Popular former major league infielder Munenori Kawasaki has been released by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and is stepping away, perhaps permanently, from the game because of a nerve disorder, he said Monday.
After five years in the North American major and minor leagues, Kawasaki rejoined the Hawks, his first pro club, last March on a one-year deal. The Pacific League club had been interested in renewing his contract, but the 36-year-old has opted out.
Kawasaki was sidelined last July with pain in his ankles and has not been able to train and regain his fitness.
“I have been doing rehab work, but at the same time I’ve also been dealing with an autonomic nervous disorder, and my body has begun to refuse to move,” he said in a statement released by the Hawks. “In my current state, I can’t conceive of continuing in baseball.
“After consultation, the Hawks organization has agreed to release me and I’ve decided to put some distance between myself and the game. Now I am going to get a change of scenery and strive to slowly restore my body and spirit.”
Kawasaki was the Hawks’ fourth pick in the 1999 amateur draft and played for the club until he moved to the United States in 2012. He helped the Hawks win the Japan Series in 2003, 2011 and 2017, and played for Japan in its back-to-back World Baseball Classic championships in 2006 and 2009.
He joined the Seattle Mariners on a minor league deal in 2012 and went on to stints as a utility infielder with the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs before returning to Japan.
Kawasaki, who was popular with fans and teammates, was not on the Cubs’ 2016 postseason roster when they won their first World Series championship in 108 years, but he traveled with the team and cheered from the bench.
He is one of three players in the world to win the World Series, Japan Series and World Baseball Classic along with former Japan teammates Daisuke Matsuzaka and Koji Uehara.
In NPB, Kawasaki scored 653 runs, had 27 home runs and 373 RBIs with a .292 average over 1187 games. In the majors, he scored 80 runs, had one homer, 51 RBIs, and a .237 average in 276 games.