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Hideki Okajima: Homesick and Lonely


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#1 SoxScout


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 03:06 AM

First of all I quoted a lot, but there is a lot more in the article and I think people should give Edes the courtesy clicking through. Pretty exceptional article in the midst of Oki being blasted by others on the beat.

There's not a lot of memorable stuff being written about the Sox nowadays, but I think certainly stands out.

But it was Okajima's refusal to talk to the media, non-related division, after a loss Sunday in Seattle in which he figured prominently that created considerable backlash. Numerous reporters covering the Red Sox faulted Okajima afterward for a lack of accountability in refusing to field questions after the game, which undoubtedly would have centered on how he mishandled two bunts in the course of allowing five straight hits in a 4-2 loss to the Mariners.

Some reporters accused Okajima of rarely making himself available after a bad outing, an accusation grounded in fact and one not disputed by Okajima. But after agreeing to an interview here Tuesday afternoon, which came in the aftermath of a meeting he had with Isao Hirooka, who has long worked with Hideki Matsui, Okajima provided a context in which his behavior is perhaps better understood.

He also described an environment in which he admitted to homesickness for his native land, and a language-driven loneliness in which he says he has only two real confidants, his wife and his interpreter.

"Especially in the bullpen," he said, "I'm kind of alone in there. There's time to think too much, especially inside the bullpen. It's hard to maintain a strong mentality, especially when you've been hit hard the previous day. There's too much time to think in the bullpen. It would be easier to maintain if there was someone who spoke the same language and you could talk to, but that's not the reality right now."

In Japan, Okajima said, reporters are not allowed in the clubhouse. Reporters make their requests to speak to a player through the team's publicist. "The PR person will say, 'Sorry, we have no comment today,"' Okajima said.

"From the players' standpoint, rather than try to put it in words in that moment, it would be better to get a fresh mind and talk about how you really felt in that situation, but not on that day."

..."I could not talk about the game," he said. "Mentally, I was down after the loss. I felt it was better to have some time in between to talk, not immediately."

His world can seem very small, he acknowledged, when he feels that he has only his wife and interpreter to talk to. It also speaks to his lack of anything but a professional relationship with fellow Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. "The stress would be better if there was a Japanese guy in the bullpen," he said. "There is a team rule that doesn't allow it. Some teams allow it. The reality is, Boston doesn't, and I can't change it."


LINK: http://sports.espn.g...rdon&id=5416219

Edited by SoxScout, 28 July 2010 - 04:07 AM.


#2 bosox4283

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 06:40 AM

First of all I quoted a lot, but there is a lot more in the article and I think people should give Edes the courtesy clicking through. Pretty exceptional article in the midst of Oki being blasted by others on the beat.

There's not a lot of memorable stuff being written about the Sox nowadays, but I think certainly stands out.



LINK: http://sports.espn.g...rdon&id=5416219


Have Okajima and Dice-K learned English? I'm out of the Boston market, so I do not see or read pre- and post-game interviews. Now in their fourth year in the league, I would have assumed that each player would have picked up a conversational level of English.

Edited by bosox4283, 28 July 2010 - 08:02 AM.


#3 Guapos Toenails

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 06:55 AM

Have Okajima and Dice-K learned English? I'm out of the Boston market, so I do not see or ready pre- and post-game interviews. Now in their fourth year in the league, I would have assumed that each player would have picked up a conversational level of English.


Some observations that I have made while watching just about every Sox home BP in the last three years, so take them for what they may or may not be worth: I've seen Okajima and Dice-K play catch exactly once. It was at the very beginning of the season this year and I was shocked. They are never within 30 yards of each other. I've always thought that it was strange that they practically ignore each other.

Dice-K loves to shag flyballs in the outfield during BP, and he will play catch and interact with just about everyone else on the team (I haven't seen an interpreter with Dice-K in years). Okajima stands in the exact same spot during BP (right field near the corner), tethered to his interpreter. Oki will play catch with the bullpen catcher or his interpreter, but doesn't really interact with anyone else.

Again, this is just what I see on the field during BP. Who knows what happens in the clubhouse.

#4 travis bickled

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 06:59 AM

[

This raises thought/questions:

a. I can empathise to some degree
b. To what degree has his performance this season amplified the issue?
c. How much time and effort has Oki invested in learning our language? This is his 4th year here.
d. I wonder to what degree if any the Sox helped him prepare himself for the cultural change? Wasn't there a time when Bob Tewksbury served in a capacity to prepare younger players for "life" in the major leagues? Wouldn't it be beneficial to groom players witha language barrier?
e. Now what?

Edited by travis bickled, 28 July 2010 - 07:31 AM.


