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Hit machine Ishii to call it quits

Kyodo

Hiroshima Carp infielder Takuro Ishii, who is 11th on Japan’s career hits list, announced at a press conference on Monday that he will retire at the end of this season.

The 42-year-old, who is in his 24th season since turning pro with Yokohama as an undrafted pitcher out of Tochigi Prefecture’s Ashikaga Industrial High School, has 2,430 hits. The left-handed hitter was released by the BayStars in December 2008, and signed with Hiroshima.

“In my heart, I know that my days as a player have long been over,” said Ishii, who won five Central League Best IX awards and four stolen base titles. “I don’t want to be getting in the way among all these young players who are producing. In my heart, I am satisfied.”

Ishii went 1-4 with a 5.69 ERA in 49 innings with his only win coming in his first career start in October 1989. But his true calling was going to be in the field and in the batter’s box, where he had three hits in eight CL at-bats during his days as a pitcher.

He eventually would join Yomiuri Giants legend and Hall of Famer Tetsuharu Kawakami as one of just two players to win at least one game as a pitcher and collect 2,000 hits.

Taking the field from 1991, Ishii went on to win three Golden Gloves at third base, and another at shortstop in 1998, when the franchise won its second CL and Japan Series championship and its first since 1960.

Hiroshi Gondo, who managed the BayStars in that championship season, thinks Ishii might be calling it quits too soon.

“He certainly looks like he can still play,” said Gondo, currently the Chunichi Dragons’ pitching coach. “He could always foul off one pitch after another until he got a hit. As an opponent, he was the leadoff batter you least wanted to face.”

But Ishii’s last 10 seasons in Yokohama failed to see the club sustain any kind of success, and in Hiroshima, he’s been relegated to a backup role.

“Since Takuro joined us, the team has become stronger and more positive,” said ace Kenta Maeda. “I personally think he can still play. The best way to send him off would be to win the Climax Series.”

In March, he fouled a pitch off his right instep in the preseason that has seriously reduced his mobility. As a player-coach this season, Ishii has primarily been used as a pinch hitter, with 34 at-bats in 28 games. He is not currently on the team’s 28-man active roster.

Until this season, most of his time in the field with the Carp had been at third base, which is now manned by 21-year-old slugger Shota Dobayashi. Like Ishii, Dobayashi has also had to make the transition from pitcher to infielder as a pro.

“This is unbelievably sad,” said Dobayashi. “Personally, I want him to stay on as a teammate. From the first day of camp, he’s taught me so much. The best way to repay my debt to him would be to make it to the Climax Series.”

On Saturday he broke the news to the team, which has asked him to stay on as a coach.

“I haven’t decided anything concrete,” Ishii said about his future. “I want to reset my way of thinking, and expand my horizons about things I might want to do.”