Norihiro Akahoshi has announced that he will be retiring. While the reason for his decision is not yet known, it appears likely that it has something to do with his neck pains that don't appear to be getting any better. Akahoshi started experiencing neck pains back in July and was taken off the active rosters shortly thereafter. He was was limited to just 91 games this seasons.
Akahoshi is a product of Ohbu High School (Aichi) and Asia University. He spent some time with JR Higashi Nihon (Industrial League) before being drafted in the 4th round of the 2000 draft. Akahoshi led the league in stolen bases during his first year and won Rookie of the Year honors.
Stolen Base Titles: 2001-2005
Best Nine: 2003, 2005
Golden Glove: 2001, 2003-2006, 2008
All-Star Selections: 2003, 2005, 2006
Golden Spirit: 2004
=== UPDATE 12/10/2009 12:06am JST
Akahoshi hurt his neck trying to make a diving catch in a game on August 12th. In trying to make that diving catch, he apparently damaged his spinal cord. That damage has led to neck and hip problems, as well as numbness his his arms and legs. The pain was so bad at one point that he couldn't even leave the house.
After the end of the season, the Tigers suggested he retire.
In looking back at the diving attempt, Akahoshi said that he feels no regrets.
A Q&A from the press conference (via Sanspo):
How long were you thinking about retiring?
About a month. Even now, my decision hasn't really sunk it. I really wasn't in a place where I could talk to other people about this. It may have been the toughest month in my career.
What about your parents?
When I spoke to my parents, they were worried first and foremost about my body. They said I had a good run and that I should quit. That helped me with my decision.
You won't be able to have a retirement ceremony...
If it weren't for this injury, I think I'd be able to play next year as a starter. I'm confident I'd beat out the youngsters. I'm not sure when all of this will start to sink in.
Any memorable scenes during your 9-year career?
I haven't really looked back over my career yet, but getting a game-winning hit in the game where we won the 2003 league title is big. Losing 4 straight in the 2005 Nippon series made me really want to win the Nippon Series. But not being able to win it all is something I really regret.
What kind of player were you during your 9-year career?
I prided myself on stolen bases. I wasn't a home run hitter, so I was really happy when people drove me home.
Perhaps it was a new type of game [for the Tigers]...
To be honest, this team wasn't [focused on running] until I came here. I think I was able to help improve this team's running game. And I think running has become more important with other teams as well.
You've managed to overcome a number of injuries up until now...
I always told myself never to let my emotions beat me. I even played games where I toughed out three broken ribs. But this time around, I just can't do that.
Your plans moving forward...
You can't take baseball out of me. I definitely want to do something to help support baseball, and I want to continue to help kids out.
You've also donated wheel chairs for stolen bases...
This will likely be my last batch of wheel chairs. I really wanted to donate about 100 more, so I'm a little disappointed.
Your thoughts on your teammates...
I waited until the last minute to make this decision, so I still haven't told all my teammates yet. I want everyone to keep playing hard. And there are plenty of young players that can do more. I'm still feeling bitter about losing out to the Giants in 2008. I can't no longer play so I want to look to everyone else now.
Is it starting to sink in now that you've held a press conference?
Not really. I think it'll start sinking in when I'm not training in January or going to Spring camp.
Your message to fans...
I was able to come this far because of all your support during my 9-year career. I was able to experience winning a title with you. It really saddens me that I won't be able to play with the support of the crowd behind me at Koshien Stadium anymore. There isn't enough I can say to explain just how grateful I am. I may be retiring, but I want to continue support the Tigers as a fan and I'll leave it up to the players to become Japan's number 1 team.
Akahoshi also posted a message thanking fans for their support at his own personal website.
And some reactions from around the Tigers' community:
You know how he was donating a wheel chair for every base he stole? I hear the doctors even told him that if he wasn't more careful, he'd end up in one of those wheel chairs. ... He was always playing while he was hurt, so I was always asking him about how he was holding up. In 2005, the number 4 and 5 batters didn't do too well, but we scored runs because Akahoshi got on base.
It's really too bad that I won't be able to watch his all out play anymore. I still remember that game-winning he back in 2003 that won the league title during the last game of the season. It goes without saying he was a fast runner, but he also had a lot of guts.
Akahoshi really was the team's biggest gamer. He was a lead-off hitter that could get on base, steal bases, and field. He really did a great job. He really put his body through some punishment so I hope he now gets a chance to rest up.
He was really heartbroken over this decision. We suggested he retire back in November. He decided it would be difficult for him to return to the team at the top of his game.
I heard things were bad, but I didn't think they were THAT bad. I'm sure he'll stay involved in baseball, so I hope he'll help the younger players out. I'd love to see him help support the baseball community.
This is really sad. I thought he was kidding at first. Akahoshi was a player rep. But more than that, he was really the team leader. He was always worried about everyone. He even helped me out a lot when I first came to this team.
This is really too bad. I want him to enjoy his life after baseball. But it really is too bad that I won't be able to play baseball with a man so into the game as him.
I just can't believe it. The Tigers have won up to this point because of what Akahoshi brings to the table. And I thought that's how things would be like next season. He does have a life after baseball, so I'd like him to take good care of his body now.
I asked him for a lot of advice since I joined the club. It really is because of Akahoshi that I'm where I am today. It was just so sudden, I haven't had enough time to find words.
He is a great player. I was looking forward to playing with him. It's really too bad about his retirement.
=== UPDATE 12/10/2009 10:49am JST
In watching the sports news shows on TV, Akahoshi also said that doctors recommended he quit because another similar injury could mean the end of his life.
And for those wondering exactly what injury he sustained, Sponichi describes it as being similar to what Christopher Reeves suffered when he was thrown off his horse (but obviously a lot less severe).