Category Archives: Hall of Fame

NPB games, news of Aug. 12, 2019

SoftBank Hawks southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada returned to action and the day brightened.

The 38-year-old lefty has no secrets. He’s going to throw his good changeup and his 88.2 mile-per-hour fastball a lot, and mix in a slider that is nothing really special but looks like the other two pitches coming out of his hand. He’s going to stay around the zone and more or less throw all his pitches where he wants them.

Having left his last two starts with discomfort in his right hamstring, Wada had not pitched since July 20. He was worth waiting for.

Pacific League

Hawks 6, Buffaloes 3

At Yafuoku Dome, Tsuyoshi Wada (2-1) announced his return to duty by striking out the side in the first inning, while Alfredo Despaigne homered twice to lift SoftBank past Nippon Ham and to a series sweep despite a slick performance from veteran right-hander Chihiro Kaneko.

“The way I left the mound in my last outing here — and the one before that — was pretty lame,” Wada said. “It took me about 22 days to be able to pitch again, but I’m pretty happy to be back.”

“I had the sense that everyone was concerned about the fitness of my leg, so I thought the best thing I could do was show people I was 100 percent. To do that, I wanted to come out pitching as well as I could, and that turned out OK.”

Game highlights are HERE.

Wada struck out leadoff man Haruki Nishikawa looking on three fastballs. A called first-strike slider started Taishi Ota, who missed badly on a 1-1 change and a 1-2 fastball. Compared to them, Kensuke Ota’s five-pitch at-bat was a prolonged siege. The Fighters’ leading hitter, too, went down flailing at a pitch out of the zone.

Yoshikawa (0-3) made his third “short starter” appearance since he returned to the Fighters in a trade from the Yomiuri Giants. His last one, on July 30 was moderately successful, two runs over four innings as the Fighters were shut out 2-0 by Eagles rookie Hayato Yuge. But overall, the lefty has now allowed eight earned runs in 8-1/3 innings.

My other favorite Hawk, grinding utility infielder Keizo Kawashima, returned to the lineup for the first time since June 1, and singled to open the game. After a sacrifice, Seiichi Uchikawa drove him home and then scored when Despaigne got under a fastball away that carried farther than he expected and landed on the other side of Yafuoku Dome’s inner fence near the right field foul pole.

After that, it was a case of Wada fooling batters and getting away with his mistakes. He missed with two fastballs to cleanup hitter Sho Nakata, who got under both of them for high fly outs. Wada had to pitch out of a two-out, two-on jam in the fourth, and another one in the fifth — when he surrendered a leadoff homer to Toshitake Yokoo.

“I used up a lot of my strength in the first inning, and as a result, I was missing with pitches in the second and third inning,” Wada said. “But somehow with the help of Takuya (catcher Takuya Kai), we got through it.”

“The team handed me the start having won Saturday and Sunday, and I didn’t want to be the one to drop the ball.”

Kaneko allowed three runners to reach in his five-inning stint, and two were erased on double plays. He left trailing by two runs because rookie Hiroshi Kaino came on in the top of the sixth. After two singles to open the inning, leadoff batter, Nishikawa (.378 on-base percentage) tried to bunt his way on for the first time this season and succeeded in sacrificing the runners into scoring position.

Rookie reliever Hiroshi Kaino, however, struck out two of the Fighters’ best, Ota and Kondo, on two-strike splitters to end the inning.

“He (Ota) a good batter, so I knew I had to be careful with him,” Kaino said. “Kondo, too, is a great hitter as well, so I had to trust in the pitches that my catcher called for and execute.”

Despaigne homered again in the bottom of the eighth to make it a 6-1 game, and the Fighters rallied for two in the ninth against Ren Kajiya. Closer Yuito Mori hit a batter to load the bases with two outs before recording his 24th save.

Lions 9, Marines 2

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Zach Neal (6-1) allowed one run — on Leonys Martin’s sixth home run — over 6-2/3 innings as Seibu handed Lotte its fourth-straight loss.

Mike Bolsinger (3-4) surrendered three runs, one earned, over five innings in which he walked five. But the Lions broke the game open in the seventh in a four-run seventh against the Marines bullpen.

Game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 3, Buffaloes 2, 10 innings

At Rakuten Seimei Park, 22-year-old rookie Yoshiaki Watanabe doubled in the winning run from first base with two outs in the 10th innings of Rakuten’s win over Orix.

Frank Herrmann (5-3), who worked a 1-2-3 10th inning for the Eagles earned the win, while Buffaloes closer Brandon Dickson (2-1), who walked last year’s PL rookie of the year Kazuki Tanaka with two outs, took the loss.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Swallows 4, BayStars 3

At Jingu Stadium, ninth-inning home runs by Wladimir Balentien and Munetaka Murakami off DeNA closer Yasuaki Yamasaki (3-2) lifted Yakult to a walk-off win after Swallows closer Scott McGough (5-3) surrendered two runs in the top of the inning and was poised to take the loss.

