6 American Athletes Who Found Stardom Abroad

Getty Images
Getty Images

Josh Childress, a former star at Stanford and a key piece of the Atlanta Hawks' 2008 playoff run, is nowhere to be found on NBA rosters this season. Instead, he's in Greece playing for Olympiacos. In an effort to make a big splash, the Greek League squad signed the swingman to a 3-year, $20 million net deal this past summer. As Childress told the New York Times earlier this week, he's making about twice as much dough as he would have in the NBA, and he gets a chance to be a star. Plus, he gets to see Europe.

Childress isn't the only American who's gone abroad in search of stardom (and we're not just talking about soccer legends). Here are a few other athletes who made their marks after getting their passports stamped.

1. Milt Stegall

In college, Stegall excelled as a wideout and kick returner for Miami University (Ohio), but that success did not translate to the NFL. No team drafted him, and although he eventually signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, he only spent three nondescript years in the league. For his NFL career, he caught just 43 yards' worth of passes and scored one touchdown. In an effort to salvage his football career, he signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League for the end of the 1995 season. He might have arrived in Winnipeg as an unheralded NFL washout, but he quickly transformed into the man known as "Milt Stegall the Touchdown Beagle," a devastatingly effective slotback. (Think of the position as a Canadian football hybrid between a slot receiver and a running back.)

Within a few years, he became the CFL's answer to Jerry Rice. His 147 career TDs are a CFL record, as are his 15,071 career receiving yards. The NFL didn't just lose a speedster when Milt went north, though, they also lost an affable personality who's always quick with a quip, including this gem: "There's only six guarantees in this world. Death, taxes, trouble, Milt Stegall being on time, Milt Stegall being pretty, Milt Stegall being in tip-top shape. There are only six guarantees." How can you not cheer for this guy to win a Grey Cup before he retires?

2. Bob McAdoo

Unlike Stegall, basketball big man Bob McAdoo more than established himself in the top American league. There are few players who wouldn't envy McAdoo's stellar 14-year career in which he won two NBA championships with the Lakers, was the NBA's 1975 MVP and 1973 Rookie of the Year, and made five all-star teams. As his NBA career was winding down in 1986, though, McAdoo decided to hit the road. He signed with Olimpia Milano of the Italian League and started dominating European hoops with his blend of size and deft shooting. In his first season he led Milan to the Italian League championship and the Euroleague title; his squads successfully defended their titles the next season. He spent seven seasons in Europe before retiring, and was later named to both basketball's Hall of Fame and the Euroleague's list of its 50 Greatest Contributors.

3. Walter Szczerbiak

Hoops fans probably recognize the last name because of his son Wally's successful NBA career, but like Kobe's father Jellybean Bryant, Walter Szczerbiak's European exploits helped pave the way for his son's NBA success. In the 1970s, the elder Szczerbiak was a mustachioed scoring machine for Real Madrid after a brief career in the ABA. Under Szczerbiak's leadership, Real Madrid captured the coveted Euroleague title in 1974, 1978, and 1980 as well as four Spanish League titles. Like McAdoo, he was part of the list of the 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors.

4. Ken Shamrock

Before he was one of Ultimate Fighting Championship's first major stars and the holder of the nickname "The World's Most Dangerous Man," Shamrock was a small-time professional wrestler. After spending some time in regional promotions here, Shamrock moved to Japan in 1990 and started to find his niche. Although he kept wrestling, he also began dabbling in mixed martial arts with the young Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling. It turned out he was better as a real fighter than a fake one, and Shamrock became the first King of Pancrase Open Weight champion.

When the UFC made its debut in 1993, Shamrock came back to the States to help the company take off and appeared on its very first card. After that, his American career began to thrive, both as a UFC fighter, where he won the UFC Superfight title, and in the WWF, where he won the Intercontinental Championship.

5. Tuffy Rhodes

Certain things about baseball's opening day are pretty much guaranteed. Jamie Moyer will be on someone's roster. Royals fans will have already given up hope. And some previously obscure player will explode with a career day, causing analysts to derisively bring up Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes. Rhodes spent parts of six mostly undistinguished seasons in the bigs between 1990 and 1995, but he's really only remembered for banging three home runs on opening day for the Cubs in 1994. Rhodes' power never really showed up again, though; in the other 94 games he played that season, he only managed five more round-trippers. Today, his name's synonymous with any early-season outburst from a player who probably can't keep it up.

