Seibu manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji is planning to retire at the end of this season.
He has been in charge since 2005, and won the league championships in 2006 and 2007. But last season they fell to third place, and this season they are still struggling, battling with Nippon Ham for last place. As of October 12, the team is still holding him back.
“If Tsuji’s will is firm and the team can’t convince him to stay, the next best candidate will be the man who was called ‘Mr. Leo’ when he was still in the game: second base manager Akio Matsui (45). I think it’s safe to say that Matsui is the next in line after Tsuji.
As a player, Matsui is a three-time stolen base champion, a two-time hitter, and a seven-time Best Nine winner. As a leader, he served as a second-string manager for three years. He has made many appearances on TV and is well known, so he would be a perfect choice for the first team manager.
However, even with Matsui as the “new manager,” Seibu faces a difficult road ahead. The biggest problem for Seibu is its pitching staff, which has ranked last in the league in defensive rating for four consecutive years, including this season, and has been losing its ace players one after another, with Takayuki Kishi leaving for Rakuten in the off-season of 2004 and Yusei Kikuchi leaving for the Mariners in the off-season of 2006. For Matsui, rebuilding his pitching staff will be a matter of urgency.
There is a rumor that Matsui is going to invite a certain big-name coach as his “main coach” to help him rebuild the team.
“It’s Daisuke Matsuzaka (41), the ace who will be retiring on October 19. Matsuzaka and Matsui are in similar circumstances. Both of them have contributed to Seibu’s strong era in pitching and hitting. The team went to the trouble of acquiring Matsui from Rakuten and Matsuzaka from Chunichi in order to give them a chance to show off at the end of their careers. They must have thought of both of them as potential future managers.
However, it is unlikely that Matsuzaka would suddenly assume the position of manager of the first team after his retirement. I think it would be more realistic to let him gain experience as a coach for a few years and then entrust him to be the next Matsui. I think it’s a good idea to have Matsuzaka as a coach.
The two have had good careers in the majors, with Matsui’s Rockies and Matsuzaka’s Red Sox playing each other in the World Series in 2007.
“They have been teammates for many years at Seibu, and they get along very well. I’m sure Matsui will feel comfortable leaving the pitching staff in Matsuzaka’s hands. Matsuzaka has a soft demeanor and is not too harsh with young players. I think he has the aptitude to be a good coach.
However, it seems that Matsuzaka’s appointment as a coach will not go smoothly. There are some problems.
“He has been living alone for a long time since he was in the majors, away from his family in Boston. When he retires, he will want to spend more time with his family and be with his wife and children. I think it is highly likely that he will take it easy with his family next season and return to the field the year after next.
“The “Monster of the Heisei Era” becomes a leader and nurtures the “Great Ace of Japanese Baseball. If such a scenario becomes a reality, the Lions will once again be in a golden age.
Photo： Kyodo News