Wednesday, September 30, 2020

NPB Managers Who Have Played In North America

I was doing some research on the next couple of "Study Abroad" posts that I want to do and I discovered that one of the players that the Dragons sent to play in the US minors in the mid-1990's was Tsuyoshi Yoda, who has been the manager of the Chunichi Dragons for the last couple seasons.  I got to wondering how many current or former managers of NPB teams played professional baseball in North America at one time or another.

So far I've come up with a list of 22 20.  This includes the eight Westerners who have managed in Japan - Joe Lutz, Don Blasingame, Bobby Valentine, Leon Lee, Trey Hillman, Marty Brown, Terry Collins and Alex Ramirez.  Since I've already done a post on them, I thought I'd just concentrate on the 12 Japanese managers.

NOTE - this does not include any players who attended spring training in the US or played in the World Baseball Classic.  And to be honest Morimichi Takagi's case is probably borderline.

1975 NST blank backed parallel
I believe that the first NPB manager to have played pro ball in North America was Hall Of Famer Wally Yonamine.  (Yonamine was a second generation Japanese-American so I could have included him with the eight Westerners instead.)  He spent the 1950 season playing with the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pioneer League before joining the Yomiuri Giants the following season.  He managed the Chunichi Dragons from 1972 to 1977.

1993 Tomy #295
Hall Of Famer Morimichi Takagi had a 21 year career with the Dragons but spent the fall of 1965 with the Washington Senators' Florida Instructional League team.  He later managed the Dragons on three separate occasions.  He was an interim manager in 1986 before being the official manager from 1992 to mid-1995 and again from 2012 to 2013.

2002 BBM Pacific League Champion Lions #L1
Haruki Ihara spent most of the 1973 season with Lodi of the California League.  Lodi at the time was owned by Nagayoshi Nakamura who also owned the Lions and he stocked the team with several Japanese players.  Ihara went on to have a somewhat odd managerial career.  He managed the Lions in 2002 and 2003, winning the Pacific League pennant by 16 1/2 games with a 90-49-1 record in 2002 (although they were swept in the Nippon Series by the Giants) but was let go after the 2003 season.  He was picked up by the Orix BlueWave for 2004 only to be let go again when Orix and Kintetsu "merged" at the end of the season and Orix brought Akira Ohgi back as manager in 2005 since he had previously managed both teams.  He didn't manage again until 2014 when the Lions brought him back but he abruptly resigned mid-season.

2012 BBM Celebration Of The Hawks #22
Hall Of Famer Koji Akiyama was one of 33 players that the Seibu Lions loaned to San Jose of the California League between 1982 and 1988 and the first of four players from that group to become an NPB manager.  Akiyama spent the 1983 season in San Jose.  He managed the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks from 2009 to 2014, winning two Nippon Series titles in those six seasons.

2009 BBM 1st Version #253
Like Ihara, Akinobu Mayumi spent part of 1973 with the Lodi Lions of the California League.  He had his first taste of being a manager for one game with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2002 but later spent three seasons leading the Hanshin Tigers from 2009 to 2011.

2015 Calbee "Managers" #M-05
Norio Tanabe was another of the Lions' San Jose contingent, having spent the 1986 season there.  He  took over the Lions in 2014 when Ihara resigned and managed the team until the end of the 2015 season.

2015 BBM Eagles #E01
Hiromoto "Dave" Ohkubo was on the same San Jose team in 1986 as Tanabe.  He managed the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for one season in 2015.

2017 Epoch Carp #01
Koichi Ogata spent 1989 on loan from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp to the Peninsula Pilots of the Carolina League.   He would go on to manage the Carp for five years from 2015 to 2019, winning three straight Central League pennants from 2016 to 2018.  The Carp lost the two Nippon Series that the team played in during that stretch - to the Fighters in 2016 and the Hawks in 2018.

2018 BBM 1st Version #001
 Hall Of Famer Kimiyasu Kudoh is the fourth Lions San Jose alumni to manage in NPB, having spent the 1984 season in California.  Kudoh took over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks from Akiyama after the 2014 season and has lead them to two Pacific League pennants and four Nippon Series championships in that time span.

2018 BBM Marines #M01
Tadahito Iguchi is the first NPB manager to have played professionally in North America without being on loan from an NPB team since Yonamine.  Iguchi left the Hawks as a free agent after the 2004 season and spent four years with the White Sox, Phillies and Padres before returning to Japan in 2009 to join the Chiba Lotte Marines.  He became manager of Lotte immediately after retiring at the end of the 2017 season.

2019 BBM Dragons #D01
Tsuyoshi Yoda appeared in nine games with the 1996 Memphis Chicks of the Southern League when he was loaned to the Padres organization by the Marines.  He has managed the Chunichi Dragons since last year.

2020 Epoch NPB #397
Like Iguchi, Shingo Takatsu left Japan as a free agent and headed for MLB.  He spent 2004 and 2005 with the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets before returning to NPB.  He was named manager of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows last winter.

Five of the current managers in NPB have played professionally in North America - Iguchi, Kudoh, Ramirez, Takatsu and Yoda.  I believe that is the largest number of such managers at any one time in NPB history.

One last piece of useless trivia on this topic - there is only one NPB team that has never employed a manager who has played professionally in North America - the Yomiuri Giants.


Fuji said...

Can't believe I didn't learn about all of those Japanese guy playing in San Jose during the 80's until a few years ago. Better late than never. I've even picked up a few of their minor league cards over the years. Not sure if I have any of these managers from this post though.

NPB Card Guy said...

Tanabe and Ohkubo are the only ones with cards. I was so disappointed to discover Akiyama and Kudoh didn't as they are two of my favorite players - Kudoh was the last NPB player older than me!

Darren said...

If Akiyama is one of your favorite players you may be interested in his bobblehead, if you don't already have it - it's very unique. There's one (overpriced) one available here:

I see cheaper ones posted online every so often.

Sean said...

Another really great and well researched post. I had no idea that both Akiyama and Kudo had played in the US.

NPB Card Guy said...

@Darren - That is awesome but way too expensive for me.

@Sean - Thanks! I'm constantly surprised to discover who played in the US when I research my "Study Abroad" posts.