Murakami’s 25th home run ranks him fourth in a season by players under 20-years-old and at 19 years, 6 months, the youngest player to hit a sayonara home run in NPB. Seibu’s Kazuhiro Kiyohara hit 31 as an 18-year-old in 1986 and 29 the following year, while Nishitetsu Lions Hall of Fame shortstop Yasumitsu Toyoda hit 27 in 1953 as an 18-year-old.

Dragons 5, Tigers 1

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi’s second-round draft pick last autumn, Kodai Umetsu (1-0) won his pro debut, allowing a run over six innings and striking out seven to beat former Dragon Onelki Garcia (2-6) in a win over Hanshin.

Former Dragon Kosuke Fukudome opened the scoring in the first with an RBI double. Garcia struck out 10 over seven innings, but the Dragons had four hits in a two-run first, and Noamichi Donoue hit a two-run homer in the fourth.

Umetsu, who hit 151 kph with his fastball, was a teammate at Toyo University with Hawks rookie flame thrower Hiroshi Kaino and BayStars top draft pick Taiga Kamichatani.

Game highlights are HERE.

Giants 8, Carp 7

At Mazda Stadium, Alex Guerrero made Hiroshima pay for hitting him with a pitch in a four-run first inning by belting a two-run home run in the third as Yomiuri held on to beat Hiroshima in a 4-hour, 17-minute marathon.

The Carp, however, did not go quietly into that good night as the top of the order, leadoff man Ryoma Nishikawa and No. 2 hitter Ryosuke Kikuchi combined to reach base eight times, score five runs and drove in four.

Game highlights are HERE.

News

1,000 whiffs of Yamaguchi

Yomiuri Giants starting pitcher Shun Yamguchi, who spent the first half of his career as a closer for the BayStars, became the 150th pitcher in Japanese pro ball to reach 1,000 career strikeouts on Monday, when he caught Hiroshima’s Seiya Suzuki looking in the third inning at Mazda Stadium.

His first strikeout victim was South Korean slugging star Lee Seung Yeop, on June 29, 2006, who was in his first season that year with the Giants.

Rookie Yoshida set for 3rd start

Fighters rookie pitcher Kosei Yoshida, Nippon Ham’s top draft pick last autumn, has been penciled in to start against the Lotte Marines on Wednesday, when Nippon Ham stages a home game at Tokyo Dome.

Yoshida, who famously threw 1,571 pitches last summer (636 in the Akita Prefecture championship and another 881 in the national summer finals at Koshien). It will be his first start against Pacific League opposition, having started on June 12 against the Hiroshima Carp and again on June 23 against the Chunichi Dragons.

Kuriyama tip toes through Japan’s history minefield

Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama scratched the surface of baseball history on Wednesday with his 527th victory with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

In the Nikkan Sports online edition for May 8, Daisuke Yamashita used Kuriyama’s achievement to provide some insight into history’s web as he moved past Hall of Fame manager Shigeru Mizuhara as No. 2 in career wins with the franchise.

The original story in Japanese is HERE.

While Yamashita does a good job of explaining Kuriyama’s appreciation of Mizuhara’s legacy, the whole exercise represents another example of Japan’s difficult relationship with history and tradition.

In itself, Kuriyama’s achievement is akin to passing Babe Ruth on the Red Sox’s all-time home run list, because Mizuhara is better known as the man who laid the foundation’s for the most successful period in the history of the Yomiuri Giants.

The franchise that from 1954 to 1972 was known as the Toei Flyers, whose principle owner was the Toei movie studio, was taken over by Nippon Ham in 1974.

Mizuhara quit the Giants after Yomiuri’s founder, Matsutaro Shoriki said the skipper had brought shame on the Giants in 1960 for losing the Central League pennant after five-straight championships. Extra credit to you if that sentence summons an image of former Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe and Hall of Fame manager Tatsunori Hara.

Unlike Hara, who waited for a second chance with Yomiuri, Mizuhara jumped to the Pacific League’s flyers in 1961, managed them to their second consecutive runner-up finish before winning the franchise’s first title the following year.

To return to the present, Kuriyama spoke of Mizuhara and his great rival, Osamu Mihara, who never managed the franchise, but who was the team’s first president under Nippon Ham in 1974. Mihara had been supplanted as Giants manager by Mizuhara, and who – after building the Nishitetsu Lions into a PL powerhouse – sparked Mizuhara’s Yomiuri exodus in 1960 by winning the CL pennant with the unheralded Taiyo Whales.

“They were baseball’s founding fathers. I think of them together, Mr. Mihara and Mr. Mizuhara, as belonging to that one era,” Yamashita quoted Kuriyama as saying after Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the Orix Buffaloes.

According to Yamashita, Kuriyama, a lover of history, spent time over the offseason reading Japanese classic history texts, the “Kojiki” and the “Nihon Shoki.”

“Pretty much everything that happens is something someone has experienced in the past. Things really don’t change that much. I’m going looking in those texts,” Kuriyama has said according to Yamashita.

The best part of the story is that while the word “history” is often dragged out as a tired excuse for doing something unimaginative, Kuriyama has shown he is not terribly interested in defending old ways. The same man who conceived of – or at least takes credit for – the idea that Shohei Ohtani might both hit and pitch, is this season adopting extreme defensive shifts and experimenting with different starting pitching and relieving assignments.

