FUKUOKA – Triple Crown winner and two-time Pacific League MVP Nobuhiko Matsunaka announced his retirement on Tuesday.
The 42-year-old slugger had been negotiating a tryout arrangement with a few clubs since the end of January, but decided to end his 19-year career when no Central or Pacific League teams showed interest.
“Reality is harsh,” Matsunaka told a news conference. “I was unable to secure any offers or opportunities for a tryout. So I knew inside it was time to retire.”
He left the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks at the end of last season hoping for a chance to earn a roster spot and more playing time. In his last game appearance on Oct. 1 at Yafuoku Dome, Matsunaka struck out in all four plate appearances.
Matsunaka led the PL in all three batting categories in 2004 with a .358 average, 44 home runs and 120 RBIs, becoming the seventh player in Nippon Professional Baseball history to accomplish the feat.
He had been the only active player in Japan with a Triple Crown title.
In 1,780 games played as a first-baseman, designated hitter and outfielder, the Kumamoto Prefecture native had 1,767 hits, 352 home runs and 1,168 RBIs. He turned pro out of corporate league ball as the second-round draft pick of the Daiei Hawks (currently Softbank) in 1996 after winning a silver medal at the Atlanta Olympics that summer.
Matsunaka was a core member of the Fukuoka-based Hawks, who won the Pacific League in 1999, 2000 and 2003, and the Japan Series in 1999 and 2003. He was named the league’s MVP in 2000 and in 2004. Matsunaka won five PL Best Nine Awards.
He had been struggling with injuries to his right knee and left wrist, and had not hit a home run since 2013.