#5 Smiling Joe Hesketh


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 07:24 AM

Very good article by Edes, and it's worth noting that he worked at getting Oki to speak on the record instead of whining after the game the other night that Oki wasn't talking to reporters. I would have liked more questions about how Oki felt during his first three years here when he was so effective and what's changed this year, but I suppose this article will have to do.

#6 86spike


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 09:27 AM

Remember Okajima's first press conference when he said that he's the type of guy who doesn't want to be in the spotlight and would rather just stand in the shadows?

I think he's just a solitary kind of guy. That anecdote from GT above about what he does during BP seems to reinforce that.

So IMHO, his behavior and demeanor is 100% on him. His loneliness is on him. If he truly wants to go back to Japan, I would bet after this year the Sox would consider trading his rights back to an NPB team in return for something else this winter.

As for his performance: relievers soar and sink suddenly all the time. He seems to be spent and the team should move on.

#7 Soxfan in Fla


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 09:32 AM

His loneliness in the pen is his own doing. This is his 4th season in Boston. Its about time he at least learned enough English to carry on a conversation with the rest of his teammates.

#8 Rudy Pemberton


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 09:49 AM

So IMHO, his behavior and demeanor is 100% on him. His loneliness is on him. If he truly wants to go back to Japan, I would bet after this year the Sox would consider trading his rights back to an NPB team in return for something else this winter.


Isn't it likely that he's non-tendered?

#9 bakahump

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 09:52 AM

His loneliness in the pen is his own doing. This is his 4th season in Boston. Its about time he at least learned enough English to carry on a conversation with the rest of his teammates.



Agreed.
While I have been a foreigner in a strange place with only a few confidants and know how he feels....he has been here 4 years. He signed a long term contract with Boston and knew that his workplace would be the US for a long period of time.

The Sox initially made inroads to help both he and DiceK feel more comfortable. There comes a time however where much more then the mentioned interpreter is a bit extreme.

I like and have always like Oki.

But this to me seems like "Oh man I am sucking this year.....I'll blame it on the "isolation"".

The Isolation seemed fine when he put up an ERA+ of 215, 178 and 139. Now with 77 its really bothering him?

To back away from my Jingoistic stance...

What about the other guys in the Pen? Are they making any effort to befriend Oki? Paps as the "leader" of the Pen (well THERES your Problem) should be doing all he can to integrate Oki over the last 4 years. Has that happened? What about the BP Coach? Granted neither of them or any of other guys are going to be fluent in Japanese...but they could learn a little something...and do a "tit for tat" language swap out in the pen with Oki. Somehow I think that if Timlin was still here....there would not be such a Me and them mentality on Okis part.

#10 Smiling Joe Hesketh


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:00 AM

The Isolation seemed fine when he put up an ERA+ of 215, 178 and 139. Now with 77 its really bothering him?

Wouldn't that actually make a lot of sense, if you stop and think about it? When he was pitching well he could assuage his loneliness/homesickness with the fact that he was pitching well and contributing to the wins of an exceptionally good team. Professional satisfaction is a powerful antidote to many personal problems. Now that he's struggling, he's finding it more difficult to deal with the isolation he feels from being unable to communicate with his teammates. That's hardly unexpected at all and is quite reasonable.

#11 SoxFanSince57


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:26 AM

I like and have always like Oki.

But this to me seems like "Oh man I am sucking this year.....I'll blame it on the "isolation"".


Interesting article and thread. I like Oki too and agree with you that there is a good chance that the stress of low performance is causing other stressors to become more prominent in his mind.

Under stress, we all break down at our weakest link so I suspect the stress of underperforming is causing his "I am lonely and want to go home" (classic fight or flight response) to emerge.

IMO, folks should read these comments as expressions of stress. While they were 'running in the background' since he came to America, they were manageable when he was pitching well, but the additional stress of dealing with his ineffectiveness on the mound has made this stress seem more important than it is - because it is now being made public. If the Sox let him have all the support systems he wants, I suspect we would still see a breakdown emotionally.

Everyone has a breaking point under stress and we all break down in our own way. Instead of punching out umpires, beating his wife, getting in bar fights, pissing people off in V&N etc..., Okajima is manifesting his stress this way.

#12 bakahump

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:37 AM

Wouldn't that actually make a lot of sense, if you stop and think about it? When he was pitching well he could assuage his loneliness/homesickness with the fact that he was pitching well and contributing to the wins of an exceptionally good team. Professional satisfaction is a powerful antidote to many personal problems. Now that he's struggling, he's finding it more difficult to deal with the isolation he feels from being unable to communicate with his teammates. That's hardly unexpected at all and is quite reasonable.

