“Ironman” Kanemoto Hangs It Up
On September 12, Hanshin Tigers outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto announced he will retire at the end of the season, bringing down the curtain on one of the greatest careers in Japanese baseball. What kind of player was he?
The 44-year-old Hiroshima native began playing baseball in a local team when he was a 10-year-old elementary schoolboy. But he found the practice too hard and quit the team in only one year. This is something incredible given his “tetsujin (ironman)” moniker during his pro baseball career.
He attended Hiroshima’s Koryo High School and Sendai’s Tohoku Fukushi University before being drafted in the fourth round by the Hiroshima Carp in 1991. He once said he was of slender build when he was young and did a lot of muscle training. This perhaps helped him win the "triple 3" title (a batting average higher than .300, 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases). He joined the Tigers as a free agent in 2003, leading the Osaka team to the Central League pennant in 2005.
Stout and durable, Kanemoto was staggeringly productive for most of his career. Best known among his numerous career records is a streak of 1,492 consecutive games played without missing an inning, which has been recognized by Guinness World Records. Less known are his national records of batting fourth in 880 consecutive games and no grounding into double plays (GIDPs) at 1,002 consecutive at-bats. The scarcity of GIDPs is a proof that he ran hard to the base.
Kanemoto himself is most proud of this GIDP record among all his career titles. He used to say, “Anyone will run hard when he is likely to get an infield hit. I did so even when I was unlikely.” The remark is surely symbolic of the man who charmed his fans by always playing hard.
His remarks at the media conference where he looked back on his 21-year career were equally impressive. More often than not, seasoned athletes are apt to look graceful when announcing their retirement. Kanemoto was different. He said, "I am filled with regret. I wouldn’t have been if I had swung my bat more in practice.” It was indeed an utterance befitting for a man of hard practice like him. He could play until his age perhaps because he hadn’t compromise easily.
When Kanemoto topped Koichi Tabuchi (who has just retired as Rakuten Eagles head coach) for the 10th place with 475 home runs, many of his fans must have thought that he could still continue his playing career. Toward the end of his press conference, Kanemoto was asked, “What was baseball for you?” He replied, “I have found it to be 20 to 30 percent about joy and fulfillment. The pursuit of that small fraction, the remaining 70 to 80 percent, is labor. That has been my life in baseball.”
Bidding farewell to his fans after his final game at Koshien Stadium on October 10, an emotional Kanemoto said, "I want to say thank you to the god of baseball. I want to thank all the fans for helping me fulfill my dream.” The message told how deeply he loved baseball. Many baseball enthusiasts are now eager to see him back onto the ground as a coach or manager to put his back into his job.
Written by: Keisho Oyanagi