Michael Lewis Greenwell was born in Louisville, Kentucky on July 18, 1953. After attending North Fort Myers High School in Florida, he was chosen in the 4th round of the 1982 draft by the Boston Red Sox. He enjoyed a highly successful career there, amassing 130 career home runs and 726 RBIs over 12 seasons, all with the Red Sox. He finished second in the MVP voting in 1988, marking career highs with a .325 average, 22 home runs and 119 RBIs (but losing out to baseball’s first 40-40 man, Jose Canseco). His Red Sox career came to an end with Greenwell still wielding a big stick. On September 2, 1996, he drove in all 9 runs for the Red Sox in their 9-8 win over Seattle. However, he also saw limited playing time in that final season.
In December of that year, he signed a surprise blockbuster deal with the Hanshin Tigers – worth approximately ¥300,000,000 ($3 million) plus incentives for a single season. Reactions to the signing were mixed, but former Hanshin Tiger Randy Bass was quoted as saying, “He had no intentions of playing right from the start. At spring camp, he showed a strong dislike of the practice style and lost his will to play. Surely he was just looking for any reason to leave right from the start.” Then-Chunichi Dragons manager Sen’ichi Hoshino said that Greenwell was close to signing with the Dragons, but a close friend of his in the MLB world said, “You’re thinking of signing him? Stop right now! He doesn’t even want to play baseball in Japan. He just wants to golf.” Apparently Hanshin didn’t get the memo.
Greenwell arrived at spring training on January 29, but left on February 11 due to back pains. Though it was written in his contract that he could return to America for medical treatment, his sudden and early departure was an ominous sign. His agent also arranged a contract for ex-MLB star Kevin Mitchell, who left the Daiei Hawks twice in 1995 without permission, the second time resulting in his dismissal. Greenwell didn’t return to the Tigers until April 30, and made his long-awaited debut on May 3rd. His first at bat ended in a double play (for the record, Mitchell’s first at bat was a grand slam home run), but he turned his first game into a two-hit, 2-RBI night.
Greenwell picked up a hit here or there, but then endured a 17 plate appearance hitless streak, which came to an end in his third at bat against the Giants on May 11. It would be his last hit as a pro in his second last at bat. The day before in his 4th plate appearance, Greenwell had fouled a pitch off his right foot, breaking a bone. The doctors’ diagnosis was a minimum 4 week recovery period, at which point Greenwell had had enough.
He held a press conference back at the team’s head office in Nishinomiya. He said something to the effect that “first the back injury and now the broken bone in my foot… I take that as a sign from God that it’s time for me to retire.” (Note: in a country where the concept of God is vague and unfamiliar, these words were filled with mystery and caused endless frustration. The quote lives on in infamy.) He also said he felt bad for Hanshin fans, and that he was honored to be able to play out his career with a great club like Hanshin. He also said “I wanted to leave the game with honor and not just try to play for money,” and in the end, he offered to return 40% of his contract money to the club, but the take home money was still a really high amount, especially considering his mere 7 games of service with the team.
Greenwell also gained notoriety among Hanshin fans for having complained about the luxurious apartment suite (big by Japanese standards) the club set up for him. When the team heard that the former MLB star thought his place was “too small” they broke down a wall and added a second suite to his sizable room, in order to appease him.
What’s more, Japanese media attempted to track him down years after he parted ways with Hanshin. Since he did not answer his intercom, they tried to enter his property to find him. When at last they came across Greenwell, he scared them by saying, “In America, people get shot for what you just did.”
In his post-retirement days, Greenwell became a stock car racer, and also runs an amusement park in Florida called Mike Greenwell’s Bat-A-Ball & Family Fun Park. In a slight twist of irony, he is the uncle of Joey Terdoslavich, a baseball player that Hanshin was scouting to replace Matt Murton after the 2015 season. Had he been signed, no doubt the fans would have felt more than a little hesitation to cheer for anyone who grew up calling Greenwell “Uncle Mike.”