Over the weekend, half a world away, former Seattle Mariner backstop Kenji Johjima decided to hang up his spikes after 18 seasons of professional baseball split between Japan and the U.S.
After playing his last game with the Hanshin Tigers, Johjima told the Japan Times, "As a baseball player, I was able to train and play without any regrets. I'll proudly take off this uniform."
In his first season with Seattle, 2006, Johjima set the American League record for hits by a rookie catcher (147) and tied the Mariners' record for homers by a catcher (18) while hitting .291. In 2007, Johjima hit a solid .287 with 14 homers and a .755 OPS before slumping the next two seasons, partly due to injuries.
Similar to his time with the Mariners, the honeymoon upon returning to Japan was short-lived following a promising start with Hanshin in 2010. The aches and pains of years behind the plate proved to be too much for him to continue after limited time on the field the past two seasons.
It's a shame, but at age 36, Johjima should be proud of his accomplishments. He earned just about every accolade possible in Japan, while becoming the first full-time catcher from Japan to play in MLB.
What initially seemed like a gimmick in 2006, Johjima's signing wasn't a terrible move, although his extension two years later was a bit questionable. Fortunately for all parties involved, Johjima opted out after struggling through the better part of two seasons before heading back to Japan.
While it was rather charitable of Johjima to leave money on the table after the 2009 season, the M's still managed to find a way of burning that money over that very winter by signing the likes of Chone Figgins in a move that Seattle fans are still smarting from.
Meanwhile, the Mariners continue to look for a catcher, but at least have a few potential candidates available in Jesus Montero, John Jaso and 2012 first-round draft pick Mike Zunino.
If any of them pan out long term, I'd imagine that Johjima's legacy in Seattle will be further minimized as a placeholder following Dan Wilson.
Sadly, that's not terribly fair to Johjima, as he was more than just a stopgap solution for a few years. As is often the case with players from Japan, we rarely get to see the "prime" years of their careers, as most arrive stateside after already playing a decade in Japan.
In many ways it's a testament to how good and rare Ichiro really was, given how well he adapted to the U.S. by actually thriving for an entire decade following an already-impressive career in Japan.
Perhaps that didn't happen for Johjima, but for a brief moment in time, he gave it his best in Seattle and made a believer at least out of me.
Thanks for playing and good luck, Joh!
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