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Obviously, it takes a certain strength of character for an American to survive in a country as radically different as Japan. Since 1962, when Don Newcombe and Larry Doby became the first prominent ex-major leaguers to play in Japan, hardly a season has passed without a controversial incident involving a gaijin ("foreign") player. By the late '70s, team officials, understandably weary of the perennial conflicts wrought by their foreign imports, made character checks a standard part of their recruiting process. Frequently they were rewarded with even-tempered types, like Felix Millan, Roy White and Leon and Leron Lee, who kept their feelings to themselves and fit into the Japanese system.
But despite the good-conduct medals earned by some, many American players created trouble just by virtue of being American. They were everything that their hosts were not. They were bright and positive, but they were also loud, frank, assertive and uncomfortably democratic. They seemed incapable of staying out of trouble.
The year 1984 was the most traumatic baseball season that Americans and Japanese ever inflicted on each other. Three gaijin unceremoniously walked out on their teams and their fat contracts in midseason. One was former Cubs outfielder Jim Tracy, who quit the Taiyo Whales to protest his precipitate removal from a game. Another was Don Money, the onetime Milwaukee Brewer star who, after hitting eight home runs in 29 games, deserted the Kintetsu Buffaloes. One of Money's teammates, Rich Duran, joined the mass exodus shortly thereafter, despite hitting seven home runs in two months.
The Japanese sports press roundly decried the foreign devils. A reporter for Nikkan Sports found a genetic explanation. "All of these men are Anglo-Saxons," he wrote, "a class of people that has too much pride...the history of mankind shows us that human beings with the sense of being chosen people will eventually act in a willful and egotistical manner."
The Americans pleaded extenuating circumstances. Tracy claimed his manager was singling him out to teach him humility. He had hit .303 with 19 home runs in 1983 but was moved from third to sixth in the batting order the following year because, it was said, he didn't have enough power. "You hit .260 with 40 home runs and they'd say your average wasn't high enough," Tracy complained. "Either way you lose."
Money's case was different. He had not wanted to come to Japan in the first place. At 35, after a distinguished big league career, he had been headed for retirement on his farm in New Jersey. Moreover, he had a bad back. But when the Buffaloes enticed him with a two-year contract worth $900,000 and visions of a major league lifestyle in Japan, Money found himself unable to turn the opportunity down.
He had watched Japanese baseball on TV in the U.S., games played in modern stadiums in Tokyo and Yokohama, bulging with enthusiastic fans. He had not seen the Kintetsu park, a decaying monument to utilitarianism, with a grassless infield, nor had he been told that sparse crowds were the norm for Buffalo games.
There was more. As Money later recalled, "Someone at Kintetsu sent me a pamphlet of the apartment building we were to live in. In the drawing it was a beautiful building, surrounded by trees. We thought, Hmmm, not bad. When we first got to the place and looked around, we felt like walking back downstairs, getting into a cab and coming back home. The walls were filthy, the carpet completely stained. The ceiling hadn't been painted for 10 years. There was no heat. The kitchen had an old, stained, yellow-brown floor. The wallpaper was peeling, and there were cockroaches all over the place.
"I had to travel to the park an hour and a half each way. The trains were always really crowded. I had to carry my bats and bags. I'm standing there on the train. I'm not used to 5,000 people staring at me. The clubhouse wasn't the best. We had only two shower stalls and a Japanese bath. Half the time, the showers wouldn't work. The clubhouse was a complete mess. Things all over the floor. There wasn't even a decent toilet. I'd be standing there taking a whiz, and some girl would walk by. I just wasn't used to it after 15 years in the big leagues.
"It all just built up, and my family was very unhappy. Finally, I started talking about retiring. Kintetsu's attitude changed immediately. They started saying things like: We'll give you a brand new apartment; we'll give you a chauffeur-driven car to the park; we'll give you a salary increase. But it was too late. If I were a younger guy, I'd suck it up. But I never should have gone in the first place. And I would never go again."