HOUSTON – Tuffy Rhodes didn’t have to think twice to choose job security over dollar bills, but when he asked for what he believed was a simple wish and was denied it, he knew it was time to move on.
He knows Osaka fans think he chose a better salary over devotion to the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The three-time Pacific League home run king said all he wanted was a contract extension for another two seasons — perhaps his final two — but the team’s answer was no.
The Buffaloes have never given a foreign player a multiyear deal. And Rhodes, despite being able to qualify for free agency this year after serving a ninth season on the top team roster, was no exception.
“After eight years of me committing to them, I thought it was only fair for them to commit to me,” the 35-year-old Rhodes told Kyodo News at his home in Houston.
“They offered me a one-year contract and I rejected it, and they never came back with another offer. And the next thing you know, I was seeing in the papers the Buffaloes were releasing me. Obviously, it was something easy for them to do,” he said.
The news came as an unpleasant surprise to the co-holder of the single-season Japanese home run record (55) and holder of the all-time home run record for foreigners (288), who had hoped to end his playing career in Japan where he started.
The Buffaloes could have used the team’s financial woes as an excuse had they not re-signed Norihiro Nakamura to a 500 million yen deal later in December, making him the highest-paid Japanese ballplayer, but ironically it was clear the issue was not about money for them either.
“I understand if they’re talking about a foreigner who’s been there for two or three years and saying ‘they’re not giving him a multiyear deal,’ but I’ve been there for eight years,” said Rhodes, who has two RBI titles to his credit.
According to Japanese baseball regulations, a foreign player who earns free agent rights after nine seasons on the top team would be exempt from being counted among the four foreign players who are allowed to be registered on a single team at any time.
So when the Yomiuri Giants eagerly pursued him with the deal he wanted last month even before the Chunichi Dragons got their chance, Rhodes appreciated their faith in him and signed papers that guaranteed him $5 million (about 540 million yen) over the next two years.
Rhodes says he has never spent an offseason where he has been forced to do so much thinking as now.
“I wasn’t prepared to start all over again, especially at 35. As you get older you don’t want to make changes, but I still can play the game and I got a team that was really interested in me. I don’t want to start over, but I will, and I have,” he said.
Rhodes knows what people are saying behind his back, but also believes that one day they will come to understand his decision was made for his future, especially with his 9-year-old son TJ (Tuffy Junior) who now divides his time between the homes of his divorced parents.
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