TOKYO -- The game ran long and Larry Parrish was late for dinner. It was 10 o'clock. The restaurant stopped serving at 10:30. It was a special night. His wife's birthday. Parrish was in a hurry.
"I was going 20 miles over the speed limit when the police pulled me over," Parrish said, sitting in the Hanshin Tigers dugout, plugging another wad of tobacco into his mouth.
This was Parrish's lucky day. The cop was a baseball fan.
"Tigers win tonight?" the cop asked. Parrish nodded.
"Good. Good," the cop said. "Can I have your autograph?"
Parrish signed. Twice. Then the cop stopped traffic to allow Parrish back on the road. He made the dinner.
Alluring perks come with being one of the most recognizable power hitters in Japanese baseball. Doors open. Breaks are cut. Tee times on Tokyo's crowded, exclusive golf courses are arranged.
"They don't have basketball here," Parrish said. "They don't have football, soccer and no famous tennis players. The only sports where they have famous players are baseball and golf. And they love their baseball here. They recognize you everywhere you go."
It seems a perfect way to end a career. After 15 years in the major leagues, Parrish took his wounded knees and his big bat across the Pacific. At about $1.5 million this season, he is said to be the second-highest-paid player on the archipelago. Only Warren Cromartie, at $2 million, makes more.
What a deal. Live in a foreign country. Make big bucks without the big pressure. Hit some final home runs in the smaller Japanese parks, then retire.
It hasn't been a bad two years in Japan, but neither has it been heaven. The $1.5 million comes with strings attached and, after two seasons, Parrish, the Hanshin first baseman, is ready to go.
"The fire isn't there anymore," he said. "The flame definitely flickers. I know this is it for me. I don't want to play anymore. So it's been tough for me to keep up my concentration. I know I've gone to the plate in some games and after I come back to the dugout, I think to myself, 'You weren't really up there that time. I don't know where your mind was, but it wasn't at the plate.' "
He spent 15 years in the major leagues, playing first and third base for Montreal, Texas and Boston. Then, at 35, he had a choice to make: Take a pay cut and play a bit role for a major league team, or come to Japan and go for the green before his knees quit on him. He decided to finish his career as a baseball mercenary.
"I was at a point where I couldn't do the things I used to do," he said. "I couldn't move as quick as I used to. I couldn't run as fast. I didn't hit the fastball as well. Those are things that happen to most guys when they turn into their late 30s.
"When you come over here, like me, and you've had operations on both knees, you're saying you're at the end of your career. You're trying to make good money for a couple more years. For me, coming over here was the right choice, no doubt. But right now all I can think about is getting home and playing golf for about a year."
Parrish has hit 25 home runs this season, but he is batting only .251 and he seems bored in the field.
"There's just a lot of bull about the way the game is played here," Parrish said. "They spend so much time studying and trying to steal signs. There are guys over here who can't hit unless they know what pitch is going to be thrown. They're into a lot of practice. They bunt all the time. Play the outfield in. Sometimes things happen in a game, your manager does things, and you'll get frustrated. You'll think, 'Why is he doing this?' "
The problem for Americans playing in Japan, Parrish says, is that, for Japanese professionals, it is baseball, baseball, baseball.
"They'll be on the field for a 6 o'clock game at 1," Parrish said. "So guys will be on the field from 1 to 10 or 10:30. They spend 9 hours a day on the field. Even when it's 90 degrees, they don't miss a step. If you do that and try to play every day, you're going to get burned out."
Parrish has an understanding with the Tigers. They have their pre-game routine. He has his.
"Now that I'm definitely not coming back again, I'm sort of in a unique situation," he said. "Some of the things they want me to do, I just don't do. What are they going to do? Release me? Okay, I'll go home and play golf."
The days are dwindling as his frustrations are growing. He knows it's time to go. In October, a month short of his 38th birthday, Larry Parrish will leave Japan and baseball and begin a new life.