Eldred reaches 400 home runs while in Japan

Brad Eldred is the best pure power hitter I’ve ever seen covering the minor leagues, and it may surprise some people to know that he’s still launching home runs in impressive numbers.

Two days ago, Eldred blasted the 400th home run of his career while playing for Hiroshima in the Japanese major leagues. The 400 total is from all pro levels in which Eldred has played, including winter ball and the Arizona Fall League, and is an astounding number regardless of where he hit them.

In the classic movie “Bull Durham,” Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis, is said to have broken the minor league record when he hit his 247th homer. That’s all fiction, but just for fun, Eldred hit 251 home runs during his minor league career.

I have stated repeatedly that Eldred is the greatest slugger in the history of Double-A baseball. He ripped 30 home runs in only 60 games for the Curve between 2004-05 — more than any player at this level has ever hit in such few games — and in August of 2004, he of course had the legendary month in which he tallied 50 RBIs, a staggering total that very well could be the minor league record (unfortunately, that record has never been kept).

Eldred never panned out with the Pirates. Or with anyone else in the big leagues. Of his 400 homers, only 15 were hit in the majors. The minor league home run record is 433, held by longtime journeyman Mike Hessman, and he hit just 14 in the majors.

If you stopped following Eldred after he finished his playing career in the U.S., you’ve missed a remarkable final act to his career.

Eldred went to Japan in 2012. He hit 11 homers in 65 games that year, then 13 homers in 66 games the following year.

But in 2014, the slugger known during his Curve days as “Big Country,” led the Japanese major leagues with 37 homers while driving in 104 runs in 118 games.

He’s battled injuries off and on over the years, but Eldred hit 19 homers in 2015, then 21 in 2016. So far this year, he has 24 homers in 89 games and is batting .289 with 68 RBIs and a .953 OPS.

Eldred, who turned 37 last month, is a bona fide star in the Japanese major leagues. And he’s paid like one.

He’s making more than $1 million this season, and for his career in Japan, he’s made more than $3 million. That’s not MLB money, but had he remained in the States and been stuck in Triple-A all this time, Eldred would have been making in the $50,000-$70,000 range per season.

Yes, he still strikes out a lot, but Eldred is a feared hitter in Japan and has carved out a memorable career for himself.

Hey, 400 home runs is 400 home runs. And as we saw in Altoona, when Eldred is at the plate, you stop what you’re doing and watch him try to crush the ball. It’s awesome to see he’s still doing that all these years later.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com or cgsports12@aol.com