Except now he seems to be claiming that the Isolation is what is making him suck. Rather then say, being 34 with a zillion innings, a falling SO/BB ratio and giving up 2x as many hits as previously.

While your point is that "Well he could have been Isolated but doing ok cause he didnt suck, so isolation bother him as much".

I can buy that If you suck Isolation is gonna be worse.

I cant buy that Isolation has made him suck.

#13 tims4wins


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:42 AM

The stress would be better if there was a Japanese guy in the bullpen. There is a team rule that doesn't allow it. Some teams allow it. The reality is, Boston doesn't, and I can't change it.


This is confusing to me. Is he saying that the Sox won't let the interpreter sit in the bullpen with him? I know the bullpens in Fenway are small, but it would seem to be this would be a pretty easy fix to help the guy interact with his teammates.

#14 Smiling Joe Hesketh


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:49 AM

Except now he seems to be claiming that the Isolation is what is making him suck. Rather then say, being 34 with a zillion innings, a falling SO/BB ratio and giving up 2x as many hits as previously.

While your point is that "Well he could have been Isolated but doing ok cause he didnt suck, so isolation bother him as much".

I can buy that If you suck Isolation is gonna be worse.

I cant buy that Isolation has made him suck.

I didn't take it that way at all; he's saying that he's not pitching well and the isolation is making his struggles more of a mental battle than ever before. Nowhere in that article did I take it that he was saying "I'm lonely, ergo I suck this year."

#15 Foulkey Reese


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:49 AM

I really find it odd that Oki and Dicek aren't friends. I mean what a perfect situation for two players to help each other out. I would be very interested in learning more about their relationship.

Edited by Foulkey Reese, 28 July 2010 - 10:50 AM.


#16 Philip Jeff Frye


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:52 AM

Except now he seems to be claiming that the Isolation is what is making him suck.

Is he really saying that, or is he responding to questions that have arisen the wake of media outcry about his silence and trying to explain his overall situation? Add in language and cultural issues, and it seems like a bit of a reach to me that he's blaming 100% of his current problems on loneliness.

#17 Smiling Joe Hesketh


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:59 AM

I really find it odd that Oki and Dicek aren't friends. I mean what a perfect situation for two players to help each other out. I would be very interested in learning more about their relationship.

It might simply be a starter/reliever thing. Starts spend most games in the dugout, relievers are in the pen, so chances to hang out are minimized on game days. Starters have a very strict schedule they follow in between starts, relievers have to be ready to go at any time. Dice K and Oki weren't on the same teams in the JPL either. Both guys are married, so they're not going to be cruising Boston together looking for college girls in all likelihood.

If someone told me Beckett and Papelbon aren't friends, I wouldn't be shocked simply because their circles don't cross all that much.

#18 Philip Jeff Frye


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 11:05 AM

It might simply be a starter/reliever thing. Starts spend most games in the dugout, relievers are in the pen, so chances to hang out are minimized on game days. Starters have a very strict schedule they follow in between starts, relievers have to be ready to go at any time. Dice K and Oki weren't on the same teams in the JPL either. Both guys are married, so they're not going to be cruising Boston together looking for college girls in all likelihood.

If someone told me Beckett and Papelbon aren't friends, I wouldn't be shocked simply because their circles don't cross all that much.

Or maybe they're just two guys without much in common. Do you like all the Americans you know?

#19 wutang112878


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 11:05 AM

This is confusing to me. Is he saying that the Sox won't let the interpreter sit in the bullpen with him? I know the bullpens in Fenway are small, but it would seem to be this would be a pretty easy fix to help the guy interact with his teammates.


Maybe this is also some tough love trying to get him to learn english and interact with teammates. The interpreter would sort of just be another crutch. Plus if Oki gets his buddy, you know Paps is going to want to bring one of his dogs

#20 Foulkey Reese


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 11:08 AM

Or maybe they're just two guys without much in common. Do you like all the Americans you know?

No. But if I moved to Japan and worked at a place with one other English speaker, I imagine we would form some kind of bond over the fact that we were two fish out of water.

#21 Smiling Joe Hesketh


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 11:10 AM

No. But if I moved to Japan and worked at a place with one other English speaker, I imagine we would form some kind of bond over the fact that we were two fish out of water.

Unless that guy was a DukeSox. Then I'd avoid him like horse AIDS.

(Seriously, maybe one of them is just a dick and they don't get along).

#22 Foulkey Reese


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 11:10 AM

Unless that guy was a DukeSox. Then I'd avoid him like horse AIDS.

(Seriously, maybe one of them is just a dick and they don't get along).

Yea I'm sure that's what it is. I just find that interesting and would be curious to learn more about it.