In referencing both Mihara and Mizuhara, Kuriyama both speaks to his own nature while still paying his respects to Japanese baseball’s creed that eliminating negatives equals a positive.

Mizuhara, an unrelenting perfectionist, in ways represents the popular notion that zero defects is perfection, while Mihara, a brash innovator, represents, I think, more of Kuriyama’s true nature as someone who strives to be an early adaptor on the cutting edge.

It’s a difficult balance to strike in Japan, because innovation carries the possibility of an implied criticism of how things were done before by the game’s greats.

Less-established innovators who fail to pay lip service to their esteemed predecessors by kissing dogma’s ass, often end up being cast out for their trouble. The trick is to do things differently, while making excuses for it, and not appearing to be too proud about having coming up with something different and giving everyone else credit. So far, it’s been working for Kuriyama.

Well-traveled Rhodes

There is a line in James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity” that comes to mind whenever the story of Tuffy Rhodes‘ Japanese baseball legacy comes up. In that work, an earnest and skilled but persecuted soldier speaks of his affinity for America’s prewar army, while recognizing that the feeling was not mutual.


“Just because you love something doesn’t mean it has to love you back.”

Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt from James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity.”

That line could easily apply to Rhodes, who had one of the most outstanding careers in Japanese baseball history, but is having a hard time gaining support among voters for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Tuffy Rhodes as cautionary tale

In America, most people remember Rhodes for one of two things. It’s either his three home runs on Opening Day in 1994 and a major league career that produced little else, or as a misguided analogy for the level of play in Nippon Professional Baseball.

Whenever a player like Masahiro Tanaka or Shohei Ohtani moves toward the majors, some know-it-all is sure to bring up Rhodes’ career as a sort of cautionary tale. After all, how good can a Japanese player be if he comes from a country where a player with a .224 career average in the majors thrived?

Related content on jballallen.com

Where Rhodes ranks

Rhodes had 590 career major league at-bats, but those were spread over six seasons. In Japan, Rhodes ranks fifth in career slugging average, 13th in home runs, 19th in walks, 20th in RBIs, 23rd in on-base percentage and 24th in runs scored. Japan plucked Rhodes at exactly the moment he was putting his minor league career into overdrive and helped him raise his game in ways MLB did not.

“I went to Japan with an open mind, like a newborn baby. I’m going to live my life as an American in Japan. I’m going to learn the culture,” he said recently in an interview from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.


“They said, we’ve got good news and bad news. I said, ‘What’s the good news?’ He said, ‘We have a team that wants you to play every day.’ I said to myself, ‘Well, hell. There can’t be no bad news.’ He said it was in Japan and with the contract they were offering me, I didn’t think twice about it. I just said, ‘Where do I sign?’”

Tuffy Rhodes on his reaction to learning he’d been offered a contract to play in Japan

Although easily the most successful imported player in the history of Nippon Professional Baseball, Rhodes’ legacy is complicated. He loved the country and learned to speak the language, but he was also ejected an NPB-record 14 times and got into an ugly incident with Japan’s most popular club, the Yomiuri Giants. As time passes, advocates of his powerful case for admission to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame have decreased.

The Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame

When Rhodes debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2015, he was named on 25.6 percent of the ballots, with 75 percent needed for election. He made steady gains the next two years to 36.6 percent before dipping in 2018 and recovering somewhat in 2019. Still, he’s never gotten the support that DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez got this year in his debut (40.4 percent).

Through 2018, 329 players have achieved the 4,000 plate appearances NPB requires to be included in career leader boards for offensive average stats. Of those 329, 258 have been out of the game for more than five years. Of those 39 have been elected to the Hall of Fame on the merit of their playing careers. When you look at where Rhodes ranks in career totals, it’s hard to grasp why anyone would doubt his qualifications.

Major league flash in the pan

In the majors, Rhodes made his name on April 4, 1994, the day he blasted three home runs off Dwight Gooden. He hit five more homers that season and 13 in his career before coming to Japan, where he would hit 464 and become the second player to hit 55 in a season after Hall of Famer Sadaharu Oh.

“I made the major leagues at 21,” Rhodes said in a recent telephone interview from his winter home in Phoenix, Ariz. “I found it was easy to get to the major leagues, but the hard thing was to stay. I didn’t work as hard as I should have. I tried to rely on or depend on natural ability, when everyone there had ability that was incredible.”

Baseball had not been Rhodes’ favorite sport. Growing up as the youngest of six kids in a tight-knit, sports-oriented family in Cincinnati, he preferred basketball but played everything.

“My father was a football player and my mother was a softball player. They always had a big influence on us when it came to sports,” Rhodes said. “I played every sport. When I was in Ohio, I played football, basketball, indoor soccer, everything. Every day I was at the Boys Club.

“My love of basketball was so strong, and baseball was secondary. I just played the game.”

