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June 2, 2009 at 11:25 pm ET
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HEADed for Japan: ‘The Mench Endgame’

menchlogoIn December 2008, former Rangers, Brewers and Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Mench avoided a likely platoon, bench or minor league role in Major League Baseball when he signed a lucrative 1-year/$2 million contact to join the Hanshin Tigers of Japanese baseball.

Additionally, Mench is unable to grow hair anywhere on his body; he has one of the largest heads in the world, hails from Delaware and willingly has barb wire and a Philadelphia Eagle’s logo tattooed on his bicep. Follow me in keeping tabs on one of baseball’s most underwhelming, odd and polarizing figures as he HEADs to the playing field of Asia.

When we last left Kevin Mench, the large-craniumed, alopecia’d one was battling injury and crappiness in the first month of his Japanese Baseball career. Hitting just .136 and dealing with kidney problems, the Tigers removed Mench (or, as poorly translated, “Mince”) from their lineup in late April to recover and rehab in their farm system.

And on May 14th, Mench triumphantly returned… kind of.

May 14th -Was subbed into the game and wastes no time failing to impress fans. From a commentor:

“How much does Mench cost? Why do they keep persevering with him? … I think they just have to put him down as a costly mistake. There was a picture in Sponnichi this week focusing on his belly. But he hasn’t performed and he doesn’t look likely to. Get rid!”

May 15 – In Mench’s first start back, he manages to further ruin his standing among the Hanshin faithful for taking the place of a player named Sakurai. A tiger Tales blogger states:

“Mench returned and having seen his return I can’t see anything different from before. I can’t comment on his fielding as he wasn’t tested but his batting did not exhibit any improvement from the previous stint. This being so why was he inserted ahead of Sakurai? You play the performing batter not replace him with someone who has no past history of performance.”

There’s always tomorrow, I guess.

May 16 - He strikes out, stranding runners on 2nd and 3rd in a close game the Tigers ultimately lose. Via Tiger Tales’ Christopher Amano-Langtree:

“Tigers fans are not happy.”

He continues…

“Mench needs to do something dramatic very soon. He was brought in to replace a performing player but has demonstrated absolutely no improvement with the bat so far. If he was at least hitting that would be something but he isn’t even doing that.”

The Mench Endgame – Just as all good things must come to an end, unfathomably terrible, misguided and money-wasting things must mercifully end as well. On May 19th – not even a week after his return to the Tigers – the Kevin Mench Japanese Baseball era looks to have reached its conclusion.

“Kevin Mench has been deregistered with effect from 18th. Brought back to the top team for the Yakult series he showed no improvement and had no hits. Tigers are already searching for replacements though swine flu is hampering this search. It is unlikely that Mench will be with Tigers for the rest of the season and will certainly be gone by the end of the season.”

Ouch. I sense shades of Lew Ford, the player he replaced.

“Unfortunately, he could not adjust to Japanese conditions at all. He played in 15 games with 54 at bats. From these he generated 8 hits and 2 runs with no home runs. His batting average was .148 and Tigers management no longer have any patience with foreign players who don’t deliver.”

If this does, in fact, mark the end to Kevin Mench’s failed stint in the Orient, he will have pulled in $2M to play about a month and tally 8 hits ($250K/hit!). But who knows; maybe this unsavory experience in Japan will translate to success in a possible return to North American baseball. But I’d expect it to translate more like this…

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One Response to “HEADed for Japan: ‘The Mench Endgame’”
  1. Mark Hughes says:

    Ever read, “You Gotta Have Wa”? Japanese baseball is very different from US baseball. The strike zone is bigger (much bigger for x-big leaguers, courtesy of the umpires that dislike non-Japanese players). The language and culture barrier are huge. And the Japanese practice regiment is so over the top, some x-major leaguers refuse to participate, generating scathing reviews from the J-press.

    Nothing is easy about switching to Japanese baseball. So take a hike!

    Kevin was the hardest working, and most fun and easygoing player I ever saw. Always with his chin on his shoulder when batting… from shoulder to shoulder… exuding the basics. Always the first one out of the dugout to congratulate another player on their home run (usually A-rod). He is a good guy, and I will not have you run him down as if he is nothing!

    I wish Kevin success as he continues on with baseball. I am sorry Japan did not work out for him. But it rarely does for major leaguers.

    – Mark Hughes
    Seattle, WA

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