Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame showing little respect for former NPB great Tuffy Rhodes

by Jason Coskrey

It’s one thing for another year to pass with Tuffy Rhodes not yet even within shouting distance of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. But there has to be something in the voters’ water for the American slugger to be left in the dust by Masahiro Kawai on the ballot. Yet that’s where we are.

The Hall opened its doors to former Chunichi Dragons Kazuyoshi Tatsunami and Hiroshi Gondo as well as former high school federation head Haruo Wakimura on Tuesday.

Rhodes meanwhile was left to languish about halfway down the ballot results. Needing to garner 75 percent of the vote, or 279 out of the 371 valid ballots returned, Rhodes clocked in at 29.6 percent.

His lack of support the last four years remains baffling. He was 25.6 percent in 2015, his first year on the ballot.

You have to wonder what, exactly, Rhodes has to do. His candidacy is static. His numbers will neither improve nor decline. He also won’t suddenly become Japanese between now and next year’s ballot.

It’s worth noting the Hall has mostly ignored the great foreign players of years past, with only Victor Starfin, who grew up in Japan and was registered as Japanese, and Wally Yonamine, a Japanese-American, as the only “foreigners” to make it through Players Selection Committee. Hanshin Tigers legend Randy Bass also missed out, but reached 63.2 percent on the expert ballot this year.

Many didn’t play in Japan long enough to warrant inclusion, but Rhodes had 13 seasons under his belt.

It seems Rhodes gaining entry in the players’ division will require a massive shift in the thinking of voters over the next 11 seasons. Even if he never gets in, being this far away is a poor showing by the voters. One of his contemporaries, Alex Ramirez, made his debut at 40.4 percent this year. Rhodes should be at or above that mark already — if not in.

Rhodes played from 1996-2009 for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, Yomiuri Giants and Orix Buffaloes. He finished with a .286 career average, 464 home runs and 1,269 RBIs. His career on-base plus slugging percentage is .940. He led his league in home runs four times, including 2001, when he tied the then-single-season record of 55 and was robbed of a few chances to break it due to some funny business from opposing teams.

Rhodes walked 958 times and stole 87 bases. He was the Pacific League MVP in 2001 and made seven Best Nine teams.

His .559 slugging percentage is the fifth-highest in NPB history and he ranks 13th in home runs, 19th in walks, tied for 23rd in intentional walks (77) and 73rd with 1,792 hits.

Yet he only tallied 110 votes, fewer than Kenjiro Nomura (138) and Hiroki Kokubo (119).

Which brings us to Kawai.

The former Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons player was named on 50.7 percent of the ballots with 188 votes. Only Tatsunami and former pitcher Shingo Takatsu (60.6) got more.

Kawai’s 533 sacrifice bunts are the most all time, but the infielder finished his 23-year career with a .266 average, 43 homers, 322 RBIs, 47 steals and a .345 slugging percentage. He scored 591 runs in his career. Rhodes scored 1,100. Kawai made one Best Nine team and won four Japan Series titles with the Giants. He was a very good fielder, claiming six Golden Gloves at shortstop.

How does Kawai do so well, and Rhodes (and Kenji Johjima at 15.1 percent) so poorly? That many people rate his career in higher regard? Kawai was a good player, but he isn’t a Hall of Famer, irrespective of Rhodes.

Shinya Miyamoto and Ramirez were the other two batters above 40 percent. Both were popular players who reached the 2,000-hit mark, are early in their 15-year runs on the ballot and in good position.

Ramirez also hit 380 home runs and finished with 1,272 RBIs and a .523 slugging percentage. Like Rhodes, he played 13 NPB seasons and had a .301 average, three more RBIs and one more (CL) MVP.

There may be something to Ramirez remaining fresh in voters’ minds due to his currently managing the BayStars. It might actually help Rhodes in a weird way if Ramirez gets in first, which he probably will, based on their numbers.

Rhodes gave NPB his blood and sweat for 13 seasons. The least the guardians of the Hall of Fame can do now is be honest about the legacy he left behind.