But that was enough for the Houston Astros to take him in the third round of the 1986 draft. He played sparingly until Houston let him go in 1993. At that point, Rhodes began to bloom. In Omaha for the Royals and with Iowa for the Cubs, he combined to hit .318 with 30 home runs with plenty of walks and was equally as impressive in his 15 games with the Cubs, where he homered three times in 15 games and walked more than he struck out.

With Glenallen Hill hurt at the start of the 1994 season, Rhodes was in the Opening Day lineup at Wrigley Field, when he etched his name in the history books.

“We had Sammy Sosa in right field making $6 million, and Derrick May in left making about $2 million, and Glen was making three or four million,” Rhodes said. “And I was making about $300,000. When he (Hill) got healthy, he just took his job back. The hard thing was I could not make the adjustment to coming off the bench. A lot of guys did that and became successful in major league baseball. I just wasn’t one of them.”

Ready to commit

Rhodes did adjust, however, in terms of his attitude. He had another solid Triple-A season that year, but was waived in May 1995, when he again failed to succeed off the bench. By the time the Boston Red Sox, claimed him, Rhodes said he was ready to commit. Although he didn’t expect the process would take him to Japan to the Pacific League’s Kintetsu Buffaloes, he said the decision to go was easy.

At that time, scout Ray Poitevint was with Boston. A former resident of Japan, Poitevint created a cottage industry of shipping borderline major leaguers to Japan, where he had numerous connections. “Ray Poitevint was there, and I think the Red Sox had Japan in mind when they claimed me,” said Rhodes, who played 10 games for the Red Sox in 1995, but was again solid in Triple-A.

“They said, we’ve got good news and bad news. I said, ‘What’s the good news?’ He said, ‘We have a team that wants you to play every day.’ I said to myself, ‘Well, hell. There can’t be no bad news.’ He said it was in Japan and with the contract they were offering me, I didn’t think twice about it. I just said, ‘Where do I sign?’”

“My thinking about it is I didn’t give 120 percent in America, the total commitment to baseball. I told myself, when I get to Japan I’m going to do whatever it takes to play as long as I can. I didn’t think it was going to be 13 years.”


“I became a student of the game in Japan as well as just being a baseball player. There are things in Japan, preparation before games, preparing yourself for spring training, I had no other choice but to be successful.”

Tuffy Rhodes on how Japanese regimentation helped turn him around.

He may not have known it, but fewer ideas ring louder in the Japanese baseball psyche than “commitment.” In a country that chews up and spits out talented imports who lack commitment, Rhodes was welcomed once his teammates saw he could do more than talk a good game.

Rhodes had played in Venezuela and Mexico, but living in Japan meant immersion in a world that didn’t always make sense.

Getting used to the unexpected

“The bunt in the first inning, the managers getting on the younger kids hard. I’ve seen one of my managers smack one of the rookie players for missing the bunt sign in Tokyo Dome my first year and I could not believe it,” Rhodes said.

“The spring trainings were totally different. It was work, work, work. And they teach you how to play tired. I wasn’t going to complain about nothing. Was I shocked? Yes. Especially when I had to take a hour of batting practice by myself. My first year, (manager Yosuke) Sasaki kantoku made me take batting practice for a hour by myself. Unbelievable. Luckily the next day was a day off. I didn’t come out of the room. I didn’t eat dinner that night. I didn’t come out of my room the next day. I was done. But it taught me, how to use my hands and relax in situations when you’re tired. It worked out well.”

“At the same time, there was the discipline part. You had no choice not to do it. I’m the kind of guy who needs somebody behind me. I need a personal trainer if I’m going to work out. I need a coach if I’m going to work out. I need a schedule, and I know I’m that type of person, so Japanese baseball was great for me.”

Rhodes absorbed every lesson he could, even when those lessons were taught in unconventional ways.

“I became a student of the game in Japan as well as just being a baseball player,” he said. “There are things in Japan, preparation before games, preparing yourself for spring training, I had no other choice but to be successful.”

Part of the preparation that gets mixed reviews with foreign players are long coach-led meeting where opposing batters and hitters are analyzed and the team’s mistakes criticized. As a youngster in the majors, he’d seen teammates studying individually, and Japan offered a structured way to dive in.

“I watched guys take notes in the major leagues, Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Andre Dawson. They would make a note of every pitch in every at-bat, and they would go back and check their books when they faced that pitcher and have a plan,” Rhodes said. “I didn’t think anything about it. But when I came to Japan, you have meetings and you have no choice. I listened. I wanted to hear everything they had to say.”

Learning curves

“They taught me to look for 2-0 curveballs and forkballs, to not always look for a fastball. In America we look for the fastball and react to the breaking balls. They taught me to look for different pitches in different counts. I had one pitcher, he threw 95 miles an hour, but 3-2 he threw me a changeup 95 percent of the time. I knew just because of my books and my notes.”

“A pitcher for the Orix BlueWave, a left-handed pitcher, bases loaded, he threw me three curveballs in a row. I was looking for a 3-0 curveball and I got it and hit a grand slam. You’d never look for a 3-0 curveball in America. Here I was looking for 3-2 forkballs, 2-0 forkballs instead of getting set up for my fastball. They taught me how to play chess instead of checkers. I got smarter, stronger. I started looking for pitches. When you look for pitches and you get those breaking balls, you don’t have to be the strongest guy to hit those.”

