On this date in 2009, Seattle Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima – the first Japanese catcher in Major League Baseball history – shocked the organization when he opted out of the final two years of his three-year deal and went back to Japan.
The then-33-year old catcher was struggling over the past few seasons and was benched for much of the 2009 season. He was unhappy with the club’s decision for him to ride the pine, so he walked away from the remaining $15.8 million on his contract and finished his career in Japan.
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Johjima took the baseball world by storm as a 30-year old “rookie” in 2006. He posted a slash line of .291/.332/.451 with 18 HR and 76 RBI, finishing 4th in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting.
In 2007, Johjima posted similar numbers (.287/.322/.433) with 14 HR and 61 RBI. But in 2008 and 2009, Johjima combined for a slash of .235/.283/.361 with 16 HR and 61 RBI in 183 games between the two years combined.
He signed with the Hanshin Tigers and played the 2010 season and an injury-plagued 2011 season before retiring a month into the 2012 season.
On Wednesday, we will take a look back to the beginning of an era.