Before Kimiyasu Kudo was reduced to mop-up duty on the worst team in Japanese pro baseball, he was one of the aces on a dynasty.
The glory appear to be gone for good, however, after the Yokohama BayStars announced on Tuesday their intentions to part ways with the left-hander at season’s end.
Although age has robbed him of much of his effectiveness, the 47-year-old Kudo told Japanese media that he wants to continue pitching.
“I’m not thinking about playing in the major leagues,” Kudo told the media after the team’s decision was made public. “But I want to keep playing here in Japan.”
Despite his desire to keep pitching, Tuesday’s announcement could be the curtain call on one of the most successful careers in Japanese baseball.
Through Wednesday, Kudo’s career record stood at 224-139. The veteran is 13th all time in career wins and winning percentage (.617). He’s seventh on the career list with 2,849 strikeouts and 16th with 3,325 1/3 innings pitched.
He’s played in 14 Japan Series and won the title more times (11) than every other Japanese baseball franchise except the Yomiuri Giants (20) and Seibu Lions (13).
While his tenure with the BayStars has been largely forgettable, Kudo was the king of the jungle when the Lions were roaring loudest from 1982-92.
Kudo blossomed from a young reliever into a star during that period, when Seibu reached the Japan Series nine times and captured eight titles. Kudo was named the MVP of the ’87 and ’88 Series.
The lefty never led the league in wins but won the ERA title four times (1985, ’87, ’93, and ’99) and was the strikeout leader twice (1996, ’99).
Kudo’s best year with the Lions was in 1993, when he finished 15-3 with a 2.06 ERA. He won the Pacific League MVP Award that season but was beaten out for the Sawamura Award, which he has never won, by Chunichi Dragons pitcher Shinji Imanaka.
He won another MVP award in 1999, while pitching for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, helping lead manager Sadaharu Oh’s club to the Japan Series title that season.
Kudo returned to the Japan Series in 2000 — this time with the Yomiuri Giants — and was a winner for the 10th time as the Kyojin dispatched Daiei in six games.
Kudo won his second Japan Series with the Giants in 2002. He was victorious in Game 3 of that Series (allowing two runs and striking out eight over eight innings), at Seibu Dome, his home stadium for 12 seasons.
Kudo joined the BayStars in 2007 and, with his glory days firmly behind him, was 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA, while injury limited him to three games last season.
This season, Kudo is 2-2 with a 6.89 ERA, nine holds and no saves in 37 appearances primarily as a reliever for the Central League cellar dwellers.
Despite his impending release, Kudo expressed his desire to finish in Yokohama on a high note.
“I have done everything I could do here,” Kudo told reporters. “For the fans who have cheered for me for three years, I want to pitch for them again.”