Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Curious Managerial Career Of Haruki Ihara

Haruki Ihara resigned as manager of the Lions last week.  This came as a bit of a shock because although the Lions were playing poorly (20-33 record and last in the Pacific League), Ihara had just taken the job a little over six months ago when Hisanobu Watanabe resigned (doesn't anyone want the Lions job?).  I started thinking a little about his managerial career and it occurred to me that it's kind of odd.

Ihara's first manager job was with the Lions (a team he had played for in the 70's and coached for in the 80's and 90's) in 2002 when he was hired to replace Osamu Higashio. Under Ihara, the Lions took the Pacific League easily, finishing with a 90-49-1 record (a .647 winning percentage) and a 16 1/2 game lead over the Hawks and Buffaloes.  They were swept, however, in the Nippon Series by the Giants.

2002 BBM Nippon Series #S25

The Lions failed to repeat in 2003 but they did finish in second with a 77-61-2 record, 5 1/2 games behind the first place Hawks (remember that playoffs in the Pacific League didn't start until 2004).  Despite doing this well, Ihara stepped down after the season.  Apparently the Lions' plan the whole time was that Ihara was given the job so that he would mentor Tsutomu Itoh to become the new manager in 2004 and regardless of how well the Ihara did as manager, they were sticking to the plan.  The plan worked well for the Lions as Itoh lead them to a Nippon Series title (over the Dragons) in 2004.

2004 BBM 1st Version #156
Ihara landed on his feet, however, taking over the Orix Blue Wave.  He quickly discovered that their was major difference between the quality of players he had with Orix and he finished the season in last with a record of 49-72-2.  Following the season, Orix and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes "merged" (in reality, Orix absorbed the Buffaloes) and Ihara was let go.  Orix wanted to bring back Akira Ohgi as manager as he had managed both teams.

And that was it as far as managerial jobs went for him for nine years.  He coached for the Giants for a couple of years and did some broadcasting work but he did not have a managerial job until he took over the Lions last October.

2014 BBM 1st Version #028
I suspect that this was probably his last managerial job.  He's 65 years old and I would think most teams would be looking for a younger guy.  And you've got to wonder if other teams would wonder if he would up and quit on them if the team was doing poorly.

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