TOKYO (Reuters) - Tweaking the nose of retirement, former Major League Baseball player Warren Cromartie instead picked a fight with a blood-thirsty Tiger.
The 53-year-old took part in a professional wrestling bout against sword-waving pantomime villain Tiger Jeet Singh in Japan on Sunday and not only survived. He won.
“My stomach was in knots for weeks — since I agreed to do the thing,” Cromartie told Reuters. “It was more difficult than I thought it would be.
“I didn’t realize what I was getting into. It’s totally out of my habitat.”
A former Montreal Expos outfielder, Cromartie was also voted Japanese Central League MVP in 1989 while playing for the Yomiuri Giants.
He entered Saitama Arena for Sunday’s tag-team bout decked out in full baseball uniform with “Samurai Man” emblazoned across his chest and swinging a bat.
When Tiger entered after him, all hell broke loose as the long-time baddie of pro wrestling suddenly began hurling chairs and slashing at ringside fans with his sword.
“When I saw him coming I thought ‘Duck!’ That was going through my mind,” dead-panned Cromartie. “I was very respectful of his spear, or whatever you want to call it.”
Cromartie and Ryoji Sai won the bout over Tiger and An Joenosuke after Cromartie head-butted Tiger, chopped him across the throat and pinned him for a three-count.
The theatrics continued when Cromartie conducted 10,000 screaming fans for three cheers of “Banzai!” — as he used to in the outfield for the Giants during his time in Japan.
Cromartie had no qualms about working with men in tights or appearing on the undercard to a main bout featuring camp Japanese wrestler “Hard Gay.”
There was a serious side to Sunday’s “Hustle Aid” event with organizers to donate a large chunk of the ticket revenue to leukemia research.
“I had a friend who died of leukemia and I know what that’s all about,” said Cromartie. “It’s a worldwide thing and for me to help by wrestling... it’s all about the big picture.”
The flamboyant Cromartie acknowledged, however, that he had been drawn to wrestling by a sense of curiosity and the challenge involved.
“I’m always up for challenges. I get bored,” he laughed. “When I got approached for this I kind of hesitated at first but everybody thought it would be a good thing for me to do.”
Cromartie added: “I feel like George Plimpton, doing something different, engaging something different and see if I can do it or not.”
Nevertheless, even late American journalist Plimpton, famous for his forays into professional sport and who sparred with boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson, might have drawn the line at Tiger Jeet Singh.
A fearsome sight in his trademark turban and his sword clenched between his teeth, the 63-year-old Tiger had threatened to tear Cromartie limb from limb.
As if on cue, a mass brawl erupted at their pre-fight press conference last week where one over-zealous Japanese cameraman was left bleeding after Tiger trampled on his head.
“There was no fear really,” insisted the Florida-born Cromartie. “I was up there before, bases loaded, two outs, 50,000 people screaming. I’ve been through that pressure thing before.”
Cromartie, who was not averse to throwing the occasional punch at opposing pitchers during his career, was simply relieved to come out of his brush with Tiger unscathed.
“At one point Tiger had the turban around my neck choking me,” he said. “That was an experience. The knot in my stomach is loosening now, though, because it’s over.”