SAPPORO – Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters infielder Atsunori Inaba said Tuesday he will retire at the end of the 2014 season, bringing an end to an illustrious 20-year career.
“I decided to put everything on the line for one year, but the condition of my knee just won’t get any better. I made the decision when I realized that I couldn’t hit anymore,” Inaba said at a news conference at Sapporo Dome.
The 42-year-old underwent surgery on his left knee in mid-April and did not return to the top team until July this year.
A third-round draft pick from Hosei University, Inaba joined the Yakult Swallows in 1995. He became a free agent in 2004 with the hope of making a move to the major leagues but abandoned the challenge and joined the Fighters in 2005.
A seven-time league champion, Inaba helped lead the Fighters to their first Japan Series title in 44 years in 2006 and was named MVP of the series. He won the Pacific League batting title and had the most hits in 2007.
As an outfielder, Inaba, who reached the 2,000-hit milestone in 2012, won the Best Nine award five times. A member of the national team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Inaba also played for Japan in the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classic tournaments.
Inaba had the worst batting average of his career (.203) in 2013 when he was limited to just 91 games as he did double duty as the Fighters batting coach.
“I feel relieved that I was able to give something back when we became Japan Series champions in 2006,” he said. “I was happy that it was the first time in 44 years.”
Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said, “We wanted to make a place for him to wear his uniform in as many games as possible. For the team, he is an indispensable player. But I have to accept his decision.”