#23 bd11

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 11:20 AM

I don't think it is the isolation that has killed him. He just has so so stuff that the league was bound to catch up to. The scouting report is obvious, lay off the low stuff and make him get the ball up. His control has diminished, in and out of the strike zone. When you are throwing it up there in the mid-high 80s you have little room for error. I also wonder why he is so hesitant to throw the big breaking curve that was so effective for him when he first arrived here. I wonder why Farrell doesn't have him throw that.

#24 TomRicardo


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:00 PM

I really find it odd that Oki and Dicek aren't friends. I mean what a perfect situation for two players to help each other out. I would be very interested in learning more about their relationship.


Really? They are 5 years apart, one has been a superstar his whole life quite literally Japan's LeBron James and the other was a swing man in Japan. Why should they be friends?

#25 sittingstill

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:07 PM

The last time Baltimore was in Boston, Oki was practically glued to Koji Uehara--to the point that at the start of the game I saw from RF they were practically on tiptoes talking over the corner of the bullpen wall.

This also brings to mind Oki's unhappiness with something he supposedly misunderstood about his contract and the ability of the Sox to keep him here another year, possibly against his will. (Yeah, I know his new agent said he was happy here, but what are you going to say?)

#26 Myt1


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:17 PM

Except now he seems to be claiming that the Isolation is what is making him suck. Rather then say, being 34 with a zillion innings, a falling SO/BB ratio and giving up 2x as many hits as previously.

While your point is that "Well he could have been Isolated but doing ok cause he didnt suck, so isolation bother him as much".

I can buy that If you suck Isolation is gonna be worse.

I cant buy that Isolation has made him suck.


I think you've got the causal link bassackwards here:

It's hard to maintain a strong mentality, especially when you've been hit hard the previous day.


He's having a tough time emotionally, and that time is made tougher by lack of performance.

To me it seemed that the article was in large part a response to the media whining, "That guy's an asshole because he didn't sit here with us while we asked the same dumb question repeatedly, 'So, uh, Okie, what happened on those bunts?' after he screwed the pooch and blew the game." Steve Burton was practically foaming at the mouth at Okajima's temerity. The level of entitlement displayed by the media on this one is just funny.

Edited by Myt1, 28 July 2010 - 12:17 PM.


#27 travis bickled

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:30 PM

Really? They are 5 years apart, one has been a superstar his whole life quite literally Japan's LeBron James and the other was a swing man in Japan. Why should they be friends?


Okay, I'll bite...Are you saying Oki doesn't qualify to be a friend of Dice-K?...

#28 Eric Van


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:33 PM

To me it seemed that the article was in large part a response to the media whining, "That guy's an asshole because he didn't sit here with us while we asked the same dumb question repeatedly, 'So, uh, Okie, what happened on those bunts?' after he screwed the pooch and blew the game." Steve Burton was practically foaming at the mouth at Okajima's temerity. The level of entitlement displayed by the media on this one is just funny.

And what did they expect Oki to tell them about the bunts? "Well, I fielded the first one and for a moment I was wondering about the relative merits of the Copenhagen, Everett, and Bohm interpretations of the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, and by the time I got my head together it was too late." You know exactly what happened by watching it: he looked to 3B, decided he didn't have time to make the throw, looked to 1B, realized he'd been wrong, looked back to 3B to see if there was still time to get him, realized there wasn't, then finally threw to 1B.

There are times when a player screw-up does need some clarification (who missed the sign, did they send you or were you going on your own, etc.), but this wasn't one of them.

#29 Myt1


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:34 PM

Okay, I'll bite...Are you saying Oki doesn't qualify to be a friend of Dice-K?...


What he's saying is that the similarities between the two people are so superficial that they don't rise to the level of, "Hey, those guys should totally be friends!"

EDIT: Exactly right, Eric. Okajima screwed up and he hasn't been very good this year and that is compounded by the fact that Francona is treating him like the Oki of old. But this "controversy" is entirely manufactured by a media that is annoyed that the monkey didn't dance when it was supposed to.

Burton was complaining, "Oh, but when they do well they're all coming over to talk to you."

A. People are more approachable and talkative when they just did something cool vs. when they screwed up for the whole world to see? No shit.

B. Is that particularly true of Okajima? I don't remember him being anything like a Favre-like attention whore.

Edited by Myt1, 28 July 2010 - 12:43 PM.


#30 kazuneko

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:55 PM

This is confusing to me. Is he saying that the Sox won't let the interpreter sit in the bullpen with him? I know the bullpens in Fenway are small, but it would seem to be this would be a pretty easy fix to help the guy interact with his teammates.

