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There is a Japanese phrase that Valentine likes to quote: Chisai kuni desu kara. It means "because it's a small country." "People ask why there are no garbage cans," he says, "and they answer, 'because there's no litter.' Ask why there is no litter and they say, 'because it's a small country.'"
Japan is not, of course, a small country.
It has 127 million people. But its customs can be intractable. There is a Japanese axiom, "The protruding nail gets beaten down." Valentine refuses to be hammered down. Rather he is the claw grip, trying to yank free whatever he can. He wants to exact big change--change his franchise's operations, the way the league promotes itself, the way its minor league functions--and, as he did in the States, he has little regard for those who come between him and progress.
It is a fall evening near the end of last season, and Valentine has left his apartment to go out to dinner with his minor league manager, Hide Koga, and a Mets foreign scout, Isao O'Jimi, who worked with Valentine in New York and now serves as an informal adviser and drinking buddy. Koga, 66, has a white flattop and a mustache that perches like a thin white caterpillar on his upper lip; he played with Sadaharu Oh and coached in the U.S. minor leagues. Valentine is involved in a struggle with Koga over how to teach the game. He wants Koga to do it the American way--the Bobby way--but Koga can't help himself: He still believes in bunting runners over, in trying for slap hits.
In 2005 that wasn't a problem, but in '06, as the Marines struggle--they are a .500 team at the time of this dinner--men like Koga can't help but wonder whether the Japanese way isn't better after all. Even the phrase Bobby Magic belies a popular skepticism. "That magic stuff, what s--- is that?" says Ramppen. "They don't want to credit the gaijin here."
Valentine has set up this dinner in part to talk about the upcoming draft with O'Jimi and in part to have a sit-down with Koga. The food is extravagant--lobster, abalone, goose liver, filet mignon--washed down with pints of Kirin and glasses of sochu, a potato liquor similar to vodka that, the Japanese claim dubiously, does not cause hangovers. It doesn't take long for Valentine to get into it with Koga.
"We've had this conversation a thousand times," Valentine says. "The Japanese f------ way. You've got our hitters not swinging through the ball. All your hitters suck."
"But I was Don Baylor's interpreter," Koga replies, "and he said--"
Valentine cuts him off. "I don't care," he says. "That was 20 years ago, Hide. Besides, Don Baylor's an idiot." Valentine is just getting warmed up. "A lot of things can happen if you teach them to bunt for a hit, like I keep telling you. The last three years it was a good play, but this year, well...."
O'Jimi joins in: "Bubby, I hear your fourth hitter, the catcher, bunts by himself."