Another change was physical. Rhodes began seriously weight training in Japan, and with the additional strength and study became an upgraded version of the player he’d been on track to become in his 1994 and 1995 Triple-A seasons.

“I got older, and I started developing. I started lifting weights,” he said. “I never lifted weights in the States, Oh my goodness, no.”

“Two of the greatest things that ever happened to me in Japan was getting to play every day, and playing on a one-year deal for eight straight years. They were very accommodating each year, one other thing that was very good was that I was on the Kintetsu Buffaloes. I wasn’t on the (Central League’s) Hanshin Tigers, I wasn’t on the Tokyo Giants or the Chunichi Dragons. I was on a team like the Minnesota Twins or the Cincinnati Reds, so the spotlight wasn’t on our team so much.”

“I hit .240 or .250 until I figured out the baseball here. If I had hit .240 with the Hanshin Tigers or Tokyo Giants, I probably would have had a one-year experience in Japan.” Instead of a trip to minor league obscurity, Rhodes played every one of Kintetsu’s 130 games and finished the season hitting .293 with a .363 on-base percentage and 27 home runs. In 1999, Rhodes set a career high in NPB home runs when he hit his 28th on July 18, giving him his first shot at Oh’s jealously guarded single-season record. But he hit just 11 after the all-star break and finished with 40.

In 2001, en route to the Pacific League’s MVP award and the Buffaloes’ first pennant since 1989, Rhodes became the second player to challenge Oh’s record. In 1985, American compatriot Randy Bass got to 54 for the before he was blocked by the Giants, then managed by Oh.

Only in Japan

One paradox of Japan is that in an environment that idolizes team play, clubs will bend over backward to help secure or protect individual accomplishments of their players. This often leads to counterproductive tactics in late-season throw-away games. In the case of Bass, it meant not seeing strikes from Giants pitchers when he had reached 54 home runs.

Rhodes got the same treatment on Sept. 30, against the Daiei Hawks, where Oh was then managing. Six days after he tied Oh’s record with a home run off Daisuke Matsuzaka and four days after the Buffaloes clinched the PL pennant, Rhodes didn’t see anything resembling a strike in his first two plate appearances and got himself out in his remaining two at-bats.

Before the game, Oh had praised Rhodes’ home run chase and encouraged him to try and hit 60. After the game, the skipper denied ordering his pitchers to not throw strikes. That command came from battery coach Yoshihiro Wakana.

“Rhodes is a player who is going to go back to America. I don’t want a player like that to break manager Oh’s record,” Wakana told reporters after the game.

Oh never publicly criticized Wakana, but the coach’s contract was not renewed for 2002.

For years, Rhodes steamed about it, telling people how he had no respect for Oh, whose pitchers were at it again the following year when the Seibu Lions’ Alex Cabrera reached 55. Part of the Rhodes paradox is a common one for expats who invest themselves in Japan – disappointment when their second home fails in some way. Having learned to speak Japanese, Rhodes seemed to take things on the field more personally than most. In 2003, Rhodes took umbrage when Seibu Lions pitcher Hayato Aoki hit his friend and teammate Norihiro Nakamura and charged the mound from first base. He blindsided Aoki, who was diagnosed with whiplash. Rhodes’ explanation? Aoki failed to follow Japan’s unwritten rule that requires pitchers to tip their cap after hitting batters.

Japan’s unwritten rule

“He hit Nori. I popped him good,” Rhodes said. “I got suspended one game. He didn’t tip his cap. He would not tip his cap. That set me off, because you’re supposed to tip your cap and show respect, unless you did it on purpose. And Nori is my buddy.”

After eight seasons as a proud resident of Osaka, Rhodes left the Buffaloes after the 2003 season and moved to Tokyo to play for the Yomiuri Giants, who were assembling a huge cast of sluggers after a disappointing third-place finish.

“I was battling with Kintetsu. The Giants had offered me a contract. I didn’t ask Kintetsu to match the contract, just match the years,” Rhodes said. “It was the first time I was going to get a two-year deal, and that’s all I wanted Kintetsu to do. They had never given a foreigner a two-year-deal, so I went with the Giants.

“My teammates were pushing, saying it’s time after about my fifth season. Norihiro Nakamura, he was one, after he got a two-year deal. After that year I saw the reason why. I would have finally got a two-year deal from them. Instead I went to the Giants and it was too late. I loved being in Osaka. I was very comfortable where I was.”

2004: Merger and labor strife

The reason turned out to be that the Buffaloes’ parent company, the Kintetsu Railway, went into the 2004 season intent on selling their baseball club. On June 13, news broke that Kintetsu had entered into talks to merge with the PL rival Orix BlueWave. The move precipitated a labor crisis when owners rejected players’ demands to be consulted. This resulted in NPB’s first and so-far only players strike.

