How different is baseball in Japan than in the United States? Fans in the U.S. will often band together to chant "Fire ____" about their team's coach, they'll buy rights to the domain name Fire____.com to make further calls for his ouster and will lambaste their team's ownership when they fail to act quickly enough. Then they'll start the whole dance over again.
In Japan, the city of Chiba to be exact, things work a little differently. The supporters of the Chiba Lotte Marines have made an organized and concerted effort to get the team's owners to keep their manager beyond this season. That manager is none other than Bobby Valentine.
After learning that the former Mets manager with the outsize ego and penchant for disguises had been told his contract wouldn't be renewed, fans have gathered 50,000 signatures on a petition to keep him and raise banners in his support at every game. The team says the problem is how much money Valentine makes, but Marines fans told the New York Times a different story.
“This problem is more than Japanese baseball itself; it’s about the Japanese society,” Kazuhiro Yasuzumi, a 39-year-old Marines fan and leader of the protest, said through an interpreter. He said that people with power and influence in Japan did not necessarily appreciate someone like Valentine, who has never been bashful about offering his opinion.
If that's true, it would represent a similarity to American baseball. Team owners on our shores can't stand Valentine either, despite his winning record with the Mets and Rangers.
Valentine won a title with Chiba, their first in 31 years, but his popularity appears to have more to do with other things. The 2008 film "The Zen of Bobby V" documents his life in Japan, where he won a poll of who people would most like to have as their own boss. He's an outspoken outsider in a country not known for welcoming either, but has won people over with his respect for Japanese culture, language and, most of all, the overwhelming force of his personality.
Valentine may not be the most likely change agent for sweeping societal change, but he'd certainly be first choice among recent baseball managers. Things are more interesting when Bobby V was around, which is why the article leaves you with a selfish feeling of wanting him back in our leagues sooner rather than later.