Agreed. The fact that the Sox don't allow this was the most surprising things to come out in this interview. They are investing millions of dollars on this guy, and even have an interpreter for him. It seems borderline-absurd to not allow the guy in the bullpen with him.
Y'know, I know generally its assumed that once someone lives long enough in a foreign country that person will pick up the language, but that's simply not true for a good amount of adult immigrants. Childhood is the critical period for the acquisition of language capabilities, and of course it is extremely rare to see children of normal intelligence fail to pick up 2nd languages in immersion environments. This is not true with adults, and this is especially obvious when the language that the adult is asked to learn is linguistically quite different than their native language. This is the case with Japanese and English, and all you have to have is minimal contact with people in similar circumstances to Oki, to find similar struggles.
Since I speak Japanese, and live in Hawaii I quite commonly meet adult Japanese businessmen who have been transferred to the Hawaiian offices of their corporations. Despite the fact that these guys are tend to be far more educated than Oki, quite commonly, even after years in the states they speak only a limited amount of English. Obviously this can only work if their job responsibilities don't require English capability but more often than not thats the case. I mean, if English was an important part of their job their companies would have chosen someone else to fill the position, right? The same applies for Oki..I mean, sure it might help him in the workplace if he spoke better English, but really this is a secondary concern as no one would give a damn either way as long as he was succeeding on the field.
Further, most of these guys, having come here as adults never end up adapting to their new culture. Just as it is far hard for adults to pick up 2nd languages even in immersion environments, the same can be said for adults and 2nd cultures. By adulthood, most adults have pretty well-established, largely culturally-formulated viewpoints. Developmentally this is adaptive to life as an adult, and is probably also tied to neurology: the adult mind is just not as fluid or adaptable. Unfortunately, what is adaptive and developmentally appropriate in one's native culture can become a barrier to adjustment when an individual is thrown into a new cultural environment. These businessmen I know, are generally married and spend most of their free time either with family or other Japanese in similar situations. Geographically they are in America, but they end up adapting their environment (somethings that is more developmentally normal for adults) quite a bit more than they adapt to their environment (something most adults find more daunting).
One more thing ( and before people start pinning this on Japanese culture), I also saw this same phenomenon quite a bit in my time among longterm foreign residents of Japan...

Edited by kazuneko, 28 July 2010 - 12:57 PM.


#31 Lose Remerswaal


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:58 PM

I can understand this getting worse for him over time. Don't forget, last year he also had Saito in the pen with him, when his skills started to diminish from those two great years. Now, in 2010, no Saito, no success, I can see it weighing heavy on him. Not sure why the Sox can't hire a Japanese speaking bullpen catcher (are you allowed to have two?), or even just an attendant out there who he can converse with.

#32 xjack


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 01:09 PM

This bores me.

The conversation we should be having is whether Okajima still deserves a spot on the roster. He's not a Chad Qualls or Joba Chamberlain -- relievers whose peripherals indicate they've been more unlucky than truly awful. Okajima's peripherals are just as bad as his performance, and it's not as if the Sox are going to want to offer him arbitration after the season. It's time to either cut him loose or see if Theo can get something for him in a my-headache-for-your-headache type trade.

#33 E5 Yaz


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 01:16 PM

It's time to either cut him loose or see if Theo can get something for him in a my-headache-for-your-headache type trade.


Say, for George Sherrill from the Dodgers

As to the primary issue, it seems like the Red Sox have spent so much time cultivating the Asian market that to not have institutional followthrough once the players get here would be a bizarre lapse in judgment. If that's the case, then Okajima is the canary in the coal mine. Or it could simply be that playing in the U.S. has lost its allure for Oki, and now everything affects him more than it might otherwise.

#34 Shelterdog


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 01:18 PM

This bores me.


Seriously.

I don't care if he's homesick. I don't care if he's not BFF with Dice-k; it's kind of stupid to assume they will be friends. I'm not going to judge him for failing to learn English better (it's really hard to learn a foreign language as an adult well enough to be comfortable in an immersion experience.) I don't even really care whether or not he can have a friend in the dugout.

All I care about is that he performs as a ballplayer, and for whatever the reason, right now he's fucking cooked, and old Okajima isn't walking through that door.

#35 Lose Remerswaal


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 01:25 PM

George Sherrill with 8 IP in the past two months, 2 strikeouts, 14 hits (+ 2 BB)?

Or the George Sherrill of May, with 6.1 innings pitched, 9 hits (plus 5 BB), 5 K's and an ERA a fraction under 9?

Sherrill has had 10 clean outings in 39 appearances this year (all of 1 inning or less, except for one 1.1 inning), and a WHIP well over 2.