Granted, it wasn’t much of a strike. The players caused cancelations of Saturday and Sunday games on Sept. 18 and 19, a move that met with massive approval from the fans, who gave the head of the players’ union, Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta, standing ovations everywhere his team played. But things were settled when owners promised to expedite the creation of a PL expansion franchise to replace Kintetsu and approved interleague play for 2005.

Hard times with the Giants

Although Rhodes told reporters he wanted to finish his career with the Giants, it was not the happiest of marriages. Early in 2005, Rhodes got into a shouting match with coach Sumio Hirota, who accused him of losing a game by failing to chase a ball hit into the gap.

Rhodes was furious. He blasted the Giants to reporters, saying everything was blamed on him despite the team being truly awful. It wasn’t just Rhodes, though. The star-studded club quickly came unhinged under second-year skipper Tsuneo Horiuchi, who made snarky comments about players to reporters and feuded with struggling-but-popular veteran Kazuhiro Kiyohara. As the season wound down, Horiuchi was booed by Giants fans.

Rhodes wasn’t around for that bitter end, though. He hurt his rotator cuff in August and returned to America for surgery and was released after the season. After failing to catch on with the Cincinnati Reds in the spring of 2006, Rhodes returned to Osaka in 2007 to play for the Orix Buffaloes – the team that resulted from the Orix-Kintetsu merger.

Rhodes returns to Osaka

Although he had lost some of his speed and batting average, Rhodes was still a valuable run producer, leading the club in walks and all three Triple Crown stats. Rhodes’ status as an elder statesmen among the foreign players in NPB, didn’t stop opponents and umpires from winding him up. And his knowledge of Japanese certainly helped them push his buttons.

In his most famous ejection, Rhodes turned around in the batter’s box and landed a sumo-like two-handed shove to the mask of Lotte Marines catcher Tomoya Satozaki. Rhodes said it was set up after the Marines had hit teammate Greg LaRocca, who in 2007 set an NPB single-season record by getting hit by pitches 28 times.

“Three game series,” Rhodes said. “They hit LaRocca the first two days. LaRocca hit a groundball to first base. (Pitcher Naoyuki) Shimizu is covering first base. LaRocca kind of gave him a cheap shot. I don’t know if he stepped on him, kind of like an elbow to the back, because they collided and…all heck breaks loose. Who’s batting next? Me. First pitch, inside. Shimizu’s a pretty damn good pitcher. He’s got some pretty good stuff.”

“So I looked back at Satozaki and said to him in Japanese, ‘Remember, I’m not LaRocca.’ He’s down there. I kicked my dirt. I did not kick dirt on him. Then he stands up and says in Japanese, ‘Rhodes, I’m not scared of you.’ I thought, ‘that’s it,’ and I popped him right in the mouth. He’s lucky the umpire got hold of me from behind because I had him on the ground and I was going to punch him.”

Rhodes played in a career-low 84 games in 2009, but still reached base at a .402 clip and slugged .583. Yet, when Orix turned to its fifth manager in six seasons since the merger, Rhodes was not asked back. He waited for a call that never came. It came as a surprise to nearly everyone that when the 2010 roster signing deadline came on July 31, Rhodes’ name was nowhere to be seen.

Learning to coach and relax

With no return ticket, Rhodes stayed at home in Houston, where he coached his son TJ’s basketball team with some success, applying the studious ways he’d approached baseball in Japan to coaching basketball.

“I started out as an assistant coach and the coach stepped down and everyone voted for me to be the next coach,” Rhodes said. “The system was already in order. I just added stuff on. I googled stuff I didn’t know, even though I loved basketball and thought I knew everything about basketball. I did my research.”

His chance to return to Japan for a third time came in 2015 when a former teammate contacted him about being a player coach for the Toyama Thunderbirds in the independent Baseball Challenge League. Rhodes didn’t hit for power, but he did produce, but felt he could no longer play. The team wanted him to come back for 2016, but he had just purchased his winter home in Scottsdale.

“That didn’t work out because they were expecting me to play and I couldn’t play. I couldn’t give them that much,” he said. “They tried to (bring me back), but I had just bought the house out here. I really tried. But by the time I got back to them, they were going to go a different route. I regret I didn’t push a little harder, a little faster.”

And now?

“I’m the true definition of retired,” said Rhodes, whose son is now wrapping up his college studies in Cincinnati. “I’m enjoying life.”

Rhodes said he’d jump at the chance to return to Japan to coach or manage, but wasn’t holding his breath. It is very likely he’ll return at some point – to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, when enough voters manage to get their priorities straight and actually weigh his accomplishments.

“I try not to worry about things like that that I don’t have control over. I would love to be in the Hall of Fame there. It would be a great honor. But you know, there are only two or three things in my life that outweigh the joy, the great time and the learning experience and the people I met in Japan. I can’t replace that.”

Former greats weigh in on high school pitch limits

The outer limits

Since Japan’s Niigata Prefecture has announced its plan to restrict pitcher usage in its spring tournament this year, three former Chunichi Dragons pitchers, two Hall of Famers Hiroshi Gondo and Shigeru Sugishita and Masahiro Yamamoto have weighed in on the issue and expressed widely divergent views.

