Back in 1987, with Major League Baseball’s owners colluding against the players to suppress salaries, Bob Horner took matters into his own hands. Horner, a former All-Star and Rookie of the Year Award recipient, had homered 54 times and posted a 121 OPS+ for the Atlanta Braves in the 1985 and 1986 seasons, making it all the more jarring when he agreed to a one-year contract with the Yakult Swallows. The Swallows, part of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, were willing to do what no MLB club would deign itself to do: pay Horner what he believed he was worth, or nearly $2 million.
“The Japanese called and made a good offer,” he said, according to a Los Angeles Times article. “I was at the point of thinking I was going to sit out the whole year.”
Horner didn’t enjoy his time in Japan. He later turned down a multi-year offer from the Swallows to return to the majors, where he suffered a career-ending shoulder injury a year later. Still, fans of a certain age might have thought about Horner once or twice already this offseason. With MLB’s franchise owners locking out the players on Dec. 2, the hot stove has been snuffed out. (“Any contact with major league players or agents on any topic is prohibited,” is the league’s instruction to front-office personnel.) The only transaction news to devour in the time since has been the steady drumbeat of MLB players pushing off America’s shores for more certainty in Japan’s NPB or the Korean Baseball Organization, the world’s No. 2 and 3 leagues.
The holiday weekend alone saw third baseman Rio Ruiz, a veteran of parts of six big-league seasons, and Chris Gittens, who appeared in 16 games with the New York Yankees, sign with Asian league teams.