After the 1995 season, Rhodes became a free agent, and with dim prospects in the Majors, he headed to Japan's Pacific League. Although American fans never got to see another glimpse of the prodigious power Rhodes flashed on that opening day, Japanese connoisseurs of the long ball got a pretty good look. In his new home, Rhodes became one of the most ferocious sluggers Japanese baseball has ever seen. In 2001 he clubbed 55 homers to tie the single-season Japanese record held by legendary home-run king Sadaharu Oh. (Rhodes might have broken the record, but when he played against teams managed by Oh late that season, pitchers intentionally walked him so a Westerner wouldn't claim Oh's record.) For his career, Rhodes has hit over 400 home runs in Japan, more than any other foreign-born player. Not bad for a guy MLB considered a one-day wonder.

6. Randy Bass

Bass was sort of a forerunner of Rhodes, but unlike Tuffy, he never had even a moment in the sun in the Majors. In fact, he was pretty awful. He somehow managed to play parts of season between 1977 and 1982 despite being a first baseman who couldn't hit for power or average. In six seasons, he put up a putrid .284 on-base percentage and .326 slugging percentage and managed just nine home runs.

In 1983, though, he went to Japan and turned into Ted Williams. While playing for the Hanshin Tigers he won four straight batting titles (including a season in which he hit a record .389) and won two straight Triple Crowns. He also nearly broke Oh's single-season home run record but fell prey to the same sort of trickery. On top of that, he propelled the Tigers to a championship.

He also inadvertently gave birth to one of the funniest jinxes in sports history, the Curse of the Colonel. After the Tigers won the 1985 Japan Series, the reveling included fans who looked like the squad's various players jumping into a canal in Dotonbori, Osaka. There was understandable difficulty finding a 6'1", 210-pound bearded white guy to jump into the river in Bass' stead. The Hanshin fans got creative, though, and chucked a life-sized plastic statue of Colonel Sanders they'd taken from a KFC off the bridge and called it a day. (After all, the Colonel was a white guy with a beard"¦close enough, right?)

After their Series win, though, the Tigers fell into an inexorable decline that seemed to get worse every year. Superstitious fans blamed the Colonel statue they'd drowned in the channel. They tried apologizing to the owner of the store from which they filched the statue. Divers and dredgers scoured the channel trying to find the missing mascot, but it's still at large. And the Hanshin Tigers haven't won the Japan Series since. Bass, on the other hand, is doing quite well as a Democratic state senator in Oklahoma.

The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

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Double Play: The Curious Life and Career of Ozzie Canseco

Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images
Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images

“Jose, we love you! Jose, you suck!” It’s 1992 in Louisville, Kentucky, and a man who bears a striking resemblance to major league home run king Jose Canseco is smashing baseballs out of Triple-A ballparks for the Louisville Redbirds, the minor league sibling of the St. Louis Cardinals.

A screen erected specifically for home runs at Pilot Field in Buffalo, New York, fails to contain one 550-foot drive. The ball goes over the screen and past the highway.

“Good job, Jose!”

Before and after games, the six-foot-two, 220-pound slugger will be asked about dating Madonna (he didn’t), antagonized into fights (he avoids them, mostly), and begged for autographs. When he signs his name, fans appear confused. They tell him to stop joking around. Doesn’t he know he’s Jose Canseco, perpetual All-Star and prolific masher of baseballs? Who ever heard of Ozzie Canseco, Jose’s identical twin, born two minutes earlier to Jose Canseco Sr. and his wife, Barbara? And if they are identical, why is it that Jose was earning millions as a member of the Oakland Athletics while Ozzie only made sporadic appearances in the majors?

Ozzie tried to explain all of these things over and over again. Every time he thought people got the message, he would head back out into the world, hearing his brother’s name. Once, a car veered and tried to run him off the road. When Ozzie hit the shoulder, the other driver laughed, as if it were a joke, and then referred to him as Jose.

 

There are relatively few examples of twins who excelled equally in sports. Ronde and Tiki Barber were both selected in the 1997 NFL Draft and had successful careers; Karyne and Sarah Steben, both accomplished gymnasts, toured with Cirque du Soleil and credited their psychological connection with helping them perform difficult aerial feats.

More often, siblings of star athletes idle in the shadows cast by their high-achieving counterparts.

Hank Aaron’s brother Tommie joined him in professional baseball. Hank hit 755 home runs during his career; Tommie connected with 13. There were three DiMaggio brothers, though it was Joe—the onetime husband of Marilyn Monroe—who stood out both on and off the field. Had any of these men looked identical to their famous brother, it would have compounded the comparisons. It’s unlikely anyone ever tried to run Tommie Aaron off the road.

Ozzie Canseco plays for the Oakland Athletics in a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Born on July 2, 1964, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Capas Canseco and Jose Canseco would soon be another sports sibling story.

