Will Tuffy Rhodes Eventually Be Elected to Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame?

Tuffy Rhodes was the greatest foreign hitter in the history of Japan’s NPB, at least in my opinion and as far as I have been able to identify NPB’s best all-time foreign hitters.  He hit 464 HRs in 13 NPB seasons, good for 13th best in NPB history, including a then single-season record-tying 55 HRs in 2001 (NPB pitchers stopped pitching to him after he tied Sadaharu Oh‘s 1964 record).  Rhodes also drove in 1,269 runs and scored 1,100.

I was therefore a little taken aback when I saw that he received only 122 votes out of a necessary 250 votes needed for election to Japan’s baseball Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility.  Only 36.6% of electors voted for him this year.

Rhodes’ poor showing once again raised some troubling questions about whether a player must be Japanese to make Japan’s Hall of Fame, no matter what the player may have done in Japan’s top professional league. However, after delving into the matter a bit more deeply, I am pleased to say that Rhodes is probably where he should be to have a reasonable likelihood of being elected before his initial 15 years of eligibility expire.

Japan’s Hall of Fame generally makes players wait to be elected.  Rhodes received 85 votes in his first year of eligibility two years ago.  The last three players elected to Japan’s Hall of Fame, Kimiyasu Kudo (2016), Masaki Sato (2016) and Tsutomu Ito (2017) during there initial 15 year period of eligibility, were elected in their second, tenth and ninth years of eligibility, respectively.  Further, all three of the players who received fewer votes than Rhodes in 2015 but more votes than Rhodes in 2017 have fewer years of initial eligibility left.

In other words, it is probably going to be some years before we know whether Japan’s Hall of Fame electors do the right thing by Rhodes.  Needless to say, with a 75% requirement and the fact that Rhodes’ NPB career was relatively short at 13 seasons, it only takes a relatively small percentage who won’t vote for a foreign player to keep Rhodes out.

For what it’s worth, LeRon Lee hasn’t been on the “expert” ballot for players who have been retired at least 21 years (what MLB’s Hall of Fame calls the “Veterans’ Committee” selections) since 2014, suggesting that he now has little chance of ever being elected to Japan’s Hall of Fame.  Lee played 11 seasons in NPB, and his .320 career batting average is highest of any NPB player with at least 4,000 at-bats (he had 4,934 at bats in Japan, so he didn’t just barely break this barrier).  He hit over .300 with power for ten consecutive seasons and really deserves to be in Japan’s Hall of Fame.

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