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Bass was a slugger ahead of his time

Twins' Draft pick hit 238 homers in Minors before starring in Japan
Randy Bass eclipsed the 20-home run mark seven times in 10 Minor League seasons but appeared in just 130 MLB games.
March 3, 2015

Had the internet existed in its current form more than three decades ago, Randy Bass might be talked about in a completely different way.

Instead, Bass -- now a state senator in Oklahoma -- is probably best remembered for his contributions in Japan, where he became the first player to win back-to-back Triple Crowns and is considered one of the finest American-born players in Central League history.

Before he went east, though, Bass starred in the Minor Leagues. A seventh-round pick by the Twins in 1972, the now-60-year-old started his career with a bang. Playing for the Melbourne Twins in the Rookie-level Florida East Coast League, Bass batted .307, slugged 10 homers, drove in 41 runs and drew 59 walks in 59 games, all at the age of 18.

The next two years did little to slow his ascension, with a combined 51 homers and 191 walks between the Wisconsin Rapids Twins of the Midwest League and the Lynchburg Twins of the Carolina League. In 1975, he made the jump to Triple-A, playing for the Tacoma Twins in the Pacific Coast League.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan was one of Bass' teammates with the Wisconsin Rapids in 1973.

"He was a big left-handed-hitting power hitter," Ryan said. "He had a presence in a batter's box, he was always a threat to hit one out and he was fun to play with. He was a tremendous guy."

"I just remember how good of an offensive player he was," added Tim Wallach. "He used to walk a lot, hit home runs, drive in runs. He was probably as good an offensive player that I know that I played with."

Wallach, now the Dodgers' bench coach, and teammate Dave Hostetler, who spent five years in the big leagues, both thought Bass, who declined an interview request, offered veteran leadership to younger players.

"One thing he taught me was not to be in a hurry to get things done, because I struggled early on," Wallach recalled. "He just kept telling me to be patient, be patient, things will turn around. It's one thing that I think I learned from him is that it's a long season and you'll have plenty of time to get yourself turned around. The more you try to push it, the tougher it can be at times."

"Randy was always around to help the younger guys," Hostetler added. "Randy, I think, probably would have been a pretty good coach down the line because he led by example. He went out there and did his work, went after it every day, kind of a role model."

From 1973-76, Bass totaled 90 homers and 346 RBIs while his OPS never dipped below .830. Yet in that four-year period, he did not reach the Major Leagues. It wasn't until 1977, at the age of 23, that Bass finally got the call. His time in "The Show" spanned 19 plate appearances, and he found himself in a new organization the following year, having been sold to the Royals on April 4, 1978. Fewer than six years after being drafted and with all of nine big league games under his belt, Bass was sent packing.

"That was a little surprising to me, just because he had the type of power -- and the Twins were building on power in those days -- and I thought he was going to be the next one of those guys," Ryan said. "He had the type of power that every evaluator would be looking for, and he was athletic enough over there at first base."

Bass saw even less time with the Royals, getting two plate appearances, despite finishing sixth in the American Association with 22 homers. In 1979, after he was sold to the Montreal Expos, Bass led the American Association with a 1.114 OPS, finished second with 36 homers and third with 105 RBIs. Again, the first baseman found himself without a fair chance at the Major League level, logging only two games with Montreal.

Bass enjoyed his finest season as a Minor Leaguer in 1980. At 26, he led the American Association with 37 homers and 143 RBIs and ranked fourth with a .333 batting average. He also topped the leaderboard with a 1.082 OPS and 106 runs scored and was rewarded with MVP honors -- and a trade to the San Diego Padres on Sept. 5.

The deal proved to be a boon in one way, as it opened the door for Bass to get his best shot at a big league job. Unfortunately, he did not capitalize, batting .210 with four homers in 69 games in the strike-shortened 1981 season. The following year, Bass was waived by the Padres and finished his American career with the Texas Rangers.

Bass' final career numbers at the Minor League level remain impressive: 238 homers, 883 RBIs and 2,084 total bases in 1,141 games. Still, they weren't enough to warrant another shot at the Majors.

With a .294/.425/.598 slash line and more walks than strikeouts throughout his Minor League career, Bass may have been ahead of his time. That's what Ryan and Wallach believe.

"He probably would have gotten a better look in today's game, and certainly with the DH in the American League, it was just coming into existence when he was starting to emerge," Ryan said. "He had a pretty good idea on what he wanted to do with a baseball. He was some kind of strong."

"I think he may have been appreciated more now than maybe he was then," Wallach added. "Maybe would have gotten more of an opportunity in the big leagues."

Following the 1982 season, Bass headed to Japan, where he was named MVP in 1985, came within one of tying the legendary Sadaharu Oh's single-season home run record and, in six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, blasted 202 long balls.

Still, more than two decades after his final game in the United States, Bass has his supporters.

"I think the world of that guy. He had a lot of charisma, he was one of those guys that people congregated around," Ryan said.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich.