Name (Japanese): ランディ・バース
Hometown: Lawton, Oklahoma, USA
Date of Birth: March 13, 1954
Position: First Base
Height: 184 cm (6’0”)
Weight: 95 kg (209 lb)
Wore #: 44
Drafted by: Minnesota Twins (1972, Round 7)
Made Tigers Debut on: April 16, 1983
Played Final Game on: May 5, 1988
Career Awards/Achievements: Top CL Average (1985, 86); Most CL Home Runs (1985, 86); Most CL RBIs (1985, 86); Best On-Base Percentage (1985, 86); Most Game-Winning RBIs (1985); CL MVP (1985); All-CL Team (1985-87); Nippon Series MVP (1985); CL Player of the Month (April 1985, June 1986); All-Star Game (1985-87); Highest AVG in NPB History (1986); Fastest to Reach 40 HRs in a season (1985 – 97 games); Most Consecutive Games With Home Run (June 18-26, 1986 – 7 games); Most Consecutive ABs with Home Run (May 31-June 1, 1986 – 4 ABs); Most Consecutive Games with RBI (June 18-July 4, 1986 – 13 games)
Randy William Bass was born on March 13, 1954 in Lawton, Oklahoma. The son of a carpenter, young Randy did a lot of physical labor both with his father and in horse stables. After graduating from Lawton High School in 1972, he was chosen as a catcher in the 7th round of the draft (152nd overall) that year by the Minnesota Twins. Despite showing great power potential, Bass never played more than a few games with the Twins in his 5 years with the club. He got shipped around to various MLB clubs, playing very sparingly for the Kansas City Royals, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers. During his 10 seasons of professional baseball in America, Bass hit just 9 home runs at the top level, but amassed an impressive 238 round trippers in the minors. He even came close to winning a Triple Crown (his 37 HR and 143 RBI were top, while his .333 average was 4th) in 1980 with the Denver Bears of the American Association (Montreal Expos’ AAA team).
The Hanshin Tigers were searching for a strong presence in the middle of their lineup, and scouts narrowed down the pool of candidates to two: Randy Bass and Greg “Boomer” Wells. The latter would end up in the Pacific League, excelling for years with the Hankyu Braves (and winning the 1984 Triple Crown and MVP), while the former was signed by Hanshin largely because he was a left handed hitter, while Wells was a righty.
Bass joined the team at its spring training in Hawaii in February 1983. Alongside him was another import hitter named Steve Stroughter, who was actually more highly appraised than Bass, for he had decent speed and was a much better contact hitter than Bass at the time. However, Bass was also rumored to be a man who could hit the ball “from New York to Los Angeles.” He also struggled early on, hitting a lot of foul balls to right or pop flies to all parts of the field. In fact, when the team acquired an import pitcher (Richard Olsen), it was left with an important decision: keep Bass or Stroughter (league rules limited teams to 3 imports total, and only two on the top squad). In the end, Bass’ potential power game led them to release Stroughter in June and stick with Bass, Kim Allen (who was returning from injury) and Olsen. Bass would not let them down, as he hit a decent 35 home runs while maintaining a .288 average. This came in spite of an injury early in the season that ended up limiting him to just 113 games.
Bass came back with an earnest desire to play well in 1984, and did so until his father back in the States became gravely ill. He requested a leave of absence from the team, and manager Motoh Andoh gave him permission to leave and stay home until he felt ready to return. As things turned out, his father hung on for two weeks after Bass returned home, and then it took Bass another two weeks to report back to the club. By this point, the media was quite infuriated, and fans were also concerned that they had another “problem foreigner” on their hands. (Sadaharu Oh lost his father mid-season as well, but did not miss a single game. He did not come to practice for the viewing, but continued on playing immediately.) When questioned about his long absence, Bass said, “I do not put any sport ahead of my family. How can anyone be expected to focus on this game when a loved one is suffering at home?” His words moved fans to tears and all was seemingly forgiven. In just 104 games, he hit 27 home runs and reached base at a .400 clip, batting .326 with 41 walks.
There was, however, talk of releasing Bass that offseason. New manager Yoshio Yoshida insisted, though, that Bass remain with the team. It’s probably a good thing they kept him around. Bass was off to a slow start in 1985, and one cool night at Koshien Stadium (April 17, to be exact), he could not figure out Giants starter Hiromi Makihara, so he looked at video tape and figured out what he had to do. In the seventh inning, with the team down and runners on first and second, Bass drove a pitch deep over the center field wall. Masayuki Kakefu followed it up with one of his own. Then Akinobu Okada, too. The moment has lived on in team folklore ever since, and the Tigers started to pick up the momentum it would need to win the 1985 pennant. For his part, Bass hit a whopping 54 home runs (just one shy of the record held by Oh of the Giants, who was managing the team in 1985). In fact, with two games left and one home run needed, the Giants pitchers were ordered (some say by Oh himself, others say it was pitching coach Tsuneo Horiuchi) to throw around Bass, and that they would be fined heavily for every strike they threw him. In the first of those, Giants ace Suguru Egawa limited him to a hit, and in the second game, Bass saw no pitches to hit, and only got a single because he swung at a pitch far out of the zone out of frustration, sending it up the middle. Still, Bass would get the last laugh as he cruised to the MVP that year. In the Nippon Series, he hit home runs in each of the first three games, and the Tigers beat the Seibu Lions 4 games to 2 to win their lone Nippon Ichi. Bass won his first of two consecutive Triple Crowns in 1985, earning god-like status among Hanshin fans and all across Japan. (The phrase “Kamisama, Hotokesama, Baasusama” is still well-known among baseball fans: it gives Bass the same status as God and Buddha.)
