Koba's unique approach turned Carp into winners
TOKYO — I read with sadness of the passing late last year of Takeshi Koba, the former NPB player and manager, who died at the age of 85. I had followed Koba’s career ever since 1975 when he took over as manager of the Hiroshima Carp, and led the ‘Aka-Heru’ (Red Helmet) brigade to glory behind Carp Hall of Fame stars Sachio Kinugasa and Koji Yamamoto. They were an aggressive, dynamic and powerful team that was great fun to watch.
Koba had replaced Carp manager Joe Lutz, the first White Gaijin Manager in the history of the NPB, after less than a month into the 1975 season. Lutz, a former Cleveland Indians coach, had been hired by the Carp front office to manage the team after spending the1974 season in Hiroshima as a coach, during which he enticed Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn to serve as spring camp pitching coach. The Carp had hoped the drastic move could revive sagging interest in the team which had dropped to a new low after numerous lackluster second-division finishes. It was all the more daring because Lutz spoke not a word of Japanese and had to run the team through an interpreter.
Lutz had made some positive changes in Carp baseball. He had banned starting pitchers from common practice of pitching in relief, reduced lengthy workouts and tried to get his players to be more aggressive at the plate by swinging away early in the count and allowing them to advance the base runner anyway they wanted, as opposed to the favored method of the sacrifice bunt. He also held a seminar for the Carp players’ wives in which he discussed everything from diet and protein to sex before a game (It’s ok, he declared). He said he was astonished to discover there were wives of long time Carp veteran players who had never even met each other.