I'll keep Okajima, thankyouverymuch. He's at least had a couple good stretches this year

#36 E5 Yaz


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 01:27 PM

George Sherrill with 8 IP in the past two months, 2 strikeouts, 14 hits (+ 2 BB)?

Or the George Sherrill of May, with 6.1 innings pitched, 9 hits (plus 5 BB), 5 K's and an ERA a fraction under 9?

Sherrill has had 10 clean outings in 39 appearances this year (all of 1 inning or less, except for one 1.1 inning), and a WHIP well over 2.

I'll keep Okajima, thankyouverymuch. He's at least had a couple good stretches this year


hey, when it's headache for headache, you get what you can

#37 mauidano


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 01:46 PM

No. But if I moved to Japan and worked at a place with one other English speaker, I imagine we would form some kind of bond over the fact that we were two fish out of water.

I hate to take this angle, but if I was living in a different country and culture making the bank that this gus makes, I would surely do my best to adapt and embrace the culture. America is surely a much easier place to live than most other countries. We have much more freedoms and embrace ALL cultures. Hard to buy this angle from Oki. Part of the freedom we have is the THE freedom. If you don't like it , leave. He will get very, very little sympathy whining.

#38 nvalvo


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 01:51 PM

Really? They are 5 years apart, one has been a superstar his whole life quite literally Japan's LeBron James and the other was a swing man in Japan. Why should they be friends?


He also logged a successful season as the closer for Yomiuri, not a real low-profile role (41 saves in Japan). I get that he wasn't a superstar over there, but it's not like he was a fringy player.

#39 BroodsSexton

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:02 PM

EDIT: Exactly right, Eric. Okajima screwed up and he hasn't been very good this year and that is compounded by the fact that Francona is treating him like the Oki of old.

As to the primary issue, it seems like the Red Sox have spent so much time cultivating the Asian market that to not have institutional followthrough once the players get here would be a bizarre lapse in judgment. If that's the case, then Okajima is the canary in the coal mine. Or it could simply be that playing in the U.S. has lost its allure for Oki, and now everything affects him more than it might otherwise.

Even if you think the debate about Okajima is boring, this is an angle that makes pursuing the story worthwhile: Dealing with the cultural challenge requires some unique treatment (psychologically and institutionally) that you don't have to deal with for a guy from Arkansas. How well have the Sox handled this? Are Okajima and Dice-K outliers (in one's ability to integrate and the other's isolation)? Do Okajima's communication issues inhibit his relationship with Francona in a way that exacerbates his problems?

Edited by BroodsSexton, 28 July 2010 - 02:02 PM.


#40 xjack


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:10 PM

Even if you think the debate about Okajima is boring, this is an angle that makes pursuing the story worthwhile: Dealing with the cultural challenge requires some unique treatment (psychologically and institutionally) that you don't have to deal with for a guy from Arkansas. How well have the Sox handled this? Are Okajima and Dice-K outliers (in one's ability to integrate and the other's isolation)? Do Okajima's communication issues inhibit his relationship with Francona in a way that exacerbates his problems?

If he was pitching well, I suspect he and everyone around him would be a whole lot happier.

#41 Burt Reynoldz

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:30 PM

I don't see why he can't just lug around 5500 tapes' worth of pornography to help him stave off the loneliness.

#42 BroodsSexton

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:46 PM

If he was pitching well, I suspect he and everyone around him would be a whole lot happier.

Right, but he's not. Players go through slumps (or decline). And teams try to mitigate that when it happens. The suggestion is that certain conditions are making it worse, which could lead to a downward spiral or at least exacerbate the effects in the short term. It's at least a fair question.

#43 mabrowndog


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:51 PM

What about the other guys in the Pen? Are they making any effort to befriend Oki? Paps as the "leader" of the Pen (well THERES your Problem) should be doing all he can to integrate Oki over the last 4 years. Has that happened? What about the BP Coach? Granted neither of them or any of other guys are going to be fluent in Japanese...but they could learn a little something...and do a "tit for tat" language swap out in the pen with Oki. Somehow I think that if Timlin was still here....there would not be such a Me and them mentality on Oki's part.

I agree with this completely. He was the leader of the Bullpen Band, and Oki was absolutely a participant in '07 and '08, Timlin's final two years here.

So to sum up, what's needed is... more cowbell.

He's having a tough time emotionally, and that time is made tougher by lack of performance.

To me it seemed that the article was in large part a response to the media whining, "That guy's an asshole because he didn't sit here with us while we asked the same dumb question repeatedly, 'So, uh, Okie, what happened on those bunts?' after he screwed the pooch and blew the game." Steve Burton was practically foaming at the mouth at Okajima's temerity. The level of entitlement displayed by the media on this one is just funny.

