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HARD DRIVES: Records make Rhodes' path a tough road

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HARD DRIVES: Records make Rhodes' path a tough road

by John E. Gibson (Apr 22, 2009)

Sometimes it's a tough road for Tuffy Rhodes. His long drives get people on the Orix bandwagon but he hasn't reached his ultimate destination.

Rhodes recently zoomed past Hall of Fame legend Shigeo Nagashima with his 445th home run, moving into sole possession of 12th place on the all-time list in Japan.

Rhodes, though, is trying to concentrate on driving his team toward a playoff spot and his first Japan Series win. Instead, the press was asking him to stop and stare.

In the days before Rhodes tied the man known as Mr. Baseball--usually just "Mr.," comment-seekers wanted to know his feelings about passing the former Yomiuri Giant and a national treasure.

Rhodes, in his 13th season in Japan, said some of his Japanese friends started calling him "Blackanese," because of his fluency in the language and knowledge of the culture here. And he is very respectful of Japanese baseball history and the milestones that come with being productive for more than a decade.

But milestones feature zeroes--500 homers, 2,000 hits, 1,300 RBIs, all within Rhodes' reach before he quits. Nagashima's 17-year total of 444 homers was more like a point of interest than a milestone.

After belting a three-run shot on April 8 at Seibu Dome to catch Mr., a Japanese reporter relayed the slugger's statements to other media members in the pressroom.

Essentially, Rhodes was quoted as saying, "I know what the home run means. You guys tell me about it every day."

The slugger, who led the Pacific League in longballs three times and did it once in the Central League while with the Yomiuri Giants in 2004, said the man he considers the homer king is Sadaharu Oh and no one else. But Oh is of Chinese decent, while Nagashima is 100 percent homegrown power.

"Oh-san owns the all-time home run record, but Japanese say when it comes to Nagashima-san, he's the most famous Japanese player to Japanese people," Rhodes told Hard Drives on Sunday at Tokyo Dome.

No disrespect to the triple fours that Mr. piled up, but after he passed that number, Rhodes wasn't giving it the same weight as the milestone-centric media.

"It's a great honor," said the 40-year-old, who hit No. 445 at Kyocera Dome Osaka on April 11.

"And I don't want to sound cold or anything, but it never really crossed my mind. I just knew I hit a two-run homer to put me team up at the time. I didn't think about it until after the game, one of the guys said we need a comment for the paper, and I thought, 'Oh, yeah. I just broke Nagashima's record.'

"To be in the top 12 in Japan is a great accomplishment, but at the same time, I'm not finished. Time will tell. I'm not the person who's going to have to make that decision [of what his homer total means]," Rhodes said.

"Japanese culture and Japanese baseball are the ones to make that decision. Five years from now, if I'm not in a record book or being thought about, then this means nothing. If they call me and say they're having [a celebration] for the top 10 home run hitters in Japan, then it means something."

Rhodes also said he is realistic about his climb up the home run ladder.

"Of course you know Oh has 868 home runs--everybody knows that--and that's nowhere near something I can catch, so that's the record to me," said Rhodes, who tied Oh's single-season record of 55 in 2001 while with the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

"All I know is after I passed 444, someone said if I hit 80 more, I'll pass [Kazuhiro] Kiyohara-san. That's 525, I know that for sure," Rhodes said.

The big-bopping Buffalo was up to 449 long drives going into Tuesday's play, but won't be ready to shift into park until he leaves the park with the ultimate goal.

"A milestone is a great accomplishment, but my job's not going to change.

"I don't play this game for records--I don't play this game for my own personal achievements. Don't get me wrong, the money's great and I provide for my family, but I play the game to win. Records are made to be broken.

"The year--2009 or 2010--whenever the championship happens, they can never take that away from me."

The PL pennant drive will be long for Rhodes and the Buffaloes, but he is focused on the road.

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