Does Andruw Jones have a yen to see the world? More importantly, will a couple of million yen in his bank account make up for the fact that he could be spending the 2013 baseball season in Japan, not the United States?
The one-time star outfielder has an offer from the Rakuten Eagles of the Japan Pacific League. He is 35 years old and batted .197 for the Yankees last season, so he is probably figuring this is the best he can do. One would think that Jones would prefer to stay in the big leagues and that somebody would offer him some kind of deal to stick around, if not in the salary range of the $2 million New York gave him. But maybe not.
He is a 10-time Gold Glove award winner. He is a five-time All-Star. He has 434 lifetime homers. Those credentials make him a good catch for a Japanese team. Jones got into 94 games with the Yankees last year and while his batting average was abysmal, he did clout 14 homers.
Jones is in a tricky position. The real question, whether he takes the Japanese offer, or tries to hang in there in the U.S., is how much Jones has left of his once eye-popping talent. He is 6-foot-1 and is listed as a 225-pounder. That is either truth or consequences. If Jones gets too large he won’t be able to play anywhere. If he goes to Japan he had better get used to eating a lot of steamed rice. White rice is the fries of Japan. It might do him good, too.
American players have been traveling to Japan to squeeze a few more years out of their careers post-Major League play for more than half a century. Larry Doby did it. So did Don Newcombe. George Altman was a star in Japan for years. Clete Boyer bridged his playing career in New York with a stint in Japan before becoming a big-league coach. Bob Horner was a big gun in Japan. Dozens of players have followed that path.
However, it is a landmine-strewn path. To succeed in Japan an American player must, above all, bring the proper attitude. Whether white or black, he is going to be a minority and will stand out in a homogenous society. Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world, so there will be sticker shock no matter how much he is paid. The language barrier, both in everyday life and at the ballpark, will be an issue and patience will be required, whether the team provides a translator or not.
And there is the matter of how the game is played, how the game is taught, and the hard physical drilling that is demanded of players. It is still the same sport, but many aspects of player-manager, player-umpire relations, clubhouse life, and nuances of the game will take some getting used to for a newcomer.
The Ugly American act will not play well. If a Jones, with a bagful of honors, shows up with the outlook that he is the Big Man on Campus because of all he has done in the States, he could be on the next flight home. Any player going into the Japan leagues must bring the attitude that it is their country, that he is the odd one out, and know that nobody is going to change for him.
Strictly speaking Jones is not an American ballplayer. He is from Curacao, but he is a ballplayer from America. If Jones goes off to Japan as a 35-year-old the odds are very high that he will not play again in the majors (unless he has an insanely good 50-homer season overseas). If he does make the switch, the advice he must accept is that he should report in top condition, that he display a humble manner, and realize that the caliber of play is better than he might think.
If Jones still has the goods he can strut his stuff in Japan and become a hero. He’d just best not strut and let his stuff speak for itself.