At this point, it's a widely held belief that Kenji Johjima will be the starting catcher for the Mariners in 2006. Recently, I had an informative email exchange with a master of Japanese baseball and its players, Gary Garland. Gary runs JapanBaseballDaily.com and has a much deeper knowledge of cultural factors that might come into play with Johjima and Ichiro than any American sportswriter.
Among other things, Garland implies that Mike Hargrove could be fired after the 2006 season or earlier if he continues to offend his Japanese stars. Here are some excerpts of the email.
On the clash with Hargrove:
Given Johjima's strong personality and the wrangling going on now between Ichiro and the M's management, if Johjima and Ichiro don't like what they see this coming season, I think Hargrove is getting the elbow. A few writers have said that there may be cultural reasons for what Ichiro has said and they are right, but unfortunately, they have little idea what those are. I do and I think it started back when Hargrove managed a team of MLB all stars that played in Japan and said that Ichiro would have trouble making an MLB team as a fifth outfielder. I believe that Ichiro feels that Hargrove not only insulted him, but also all Japanese baseball players.
On Johjima's style and philosophy as a catcher:
Johjima is known for taking pitchers aside and challenging their manhood if he believes that they aren't being aggressive enough on the mound. Johjima feels how his pitchers do reflects on how his ability to call a game is judged. To American players, they might resent Kenji's forthrightness and his willingness to tell veteran pitchers they aren't making the grade.
Thanks to Gary for the inside look at Kenji Johjima and the Mariners. One thought on Johjima's challenging style: the dynamic between Johjima and the 20 year-old Felix Hernandez should be particularly engaging.
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