Correct on both counts. Burton is among the most oblivious members of the local press corps. He's got this overbearing complex where he thinks every athlete in this town not only wants to be his friend, but that he's EARNED their friendship.

I'll never forget how after the Sox team bus returned to Fenway in the wee hours of the morning with the '07 trophy in tow, Timlin and several other teammates graciously engaged the appreciative throng of fans packed behind the street barricades. Then after about 10-15 minutes, he got with his wife, put his daughter atop his shoulders, and as the only Sox member who lived within walking distance of the park, began making his way home on foot. None of the fans bothered him. And neither did any reporters -- except Burton. He pursued him like a yipping chihuahua, putting his arm around Timlin's back & shoulders, and walked alongside him for the length of 2 football fields. Timlin's daughter kept trying to shield her eyes from the bright glare of the camera light, burying her face behind her dad's head. It was obvious Timlin was exhausted and just wanted to be with his family, as he gave half-assed answers to the bubbly and overly-enthusiastic buffoon shoving the microphone in his face asking the same moronic questions 20 other reporters had already posed. Timlin was simply too much of a gentleman to tell Burton and his cameraman to go fuck themselves in front of his kids. Thus, Burton got his "scoop."

It's crap like this that just raises the expectations of entitlement with certain media types, and gives them their overwhelming sense of self-importance. We know who they are, and Gordon Edes isn't one of them. Burton's indignance over Okajima's refusal to play by his rules is no surprise.

Say, for George Sherrill from the Dodgers

George Sherrill with 8 IP in the past two months, 2 strikeouts, 14 hits (+ 2 BB)?

Or the George Sherrill of May, with 6.1 innings pitched, 9 hits (plus 5 BB), 5 K's and an ERA a fraction under 9?

Sherrill has had 10 clean outings in 39 appearances this year (all of 1 inning or less, except for one 1.1 inning), and a WHIP well over 2.

I'll keep Okajima, thankyouverymuch. He's at least had a couple good stretches this year

Not to mention the Dodgers DFA'd Sherrill 2 weeks ago. Any team could have claimed him without giving up anything besides the ~$2.1 million remaining on his 2010 contract did. None did. He cleared with ease, and is now toiling in the minors. There's no way in hell the Sox will trade anything for that bucket of suck.

#44 Smiling Joe Hesketh


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:56 PM

I agree with this completely. He was the leader of the Bullpen Band, and Oki was absolutely a participant in '07 and '08, Timlin's final two years here.

So to sum up, what's needed is... more cowbell.

One of the most eye-searing things I've ever seen was at the '07 victory parade, when the trailer with the Dropkick Murphys came by, with Papelbon front and center, and Timlin just behind him dancing a jig...arm-in-arm with Oki.

#45 86spike


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:59 PM

Agreed. The fact that the Sox don't allow this was the most surprising things to come out in this interview. They are investing millions of dollars on this guy, and even have an interpreter for him. It seems borderline-absurd to not allow the guy in the bullpen with him.


Major League Baseball only permits uniformed personnel and a couple of trainers in the dugout/bullpen. The only way to get this interpreter a seat in the bullpen is to give him a coaching title. But that would mean going without a coach since there's a limit to those.

So which is more important to the Red Sox: having a full coaching staff, or giving Okajima a buddy to talk to for the 3 hours a day he has to sit in the pen?

perspective, people

#46 mabrowndog


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 03:44 PM

The only way to get this interpreter a seat in the bullpen is to give him a coaching title. But that would mean going without a coach since there's a limit to those.

Otherwise known as the Baltimore Orioles "Hey, no fairsies! The Red Sox can't have Johnny Pesky in uniform! It's against the rules!!1!" rule.

#47 Otis Foster


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 04:14 PM

This goes beyond what we think about Oki's failure to adapt or learn English. We've now got two Japanese players - one a superstar in Japan's baseball universe - who are having a bumpy ride at Fenway. Each of them in varying degrees is getting a roasting from what passes for a sports press in Boston. To what extent will this begin to affect the willingness of Japanese talent to sign with the RS and undercut the considerable effort this regime has made to cultivate that market?

It's quite satisfying to play Rocco Hardguy and complain about the lack of effort to adjust to life here, but this isn't just bleeding heart material, it can have significant impact on the non-US player development efforts. Keep in mind that Oki's wife is or was a Japanese sportscaster, something I forgot until it was mentioned earlier in the thread. Plus, she's absolutely gorgeous.

