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Friday, Sep. 14, 2012
Kanemoto's numbers put him in lofty company
Tomoaki Kanemoto is hanging up his cleats at the end of the season, bringing down the curtain on one of the great careers in Japanese baseball.
Kanemoto, who revealed his intentions Wednesday, was a popular player during his days with the Hiroshima Carp (1992-2002) and has been a favorite of Hanshin Tigers supporters since joining the team in 2003.
"I find myself feeling that I've reached my limit," the 44-year-old was quoted as saying by Kyodo News during a news conference in Hyogo Prefecture on Wednesday.
"On top of that, the team is in the process of getting younger. In the midst of that, I'm ashamed because I can no longer perform up to the levels I had achieved at my peak."
What Kanemoto has meant to fans and fellow players is something that will be revealed over the next few weeks as the clock winds down on the final seconds of his career. Statistically, however, "Aniki" will leave a legacy that's easily Hall of Fame worthy.
Kanemoto will be remembered mostly for his Herculean streak of 1,492 consecutive games played without missing an inning from July 21, 1999, to April 17, 2010. The streak was recognized by Guinness World Records later that year.
Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. played in 903 consecutive games without missing an inning during his record run of 2,632 consecutive games played.
Kanemoto's streak ended when he volunteered to take himself out of the starting lineup before a game against the Yokohama BayStars because of a shoulder ailment.
"His achievement was unprecedented," Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said during his postgame media session at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday. "He is one of the great stars in baseball history."
Kanemoto also put together a streak of 1,766 consecutive games played, in Japan second only to the 2,215 played by Carp legend Sachio Kinugasa.
That streak ended with Kanemoto at the plate as a pinch hitter with two outs in the eighth inning of a game against the Chunichi Dragons. Because a Hanshin runner was caught stealing, Kanemoto didn't record an at-bat. He also didn't take the field during the game, ending the streak. NPB rules state a player must complete an at-bat or play one inning in the field to be credited with a game played.
The last time Kanemoto appeared in fewer than 100 games in a season was in 1994, when he played 90 in for the Carp.
In addition to his durability, Kanemoto was staggeringly productive for most of his career.
After Wednesday's games, Kanemoto was seventh all-time with 2,532 hits and a realistic shot at passing Kinugasa and Yutaka Fukumoto (tied with 2,543 hits) for fifth. The Hiroshima native also sat fourth with 440 doubles and tied with Koichi Tabuta for 10th with 474 home runs.
Kanemoto's 1,517 RBIs are good for eighth on the all-time list, five behind Shigeo Nagashima and 13 adrift of Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who occupy the seventh and sixth spots, respectively.
His defining single-season performance came in 2005, when he won his only Central League MVP award by hitting .327 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs while leading the Tigers to the pennant.
Despite a strong showing for much of his career, Kanemoto (barring a historic run by the currently fifth-place Tigers) will retire without having ever won a Japan Series title.
The Tigers reached the Japanese Fall Classic in 2003, but fell to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in seven games. Kanemoto hit four home runs during that series, taking home the Fighting Spirit Award, which is given to the best player from the losing team.
Hanshin reached the finale again in 2005, only to be swept by the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Kanemoto has made 110 appearances this season (though Wednesday) and is hitting .258 with four home runs and 26 RBIs.
Milestone men: The Yomiuri Giants' 5-0 victory over the Hiroshima Carp on Wednesday gave manager Tatsunori Hara his 700th career win.
The victory left Hara, in his second stint and eighth season overall as the Yomiuri skipper, with a 700-525-46 record in the dugout.
Hara, who has guided the Giants to four Central League pennants and Japan Series titles in 2002 and 2009, became the 18th manager to reach the mark.
"It's not only my achievement, it's because of all the players and all the people who were involved," Hara said.
Shoki Kasahara got the start for the Giants and played a large role in helping Hara reach the milestone, while also picking up his first career win.
Kasahara, selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, allowed six hits and struck out seven in his third career appearance.
Knowing a milestone hung in the balance seemed to strengthen the young pitcher's resolve on the mound.
"Because I felt like it was my responsibility to get Hara-kantoku's 700th win, I told myself I was going to win no matter what," Kasahara said during his hero interview.