So popular was Randy Bass that before the 1986 season, he was asked to shave his trademark beard in a Gilette commercial. While at first not too excited about the proposal, upon hearing that it would earn him $350,000, he asked “When do they want me to shave it?” The newspaper ads ran for two days: the first day was a fully bearded Bass saying, “Look for me again tomorrow.” The second day he was beardless in the same ad spot. Naturally, he grew the beard right back. The team could rest assured that he was not about to change his look, and hopefully that would mean no change in his MVP numbers.
The fact was, though, that his numbers got even better in 1986. He spent much of the year flirting with a .400 batting average, and continued to hit the ball far and frequently. He seemed to set team and league records all year: 6 consecutive multi-hit games, 13 consecutive games with at least one RBI, 7 straight games with a home run, a .777 slugging percentage (top in league history) and he even finished the season with the best average EVER in NPB: .389. Towards the end of the season, Bass feared opposing pitchers would stop throwing to him if his average ever dipped below the current highest number. So he simply kept himself at or near .390 all the way until season’s end! He would once again win the Triple Crown, this time with fewer home runs (47) and RBIs (109). Still, despite the team’s dip down to a .500 record on the year, Bass had already established himself as the greatest import in team history.
Bass had some harsh words about team management in an exclusive interview with Robert Whiting around this point in his career, and it obviously did not sit well with the front office. He was allegedly fined for the words after they hit the press, but in the end he did not have to pay it. In fact, his teammates apparently applauded him for having the courage to criticize Yoshida for his managing skills. Bass also said in his own diary that the Tigers’ biggest weaknesses were its farm team and its absolute incompetence at developing young talent. Bass’ problems continued when he received a speeding ticket on his way to practice during the preseason. Despite it not being a big deal (and his interpreter being in the car behind him, traveling the same speed and not getting a ticket), the press made sure it was on the front page of the newspapers the next day.
On the whole, the 1987 was a letdown for the club, which sank all the way down to last place. Bass experienced frustrations not only with management, but especially with the press, who seemed to follow him everywhere. He even found them in his house upon returning from the stadium one day. Bass’ numbers would have been adequate for a mere mortal, but were significantly below the lofty standard he had set for himself in the previous two seasons. At season’s end, with the team finishing a distant last in the Central, Yoshida was fired. In his diary, Bass said again and again how much he appreciated the Hanshin fans’ support, cheering relentlessly despite the team’s terrible record.
Minoru Murayama took over as skipper in 1988, but Bass did not care much for him, either. In what would end up as his final season with the Tigers, Bass played in just 22 games. His son, Zach, was diagnosed with a rare brain condition, and required special medical attention in America. Bass left Japan to be with his son through the process, which went on much longer than anyone on the team could have anticipated. He had received permission from the team to stay with his son as long as necessary, however, wires got crossed. The team expected him to fulfill his word and be back by the middle of June. He got permission on the phone to stay as long as necessary, as the treatment for his son was more complicated than originally expected. On June 27 the team suddenly announced that Bass had been released. What’s more, they refused to cover Zach’s medical expenses despite the clause in Bass’ contract that stipulated that he and his family were entitled to full medical coverage. When Bass produced audio recorded evidence that the team had not fulfilled its promises to him, he finally received the remuneration due him. However, several weeks after Bass’ release, team chairperson Shingo Furuya jumped from a high-rise building, ending his own life. Some speculated that the biggest reason for his suicide was the Bass release and ensuing mess, casting an even darker shadow over the once-legendary import. (In fact, it is now believed that the reason for his suicide had nothing to do with Bass.)
Bass considered returning to NPB in 1989, perhaps with the Daiei Hawks (who had recently moved from Kansai down to the southern city of Fukuoka), although it never materialized. Many believe he was black-listed by NPB teams after Furuya’s suicide. He also made an attempt to return to the majors, but was unsuccessful.
During his years with Hanshin, Bass invested a lot of his money on farmland, cattle and racehorses back in America. In November 2004, he was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate, where he has served ever since. He continues to visit Japan regularly to do public relations work for the Hanshin Electric Company (he has played Santa Claus at the Hanshin Department Store in Osaka several times), to sell his own brand of beef jerky at Costco stores nation wide, and to play in annual legends of baseball games.
(If you have not yet heard about Randy Bass’ connection to Colonel Sanders of KFC, and the subsequent curse put on the Hanshin franchise,
click here for a separate story will be coming soon.)
Book Review – What Bass Wanted to Say This Year (December 15, 2016)
Legend or Myth? Both! (December 20, 2015)
A Brush With Greatness – Cyber-Style (December 14, 2015)
Book Review – The Bass Diaries (May 9, 2015)
Great Tiger Moments 3: April 17, 1985 (February 8, 2015)
Great Tiger Moments 2: June 26, 1986 (January 26, 2015)
Christmas + Tigers + History = Randy Bass Goodness (December 19, 2014)