The two were barely a year old when their parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba. Both grew up learning to play "the great American pastime." Jose, an outfielder who could wallop a ball out of sight, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1982 straight out of high school. After polishing his skills in the minor leagues for three years, he briefly debuted as a late-season call-up for the Athletics in 1985. His official rookie season came in 1986, when he went on to hit 33 home runs and knock in 117 RBIs, resulting in Rookie of the Year honors.

Ozzie, who had played as much baseball as his brother, decided to take a year for college. Instead of being a power hitter, Ozzie had gravitated toward pitching. The New York Yankees drafted him in 1983. After four largely unimpressive years on the mound in the minor leagues, he was released by the Yankees and picked up by the Oakland Athletics organization in 1986 to further develop his skills.

It amounted to a genetic experiment in sports: Two men, nearly identical in build—Jose was an inch taller and perhaps 10 pounds heavier—who played the same game for the same amount of time. In 1989, the two even suffered the exact same injury to the hamate bone in the hand. Yet it was Jose who became a sensation, earning exponentially increasing millions and stats for the Athletics and the Texas Rangers, while Ozzie struggled to get called up.

The problem, according to Ozzie, was that he had pitched for too long, refining a skill that wouldn’t pay the same dividends as an outfielder and star hitter. All those years pitching put him behind Jose and behind the game. When he was finally called up to the Athletics as an outfielder in 1990, the difference in ability when compared to Jose was obvious. After 20 homers and 67 RBIs with the Huntsville Stars farm team, he managed only a .105 batting average in nine MLB games during his first season, striking out in 10 of his 19 at-bats. Meanwhile, in 1988, Jose became the first MLB player in history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season—a feat only three players have replicated since. When Ozzie struck out in his first Athletics game, Jose hit two home runs.

 

Pundits tried to break down Ozzie’s deficiencies. Superficially, he had everything Jose had, including a powerful build that was likely bolstered by steroids. (Jose admitted to using performance-enhancing substances in his 2005 tell-all book, Juiced; Ozzie was arrested for driving in a car that contained vials of steroids during a traffic stop in 2003. Jose later told VICE that Ozzie "used the same type of steroids I used and in equal amounts.") But experts pointed out that Jose was more flexible, with a better range of motion in his swing and a faster sprint. He seemed to be more aggressive during play, too. These were subtle differences, but enough for Jose to make three World Series appearances while Ozzie toiled in the minors.

Ozzie Canseco bats for the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Dejected, Ozzie headed for Japan to play for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes to sharpen his game against different kinds of pitches. Playing for the Japanese equivalent of a farm team in Osaka, he quit midway through the season to return to the U.S. minors, joining the Louisville Redbirds, the Cardinals Triple-A team. In 1993, he got a chance to jump on the Cardinals for six uneventful games. When Bernard Gilkey came off the disabled list, Ozzie was bumped back down. In frustration, he briefly quit baseball before signing a contract with the Triple-A arm of the Milwaukee Brewers and, later, the Florida Marlins.

After being released by the Marlins in 1996, he remarked it was the first summer he had not played baseball since he was a kid. While other people may have confused him for Jose, baseball’s management did not.

 

If Ozzie was never quite his brother’s equal on the field, he found parity in other ways. For years, rumors circulated that Ozzie would show up in place of Jose for autograph signings. The two also got in nearly equivalent legal trouble for a 2001 nightclub brawl in Miami Beach that ended in probation and a civil lawsuit against both.

In what was probably their most audacious attempt to fool people, Ozzie reportedly showed up for a 2011 celebrity boxing match claiming he was Jose, who had performed in prizefights against the likes of Danny Bonaduce. Promoter Damon Feldman claimed he had paid Jose $5000 and that he was confused when Ozzie finally removed his shirt. (He lacks the bicep tattoo sported by his brother). Feldman had him escorted out and filed a complaint for breach of contract, winning a default judgment against Jose for the $5000 advance and travel expenses. Feldman later expressed doubt he had ever actually met Jose. (On Twitter, Jose Canseco denied Feldman’s claim that he had sent Ozzie in his place.)

In 2015, Ozzie was named the hitting coach for the Sioux Falls Canaries, a Double-A team in South Dakota. Not long after, he and his brother once again confused onlookers when Ozzie fooled his on-air correspondents into thinking “Jose” had arrived to film a segment for his role as an analyst for an NBC broadcast. It was a bit of levity that may have indicated that the years removed from the field had allowed Ozzie to feel more comfortable—both in his own skin and his brother’s.

It was a long time coming. Speaking to Sports Illustrated in 1994, Ozzie lamented the peculiar reality of resembling his brother in every aspect but the one that mattered to him most. “It’s difficult to explain my existence as Ozzie Canseco on a daily basis,” he said.