Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

Tigers newcomer Justin Bour bears burden of Randy Bass' legacy with club

We should all have people in our lives as loyal to us as some fans and media around the Hanshin Tigers are to the memory of Randy Bass.

Much like NBA legend Michael Jordan never missing a game-winning shot, Bass never hit a ball that failed to circumnavigate the globe at least once.

In truth, Bass was a superstar player who has almost become a folk legend in retirement. Which is saying something, considering how actually amazing he was in the batter’s box for Hanshin from 1983 to 1988. He’s remembered as a burly, bearded slugger who carried a big bat, essentially the Central League’s version of Paul Bunyan — or Colonel Sanders, depending on which stories you read.

The problem with all this is the weight many have attached to his legacy. Just as the NBA spent several seasons searching for the next Jordan, the Tigers’ quest to uncover another Bass is entering Year 32. Season after season, new Hanshin players are saddled with this burden before they’ve even played a game.

As soon as any foreign slugger with a reputation for hitting homers steps off the plane in Kansai, immigration officials stamp his passport and strap Bass’ ghost to his shoulders.

Justin Bour is the Tigers’ latest “Randy Bass.” One reporter who covered Bour’s introductory news conference on Jan. 30 began his report by asking, in the first line, “is this the birth of Reiwa’s (the Reiwa Era) Bass?”

Bour, without playing Game 1 in Japan, is now supposed to live up to Bass. Let’s remember, Bass had a career that arguably could’ve landed him in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame — and he may still get in on the experts’ ballots.

Bass hit 202 home runs — including nearly tying the NPB record with 54 in 1985 — and drove in 486 runs. He finished his career with a .337 average and his .389 mark in 1986 remains the single-season record. He won the Triple Crown in 1985 and again in ’86.

He was also, more importantly, one of the heroes of the 1985 Japan Series team, which is still the only Tigers squad to win it all.

So maybe let Bour get his feet wet before comparing every spring training swing to what Bass did.

Of course, this is the modus operandi around the Tigers. Fans and media quickly anoint a new foreign slugger as the next Bass and, even if said player generally performs well, are aggrieved when they come up short.

The disappointment lasts until the next player comes along. Then, it’s rinse and repeat. Even if the fans latch on to someone, like Craig Brazell (2009 to 2012), the search continues soon after.

Now Bour might just turn out to be great. He hit 92 home runs across six seasons in the majors, including three seasons with 20 or more. He showed off his awesome power during an epic first-round battle against Aaron Judge during the 2017 Home Run Derby.

He’s been turning heads with his power stroke during his first steps with the Tigers at spring camp by many early accounts. Earlier this week, the lefty-hitting slugger absolutely crushed a ball the other way during an intrasquad game that prompted an approving tweet from his friend Christian Yelich, the 2018 National League MVP.

Bour is also only in his first season in Japan. So maybe everyone should consider pumping the brakes and letting him find his way and make his adjustments without Bass’ shadow hanging over him. There’s going to be enough pressure on him with the Tigers as it is, it’d seem like making things easier, not harder, is the way to go.

Bour doesn’t need to be the next Randy Bass. He just needs to crush homers and everything else will take care of itself.

The fans will cheer, the Tigers might win some games and Bour will have made his own name.

Maybe then, instead of trying to turn him into another Randy Bass, the Tigers will count their lucky stars they found a Justin Bour.

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