#48 xjack


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Posted 28 July 2010 - 08:38 PM

Major League Baseball only permits uniformed personnel and a couple of trainers in the dugout/bullpen. The only way to get this interpreter a seat in the bullpen is to give him a coaching title. But that would mean going without a coach since there's a limit to those.

So which is more important to the Red Sox: having a full coaching staff, or giving Okajima a buddy to talk to for the 3 hours a day he has to sit in the pen?

perspective, people

Are they allowed to have iPhones in the dugout? If so, the Sox should just get everyone in the 'pen an app like this:

http://itunes.apple....d346159824?mt=8

The suggestion is that certain conditions are making it worse, which could lead to a downward spiral or at least exacerbate the effects in the short term.

I sincerely doubt it's making it worse. More likely, Oki is just looking for excuses -- which is human nature... When Bellhorn stunk up the joint in '05, there were a lot of people here who contended Bellhorn would be fine if the Boston fans would only go easier on him. Turns out Boston fans were not the problem. Bellhorn hit worse the following year in San Diego than he did in Boston. (And I sincerely doubt Padres fans were riding him. Most of them probably didn't even know he was on the roster.)

#49 kazuneko

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 05:20 PM

Major League Baseball only permits uniformed personnel and a couple of trainers in the dugout/bullpen. The only way to get this interpreter a seat in the bullpen is to give him a coaching title. But that would mean going without a coach since there's a limit to those.

So which is more important to the Red Sox: having a full coaching staff, or giving Okajima a buddy to talk to for the 3 hours a day he has to sit in the pen?

perspective, people

Unless I'm mistaken (and the Red Sox website is inaccurate) Masai Takahashi is still one of the Sox' trainers. Now, he isn't Oki's personal interpreter but he most definitely is a Japanese speaker who has on multiple occasions in the past done interpreting for the Sox. If Takahashi has duties that prevent him from being in the bullpen, it really wouldn't be that hard to find someone else qualified to be a trainer who speaks Japanese...I personally know a couple of Japanese speakers with the appropriate qualifications who would be more than happy to work for a pittance for the opportunity.
Of course at this point, with Oki probably no longer a part of the team's long term plans and there even being a good likelihood that he doesn't stick w/ the team for the rest of the season, the Sox may not be too obsessed with accommodating him.
That said, there are reasons to be concerned about Oki's situation that go beyond the 2010 team. The pro baseball community in Japan is quite small ; and the types of struggles Oki is reporting are almost certainly quite common. When it comes to appealing to Japanese free agents, Boston already has certain inescapable disadvantages: most notably, distance from Japan and the small size of the Japanese community. To compensate for that the team needs to be far better at accommodating their Japanese players than say, an LA Dodgers or Seattle Mariners might need to be.
And people really need to remember that when you are signing a ballplayer you are more often than not getting a guy with a highly limited worldview who isn't necessarily well-suited to adjusting to life abroad.
Oki, like most ballplayers in Japan didn't go to college and probably hasn't done much other than baseball since he hit puberty. Japanese high school baseball is a lifestyle that includes nothing outside of its own incredibly insular world. The training schedules are -from a westerner's perspective- ridiculous. Then, immediately after high school they end up in the minors and then the Japan league.
In my work doing interpreting for Japanese players in the Hawaiian winter league (which I did for a bit until the league folded) I was again and again struck by how ignorant these guys were about any subject outside of baseball (and even then, they knew very little about anything outside of the Japanese game). I mean, Japanese culture tends to be pretty insular but these guys were almost universally among the least worldly Japanese I've ever met. Educationally, none of them appeared to have been required to study anything throughout high school, and their knowledge of English was virtually non-existent; terrible- even by Japanese standards which tend to be among the worst in the modern world. Of course, you'll get exceptions to this (Ichiro, for example, comes off as a pretty interesting & intelligent in interviews) but mostly, I think a team like the Red Sox has to expect that any player that they are able to recruit from Japan may require extra help in adjusting to life abroad.
Obviously, its not as if the Sox haven't considered these issues. They have actually gotten some amount of positive press in the past for being sensitive to these concerns. That said, even if it comes off as a bit coddling, and even if he is on his way out, from a PR perspective the Sox need to make sure they look accommodating to Oki in this situation, if for no other reason than the fact that they don't want to be viewed negatively by the small Japanese pro player community and have this affect their ability to recruit from Japan in the future.

Edited by kazuneko, 29 July 2010 - 05:33 PM.


#50 Guapos Toenails

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Posted 30 July 2010 - 10:37 PM



To illustrate my earlier post...from today's BP. I tried to zoom in on Dice-K bouncing around center shagging fly balls, but it didnt focus too well...

Edited by Guapos Toenails, 30 July 2010 - 10:39 PM.