On Jan. 15, Gondo was announced as one of the three newest members of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. The right-hander’s playing career was defined by his first two seasons. As a 22-year-old out of corporate league ball in 1961, Gondo won 35 games in his 429-1/3-inning rookie season. The following year, he pitched 362-1/3 innings and won 30 games.

Niigata’s new limits will prohibit a pitcher from starting an inning after he’d thrown 100 pitches in a game but not prohibit pitchers from pitching on consecutive days.

Save the game

“I am absolutely opposed to that (sort of restriction),” Gondo said.

“Most of those kids aren’t going to be professionals, and this will be the end of their baseball careers. You don’t want to hold them back. Besides, if you can’t pitch that much in high school without ruining your arm, there’s no way you can make it in the pros anyway.”

On the question of whether high school baseball should be about competition or education, Gondo came down solidly on the side of competition.

“You don’t want to put obstacles in the way of people playing to win,” he said. “People are going to get hurt, and you can’t alter that fact.”

I don’t want to state that as his entire philosophy on the issue, since we only spoke for a few minutes, but he certainly seemed to think that high school ball is safe enough.

Save the kids

Sugishita, whose No. 20 Gondo inherited when he joined the Dragons, wasn’t certain if Niigata’s method was the right way to go, but said, “You’ve got to do something to protect these kids’ arms.”

Yamamoto, a lock to join them in the Hall of Fame after he enters the players division ballot for the Hall’s class of 2021, was even more emphatic when he spoke on Sunday in Yokohama.

At a seminar attended by nearly 600 people that included elementary and junior high school coaches, doctors and parents, Yamamoto spoke of last year’s high school superstar, pitcher Kosei Yoshida.

At the national high school summer championship, Yoshida threw 881 pitches over six games, with four of those games coming over the final five days of the tournament.

“It’s a good thing Yoshida didn’t break down,” Yamamoto said. “But I thought that continuing like he did put the player’s career at risk.”

When Niigata’s prefectural association imposed its rules without asking the national body, the Japan High School Baseball Federation lashed out, calling the new system arbitrary and unenforceable.

But Yamamoto praised the work of Japan’s national rubber ball federation, whose guidelines limit pitchers to 70 pitches in a single game and 300 within a week.

“They have done good work to protect children’s futures,” he said.

No magic number

In a recent interview, Dr. Tsutomu Jinji, a professor of biomechanics who has extensively studied how pitchers mechanics impart movement to baseballs, said there is no magic number of pitches that will prevent injuries.

“Some people possess thicker ligaments, that can withstand more stress and torque,” he said. “Other pitchers are more flexible than others, or possess better mechanics.”

“What that means is that some pitchers’ arms will break down even with very limited usage, while others will survive much heavier workloads without any damage at all. It is possible to prevent catastrophic damage with ultrasound examinations so that pitchers whose elbows are at risk get rest, but that is not being done.”

Japan’s deep still waters

Tuffy Rhodes‘ failure to win election to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame for the fourth straight year sparked no outrage or surprise at all on Jan. 15, when this year’s voting results were announced. Several stories on this site and the Japan Times were published but barely made a ripple in the nation’s baseball consciousness.

For the past two seasons, I’ve been posting my postseason award ballots on Twitter, and they’ve received a huge amount of feedback. When I got the right to vote in Japan’s Hall of Fame for the first time in December, I thought this would get a killer response. The silence was deafening. Nobody cared.

When Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was elected, the Japanese language internet was filled with high-fiving supporters on social media and in the comments sections of news stories. Didn’t see one about Rhodes, who was easily the most qualified player on the ballot.

The table below shows the 2019 Hall of Fame votes for position players on this year’s ballot who failed to gain admission. It is sorted using career totals of Bill James‘ win shares. The “offensive categories led” column is for the big ones, runs, doubles, triples, homers, RBIs, stolen bases, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging average. No NPB player whose led his league in more than 17 categories has not been elected to the hall — until Tuffy.

Hall of fame graphic
Position players with 25 percent of vote in 2019 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame voting, sorted by career totals of Bill James’ win shares.

Enter the foreign media and NBC Sports’ story on Rhodes peculiar voting results. Within a few days, Japanese website Full-Count picked up on Craig Calcaterra’s story and that got 300-plus comments. You can read some of those here.

If it hadn’t been for Craig’s story, one would have thought nobody in Japan gave a hoot about the Hall of Fame, but let an overseas media outlet light a spark and the flames were visible.

I asked a fellow voter at my office, one of the guys who runs the Japanese pro baseball desk in the main (Japanese language) sports section of Kyodo News in Tokyo. He said Japanese dislike negative stories, preferring to celebrate the winners and forget about the losers.

He said he’s voted for Rhodes every year he’s been on the ballot and couldn’t figure out why he didn’t have more support, since his overall numbers place him smack in the middle of all the current Hall of Fame outfielders.

