Tuffy Rhodes played 225 games in six seasons in the majors. While a lot of people remember him hitting three homers on Opening Day in 1994, he’d only hit five more all season and would only hit a total of 13 in his entire big league career. Which is to say that he wasn’t anything special. But then he went to Japan for 13 seasons and, let me tell ya, he was something special over there.
In those 13 seasons he batted .286/.381/.559 and became the all-time NPB home run leader among foreign-born players, with 464 longballs. That also ties him for 11th all time among all NPB players. In 2001 he hit 55 home runs tying what was then the NPB single-season mark set by the legendary Sadaharu Oh in 1964. It’s likely he would’ve broken the record but, as was often the case with foreign players approaching records held by Japanese players, Rhodes was pitched around late in the season. (Wladimir Balentien later broke the record, hitting 60 homers, in 2013).
Rhodes’ career would seem to make him a prime candidate for the Japanese baseball Hall of Fame, but in four years on the ballot he has come nowhere close to election. This year he received 29.6 percent of the vote. And that’s a high water mark for him. There is just little support for the guy.
While many have suspected that his status as a foreigner is to blame, it’s not simply because he’s not Japanese. Randy Bass did not get elected but he did receive nearly 64% of the vote and he only played in five full seasons in Japan. It’s also, likely, not because of his race. A contemporary of Rhodes, Alex Ramirez, a Venezuelan with dark skin, also made his debut on the ballot this year and got 40.4%. Whether there are more subtle racial/ethnic politics at play than that is beyond me, of course, and is better left to people who actually understand racial politics in Japan. On the surface, though, race and nationality seem like less-than-satisfying answers.
Whether or not race has anything to do with it, there is almost certainly something else at work here: Rhodes’ attitude. Or what has been reported or perceived about his attitude by the Japanese baseball media and figures within the Japanese game.
Today Jim Allen — who has covered baseball in Japan for 20 years, currently for the Kyodo News — writes about Rhodes, his time in Japan and his difficulty gaining support on the Hall of Fame ballot. The anecdotes are pretty great. Certainly not the sorts of things we hear about often in America, where Japanese baseball is covered almost exclusively through a lens of “[Player] might be posted to come to the majors.” My takeaway: We’re not the only country with a Hall of Fame keeping deserving guys out for dubious reasons such as perceived attitude. My gut impression is that Rhodes’ candidacy is like Dick Allen’s candidacy here . . . if Dick Allen had, say, Mark McGwire’s career but no PED baggage.
Anyway, after you read that, spend some more time on Jim’s site and give him a follow on Twitter. He’s the best source for Americans seeking insight into baseball in Japan and will give you some fun reads on what is shaping up to be a slow baseball news day.