Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Tuffy Rhodes: the best ever foreign player in Japan

by Wayne Graczyk

The 10-year Japan career of Tuffy Rhodes has apparently come to an end with the announcement last week he had signed a contract with his hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds.

I say “apparently” because you just never know. Rhodes’ deal includes a minor league pact with an invitation to the major league camp and, should he not make the National League roster, he would most likely retire at 37 rather than report to the Reds Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, Ky.

In that case, if a Japanese team was to decide in April it needs a guy such as Tuffy, I would not be surprised to see him come back. I can recall writing a “sayonara” column about Leo Gomez after he left the Chunichi Dragons in 2001, only to have him rejoin the Nagoya team after he was cut from the Pittsburgh Pirates camp that spring.

But, even if Rhodes never comes back to Japan, his career has to go down as one of the best — if not the best — of the 709 foreigners who have played here since Wally Yonamine joined the Tokyo Giants in 1951.

He leaves as the all-time leader among gaikokujin in at-bats (5,016), home runs (360) and RBIs (993). Tuffy is one of only eight Americans to play a decade or more in Japan, joining the list with Yonamine (12 years), Chico Barbon and Leron Lee (11), and Fibber Hirayama, Andy Miyamoto, Leon Lee and Boomer Wells (10 each).

He won four home run titles and two RBI crowns and tied Sadaharu Oh’s single-season homer record with 55 in 2001 for the Kintetsu Buffaloes. Rhodes also speaks fluent Japanese and, really, Japan is where he belongs — if he’s going to play another season or two.

News photo

Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing Rhodes here again this year. Frankly, I’ll be surprised if he makes the Reds’ Opening Day roster, and he will be anxious to know if he can still play and return to form after shoulder surgery last year that should have eased the pain he experienced all during the 2005 season and limited him to a .240 average and 27 homers with Yomiuri.

As a 10-year-in-Japan player, he would not count against a team’s four foreign player varsity limit so, if it wanted to, even a team such as the Orix Buffaloes with position players Cliff Brumbaugh, Karim Garcia and Jason Grabowski could hire Rhodes without dropping another non-Japanese guy.

Tuffy’s buddies and former teammates, Nori (Norihiro Nakamura) and Kiyo (Kazuhiro Kiyohara) are with Orix too, but Rhodes would be a good fit for almost any Pacific or Central League club.

The statistics compiled during his Japan career appear here. They’re fine as they are, but it would be nice to see him add to the already impressive numbers and watch him launch those rockets out of Japanese stadiums once again.


WBC Tickets: A reader named Dennis in Yokohama wrote that he had searched for information in English on how to get tickets to the World Baseball Classic games at Tokyo Dome but could not find anything. He said the official MLB web site shows a perpetual message of “Tickets on sale soon,” and he wants the scoop on WBC Pool A tickets.

The tickets went on sale Jan. 21 and, if Dennis or anyone else interested will go to www.wbcar.com, you’ll find all the information you need, including the ticket prices, Tokyo Dome seating diagram, ticket outlets, phone numbers, etc.

It appears in Japanese but, at the top right on the page, you can click on English, Korean or Chinese for a translation. Ticket prices range from 20,000 yen for the “Exciting Seats” (on the field) for the night games involving Japan, to 2,000 yen (1,000 yen for children) for general admission to the day games.

The schedule, by the way, for the WBC Asia Round at Tokyo Dome will see Korea play Taiwan at 11 a.m. and Japan play China at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 3.

On Saturday, March 4, Korea plays China at 11 a.m. and Japan plays Taiwan at 6 p.m.

On the final day, Sunday, March 5, Taiwan plays China at 11 a.m. and Japan goes against Korea at 6 p.m.

The top two teams advance to the next round in Anaheim, Calif.

There are also exhibition games coming up, with Japan playing a selection of All-Star players from Central and Pacific clubs who are not on the WBC roster at Fukuoka Yahoo JAPAN Dome on Feb. 24 and 25 at 7 p.m. The All-Japan unit will also tune up against the defending Japan Series champion Chiba Lotte Marines in Fukuoka on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m.

On Feb. 28 at Tokyo Dome, Lotte will play Chinese Taipei at noon, and the Yomiuri Giants will meet China at 7 p.m. Then on March 1, also at the Big Egg, it’s the Marines vs. Korea at noon and the Giants vs. Japan at 7 p.m.


Bunts & Brains Dept.? Finally this week, many baseball teams have captains, but the Chunichi Dragons have bestowed a special title on veteran infielder Masahiro Kawai. The 41-year-old sacrifice bunt expert will be the club’s “mental adviser.”

Not sure what his responsibilities will be, but I guess when a younger player goes into a slump or has any other problem, he can go to Kawai for guidance. I wonder if they have to make an appointment.


Contact Wayne Graczyk by e-mail at Wayne@JapanBall.com