The only similar outfielder not in the hall is Masahiro Doi, who was victimized by changes to eligibility. It used to be that no who had been in uniform for five years was eligible. A few years ago the ballot was split into a players division for those who had been inactive for five to 20 years, and an experts division for anyone who has been out of uniform for six months or more.

Doi became a coach before he was eligible under the old rules. When the new rules were instituted, his career had been over for more than 20 years so he couldn’t enter the players division. He told me last year he has retired, so he’ll be on next year’s experts division ballot.

When Japan fans hit the shit

After NBC Sports’ Craig Calcatarra published his side of the Tuffy Rhodes Hall of Fame story, Japanese language baseball site Full-Count responded with an article saying even the American media was mystified by Rhodes’ inability to be selected to Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

This story, linked int Yahoo! Japan’s sports baseball news, has drawn a flood of comments, mostly from people pissed off with the Hall of Fame voters, who put Rhodes behind a number of players on the ballot with weaker credentials.

There’s an expression in Japan called “gai-atsu”. It means foreign pressure. Sometimes, when one wants to accomplish something or promote an agenda, voices shaming Japan from abroad is seen as useful leverage.

We recently marked the anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. At that time, 1995, every national network news program began its domestic coverage of the quake by showing how it was being covered by the BBC, or CBS, or NBC or CNN. That kind of paranoia about how the world views Japan is no longer an everyday facet of life, but the idea that Japan cares about its image abroad is still there.

What the fans said:

While Japan’s Hall drones on year after year without a whiff of the controversy or debate that Cooperstown provokes, the fans have shown some fire in this debate. Japanese baseball has been much of my life, but I got a little choked up reading the comments to the article.

I have abridged some of them. I wish I could reproduce them all here.


“When his team Kintetsu was being put of business and Japan’s players union went out on strike in 2004, Tuffy did his part. He was out engaging with the fans, signing autographs even though he wasn’t a member of the union. He belongs in the Hall of Fame on the merit of his stats, of course, but just as much because of how well he treated the fans.”

近鉄の球団身売り→球界初のストという一連の事態に於いても「何とか力になりたい」と選手会主催のサイン会に参加していた(日本の選手会に所属してないにもかかわらず)。 記録もそうだが、ファンを大切にしていた彼は殿堂にふさわしい。


“This goes for (Kintetsu Buffaloes teammate) Norihiro Nakamura. WHat kind of numbers would you have produced if you were even a bit more humble? But the fire you showed, and speaking the Kansai dialect, the Kintetsu colors were perfectly suited to you. You were one of the greats.”

中村ノリ共々、もう少し謙虚であったならどんな成績を残していたか。まぁ豪快な打棒と暴れっぷり、関西弁を喋るキャラは近鉄のカラーに合ってた。名選手の一人。


“The attention paid to Pacific League players is not as great as for those in the Central League, and it seems that they are not evaluated as highly either.”

主にパリーグに在籍していた選手は、セリーグのそれに比べ、注目度の低さが祟って、相対的に低めに評価される傾向があるようには感じる。


“Compared to Rhodes, people are forgetting his character compared to someone like Alex Ramirez, who is still working as a manager (in Japan). This is very unfortunate for such a wonderful person who paid so much respect to Japan.”

ラミレス監督の現役時代のチームへの貢献度やホームランはバレンティンを超える成績を残せたであろう選手。なんせ日本へ敬意を払ってくれていた素晴らしい選手だっただけに残念。


“The American baseball community pays its respect to Japan’s home run king Mr. Oh, and I think it’s only fitting that we have foreign players in our Hall of Fame.”

アメリカの野球界が日本のホームランキングの王さんに敬意を示しているわけですから、日本の野球も外国人選手の殿堂入りはあっても良いと思います


“Ichiro is going to make it to Cooperstown, and it seems Rhodes has done more than enough to be inducted in Japan’s Hall of Fame.”

イチローがアメリカで殿堂入りしそうなんだから、ローズの日本で殿堂入りも十分ありでしょ。


“Someone please explain Rhodes’ failure to be elected. It’s not just one year, but four. If Rhodes were Japanese I think I might be able to accept that. But if racial discrimination is involved in the process, then that should be stated clearly in writing. This is an embarrassment for Japan.


Are we still living in an atmosphere of national isolation (like Japan’s feudal era) ? People form other countries strived and contributed here for a long time. Isn’t that itself something special? It would not be any surprise if Greg “Boomer” Wells were in our Hall of Fame, too. I think it’s because these people are seen as imported labor.”

“Tuffy came back and contributed to (managed) and played in Japanese independent ball, so I would like to see him back in Japan even if it were as a coach for Orix. He is Mr. Buffalo.

未だに鎖国的雰囲気があるのか・・・・
異国の地で長く活躍するのがどれだけ大変な事か
ブーマー辺りも殿堂入りしても全然不思議ではないのに

助っ人だと思う。
また、独立リーグでのプレーもみたいし、コーチでオリックスに帰ってきてほしい。
ミスターバファローズ


Just to be certain. It wasn’t all sweetness and light.

“It’s because he’s hired help. Foreigners’ bodies are bigger.

助っ人だからな。日本人とは体格も違うし。