, there were four names in our mind. From head (bench) coach Tetsuya Shiozaki, Shinya Miyamoto and the legendary Koji Akiyama, it would come down to a decision by the front office.

The Lions spoke to all of them and it was reported that team president Takashi Goto wanted Miyamoto for being a fresh face among possible coaches. However, the Lions management chose the path of experience and age rather than going young. It's possible that Akiyama was their first choice, but things fell through where it's most likely he turned the team's offer down.

Shiozaki likely would have been a fallback option after initially thinking he was in line to succeed Norio Tanabe. However, a drastic turn of losing events in the middle of the season had the Lions go outside the box.

Tsuji bucks a trend of the Lions hiring from within or having a deeper connection to the team. Haruki Ihara was hired for a second time in 2014 when not working with the Lions in 2013, but he was a long time coach from 1981-1999. Tsutomu Ito was also hired in 2004 after being a player/coach in his final years as a player, succeeding Ihara in his first stint as manager. Tsuji becomes the first manager hire by the Lions with no recent coaching/playing connection for the first time since 1982.

Who was that manager in 1982? It was Tatsuro Hirooka, who oversaw the early years of the Golden Era. Hirooka previously played for the Yomiuri Giants and managed the Swallows for one Japan series.

This name is somewhat outside the box, but with Tsuji having more than a decade of experience coaching games under his belt, he has been groomed to manager. Suzuki said he brings leadership and felt Tsuji was most qualified for the role. The Lions hope that he can fix the defense on the infield, which is his area of expertise.

The Lions lead the Pacific League in errors and the shortstop position was a revolving door. From Yuji Kaneko, Nien Ting Wu, Shuta Tonosaki and Yuji Onizaki, shortstop saw several guys start for a period of time. Even defensive specialist Kyohei Nagae would get some starts when Tanabe put an emphasis on defense.


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