Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Q&A with Bobby V.

Who's excited about Bobby V.?

                                        This guy!

Actually, we were all pretty happy to see Bobby Valentine at the Japan Society last Thursday night. The former baseball manager and current Baseball Tonight analyst was a captivating and engaging character, and he spoke candidly about the issues surrounding Nippon Professional Baseball and its Western counterpart.

"Japanese baseball is at a crossroads," Valentine says. "The level of baseball is very good, but the level of management and business is very bad."

Part of the reason the management is bad, according to Valentine, is that the fans aren't appreciated enough. I've talked about the amazing fans of Japanese baseball teams in this blog several times. Japanese fan clubs are highly organized entities that members pay to join. They create chants for each player, they have musicians who play during the games, and they have guys who wave giant team flags all day. Japanese fans are the craziest, most loyal fans in baseball. Valentine knows people who quit their jobs each summer so that they can devote all of their time to being fans. Bobby V. refers to these fans as Nippon Professional Baseball's greatest resource, yet the suits in NPB don't take care of that resource.

Valentine also addressed other issues concerning NPB, including answering my question – which I posted on the Japan Society's Facebook page, of all places – about the structure of its minor league system. Currently, there is only one minor league team (ni-gun in Japanese) for each major league team (ichi-gun), which Bobby described as "an impossible way to develop talent." His suggestion is to expand the minor league system or have more independent leagues, which have actually increased (to five) since he first addressed the problem with NPB. He also thinks the draft is problematic: NPB's twelve teams draft only eight players each (as opposed to the more than fifty rounds and hundreds of players being drafted in MLB). He then touched on dealing with the Japanese media ("There's not really a free press in the sports world of Japan"). Bobby V. opined that the only way to have a "true" World Series is to hold it in Hawaii and call it the "Championship for Charity," with proceeds benefitting children who will eventually become the next generation of professional baseball players.

Bobby V. makes an emphatic point while Ken Belson of The New York Times looks on.

Valentine fielded questions about managing the Mets again ("It's not as though you don't go back to the girl that dumped you, but it takes a little while, it takes a little convincing . . .") and what the Mets need to do to be successful in the 2010 season ("They need to stay healthy, but I like their talent.") Then there was the inevitable question about steroids in MLB that he answered – reluctantly at first, then with conviction. "The steroid situation wasn't a usage problem; it was a regulation and enforcement problem. And there weren't regulations, and therefore it couldn't be enforced." He went on to say that every manager and general manager during the so-called Steroid Era is at fault for letting it happen and looking the other way.

The most interesting thing I took away from the speech, however, was a common thread of Japanese instances that kept popping up throughout Valentine's life. Before the lecture, I thought his only connection with Japan was through his management of the Chiba Lotte Marines. He told stories about how contact with the people and the baseball culture of Japan actually began early, starting with a part in a high school play. When Bobby V. was sixteen years old, he played the role of Sakini, a Japanese interpreter in The Teahouse of the August Moon. Every few years after that, it seems his life was touched in some way by Japan. I wrote about "this little Japanese piece of silk" that wove its way through Bobby's heart, mind, and spirit in my review of the lecture for examiner.com.


Quite frankly, it was one of the best events I've seen at the Japan Society. Bobby V. is a gifted storyteller, and members of the audience asked great questions (which sometimes isn't the case at these things). I imagine some of the people in the crowd were there simply because they're Mets fans and not because they're crazy about Japanese baseball. That's cool; even someone who knows nothing about baseball would have enjoyed listening to Bobby speak.

Enjoying a post-speech reception

5 comments:

Marc said...

Haha... I love 'this guy'

shrinecastle said...

Such a great expression of joy on his face!

Chris said...

Mets will never be the same till Bobby V. comes home.

shrinecastle said...

Chris, I've spoken with a lot of Mets fans who feel the same way. I've run into only one guy who is vehemently opposed to Bobby V. managing the Mets again, but I think he's using poor judgment.

Anonymous said...

hey, she also wrote more about the bobby v. talk here:

http://www.examiner.com/x-27833-New-York-Japanese-Culture-Examiner~y2010m1d23-Bobby-Valentine-A-life-and-career-touched-by-Japan

check it out.