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10/19/2009 12:42 PM ET
Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima opts out of final two years of contract
Backstop advises team that he plans to return to his native Japan.
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SEATTLE, Wash. -- Seattle Mariners Executive Vice President & General Manager of Baseball Operations Jack Zduriencik announced today that Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima has advised the team that he plans to exercise the clause in his contract allowing him to opt out of final two years of his deal.

Johjima, 33, signed a three-year (2009-2011) contract extension with Seattle on April 25, 2008. He is opting out of the final two years of that extension to return to Japan. Johjima originally signed with the Mariners on Nov. 21, 2005 after 11 seasons with Fukuoka of the Japanese Pacific League. When he began his career in Seattle in 2006, he became the first Japanese-born catcher to play in the Major Leagues.

"On behalf of the Seattle Mariners ownership group, and together with our players, our manager, coaches and everyone in our front office, I want to thank Joh for his service to the Mariners over the past four years," Chief Executive Officer Howard Lincoln said. "I know I speak for everyone when I say that Joh is not just a great ballplayer, he's also a great guy. All of us have enjoyed his warm smile, his engaging personality, his competitive spirit and his friendship. We wish Joh and his family the very best as he continues his baseball career in Japan."

"After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan," said Johjima. "I have had a wonderful experience competing at the Major League level. The last four years have been extraordinary, with great teammates and great coaches. I will always be indebted to the Mariners organization for giving me the opportunity to follow my dream. This was a very difficult decision, both professionally and personally. I feel now is the time to go home, while I still can perform at a very high level. Playing close to family and friends was a major factor. I will miss the Seattle fans and their gracious support. Thank you all."

Johjima was a career .268 hitter in his four Major League seasons, with 84 doubles, 1 triple, 48 home runs and 198 RBI in 462 games with the Mariners. A pair of injuries limited him to 71 games this year. Johjima holds the American League record for hits by a rookie catcher (147 in 2006). His 18 homers in '06 tied the Mariners club mark for HR by a catcher. Johjima caught 19 of 38 (50%) of opposing players attempting to steal this season, and nailed 89 of 263 (37.8%) in his career.

"We are very appreciative of everything Kenji has done for this organization over the past four seasons," Zduriencik said. "We respect his decision to return home. Joh has been a terrific teammate and a great competitor. His work ethic, production and desire to win made him a positive role model. We wish Kenji the very best and will follow his career. As a veteran of 14 professional seasons, we respect his decision. We will always consider Kenji a member of the Mariners family."

Johjima posted a .299 batting average with 211 home runs and 699 RBI in 11 seasons with Fukuoka. He was a seventime Gold Glove winner in Japan, and was a member of three Pacific League Championship teams (1999, 2000, 2003). He was a member of Team Japan's bronze medal winning team in the 2004 Olympics, and was the catcher for Team Japan on the team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

"We are very proud of Kenji, not only for the way he has played these last four years, but for making this very difficult decision," said Alan Nero and Yoshi Hasegawa of Octagon Baseball (Johjima's agent). "We wish him the best of luck both professionally and personally."

View Kenji Johjima's player stats »

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