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Rhodes equals Japan's record for home runs

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

TOKYO (AP) -- It took 37 years and a fastball over the middle of the plate for an American to finally equal Japan's single-season home run record.

Ex-major league outfielder Tuffy Rhodes hit a solo shot into the right field stands at Osaka Dome on Monday for his 55th homer of the season, tying the single season mark set by the legendary Sadaharu Oh way back in 1964.

After rounding the bases, Rhodes bowed his head and tipped his cap to the roaring crowd of 48,000. Some fans waved placards depicting Rhodes in his black and orange Kinetetsu Buffaloes uniform.

Few thought that a foreign player would ever be allowed to break Oh's hallowed record.

Even though he's of Taiwanese ancestry, Oh is revered in Japan. He helped lead the nation's most popular team, the Yomiuri Giants, to nine straight Japan Series titles.

between 1965 and 1973 and finished his career with 868 homers over 22 seasons.

The last time a foreign player came close to breaking Oh's record was in 1985 when Randy Bass of the Hanshin Tigers hit 54. Bass' last two games of the season were against the Giants, who were managed by Oh at the time.

Not surprisingly, he was walked six times in nine at-bats. At one point, Bass stood at the plate with his bat held upside down in protest of what many considered to be a conspiracy among teams to keep an American from breaking Oh's record.

But Japanese baseball has come a long way since then. The success of players like Ichiro Suzuki, Hideo Nomo and Kazuhiro Sasaki in the major leagues has given Japanese players the confidence to go head-to-head with Americans like Rhodes.

Hard-throwing Daisuke Matsuzaka -- who at 22 wasn't even born yet when Oh hit his record-breaking homer -- gave up Monday's home run to Rhodes in Kintetsu's 7-6 victory over the Seibu Lions. Matsuzaka is considered talented enough to possibly join other Japanese in the majors one day.

With five games remaining in the season, the odds of breaking the record appear to be in Rhodes' favor and Oh, who now manages the Pacific League's Daiei Hawks, has repeatedly said it's time for someone to take his place in the record books.

For a while, it looked like Rhodes would suffer the same fate as Bass. Rhodes hit his 54th homer on Sept. 13 and then went almost two weeks without hitting another home run.

''I put a lot of pressure on myself over the past six games, but I finally got one,'' said Rhodes, a 33-year-old native of Cincinnati.

The Buffaloes sit in first place in the Pacific League standings, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Lions and are bidding for their first pennant since 1989. Coincidentally, they will play their last two games of the season on Sept. 30 and Oct.1 against Oh and his defending champion Hawks at Fukuoka Dome.

Playing in his sixth season with the Buffaloes, Rhodes is the elder statesman among Japan's foreign players. Before this season, his best year was 1999, when he hit 40 homers.

The 33-year-old journeyman signed with the Buffaloes in 1996 after a brief stint with the Boston Red Sox in 1995. He started his major league career with the Houston Astros in 1990 before moving to the Chicago Cubs in 1993.

Rhodes belted three home runs on opening day in 1994 at Chicago's Wrigley Field, but managed just five more that season. Following a couple of lackluster years in the majors, he signed with the Buffaloes where he quickly became a fan favorite.



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