What if you had been able to befriend Ichiro Suzuki in Seattle back in 2001? You, a regular guy who had spent 7 or so years in Japan and knew the language, and could help him adjust to the new league, culture and country. And after his historic season, you got this idea: I could chronicle the year I spent with him, sharing precious moments off the field, the man’s philosophy on hitting, success in America, life in Japan, post-playing career plans, conversations he had with other Japanese MLB players, and more! I could write a book, publish it and make millions!
That’s pretty much the story that the late Keigo “Kenny” Hirao wrote in 1985. He used his 7 years of life experience in New York to earn credentials as a journalist, then made friends with Randy Bass, literally following him everywhere (more often than not being pulled along) and then in a series of interviews, fleshed out major themes in conversation and life events and put them in a neat format that reads much more quickly than I wanted to.
What was Bass’ life’s philosophy (and favorite song)? Elvis Presley’s (not Sinatra’s?) I Did It My Way.
What did Bass’ typical day look like? Wake up around noon, eat light (or not at all), take care of tasks/chores, head to the park, eat some udon, practice, play, shower, go home, head out to drink/eat.
The secret to Bass’ home run success? It’s all in the forearms. He built up his strength helping his father with roof shingling as a child and worked in horse stables during down times. Also, learning to hit the long ball to the opposite field, too.
What was Bass’ house like (other than being big)? Nothing but American goods inside – appliances and food alike – and no paying any mind to Japanese media, sports shows, etc.
What did Bass think about his managers? High respect for Andoh and admiration for Yoshida’s ability to adapt his approach to different players’ personalities.
What were some of the foreign players’ complaints? Too much practice makes the team too tired for games! (Nothing new there.) But as much as possible, Bass kept this dislike for the system to himself. He said those who waste their time complaining about how different Japan is, will never succeed. But for Bass, the Tigers’ media contingent was overwhelming, relentless, and downright disrespectful of his privacy – staking out his home in Kobe and even following him back to his home in Lawton, Oklahoma, in the offseason.
Who were some of the players Bass hung out with off the field? Warren Cromartie (Giants) – despite their differences in personality and rivalry on the field, Boomer Wells (Hankyu Braves) – he was a great story teller, Leon Lee (Marines), Rich Gale (Tigers) – possibly his best friend during his time in Japan.
This book was filled with tons of great stories and even revealed that Bass seriously considered leaving Japan after the 1985 season – after all, what more did he have to prove? There was nowhere to go but down from the pinnacle he had risen to: regular season MVP, Triple Crown winner, Nippon Series MVP, God-status in Kansai.
I was very surprised at the scarcity of this book’s availability – I struggled to even find it used. Out of circulation (and out of date, language-wise – it uses a 1980s style Japanese that threw me off more than a few times), this fun read should be picked up and read by any serious Hanshin fans who want to know the real Randy Bass circa 1985.