"I've decided to take my uniform off at the end of this season."
With these words, Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo announced his plans to end one of the more unconventional careers in Japanese professional baseball.
What the fans at Tokyo Dome didn't realize when 34-year-old Shinjo told them on April 18 that he was removing his uniform, was that he was speaking literally, according to Shukan Gendai (5/6-13).
Many were shocked that Shinjo chose a mid-April date to announce his plans to quit -- the season was only a few weeks old, after all -- most say it's characteristic behavior for the player nicknamed "Spaceman," who's as well known for his tendency to come out of left field (even though he's a centerfielder) as for his baseball.
"It was typical Shinjo. I wasn't surprised at all," baseball analyst Takenori Emoto tells Shukan Gendai, regarding the sudden retirement. "I think part of the reason there was so much showbiz in the announcement was that the entire Pacific League seemed to be caught up in Shinjo and he was basically running wild, doing whatever he wanted to. He didn't give a damn about his team as long as he looked good."
Actually, it's not the first time Shinjo has retired. After a fight with management at the end of the 1995 season, Shinjo announced he was retiring from the Hanshin Tigers, who he played for at the time. He changed his mind a little while later, playing a few more seasons for the Tigers before heading to the U.S. where he played three seasons in the Majors, two for the New York Mets with a season at the San Francisco Giants sandwiched in between.
"This time, he really means it," Emoto opines. "At his age, it's no longer possible to hide the fact that he's not the batter he once was. It's a sad time for a professional ball player."
Post-baseball life doesn't appear to be too lonely for Shinjo, though. The enormously popular outfielder is already apparently being swamped with offers for work once he's finished playing. And that's where it comes to taking his uniform off for the last time. As it turns out, it seems likely that his baseball uniform won't be the only garments Shinjo plans to shed.
"Actually, Shinjo's thinking about releasing a collection of nude photos. Straight after he announced his retirement, the president of a major talent agency Shinjo is expected to join on his retirement called the player and said, 'If you're gonna do nude stuff, let me look after it for you.' And, as a bit of an extra for his real fans, there's also talk of Shinjo and his wife doing a nude shot together. If they don't want to go all the way, it could be a shot of them in some pretty racy underwear. The Shinjos are a lot more appealing than David and Victoria Beckham," Motoji Takasu, a publishing company producer, tells Shukan Gendai.
While some may seem surprised at the suggestions of the Shinjos stripping, the likelihood is considered high when his previous outlandish behavior is taken into account. And, it shouldn't be forgotten that Shinjo's off-field resume already includes a successful stint promoting skimpy undies for major undergarment manufacturer Gunze.
Added to these points, Shinjo's wife, Shiho, is a former pin-up queen who retired following their 2000 marriage, but has recently returned to work in showbiz. Some women's magazines have already reported on the couple's planned double-act display of undress.
"Plans are afoot for a photo shoot in July or August. He's still playing and, in the middle of summer, his body will be in as good a shape as it's ever going to be. They're aiming to do the shoot amid the wilds of Hokkaido," publishing industry insider Takasu tells Shukan Gendai. "Sales of the book will start in October, just in time for the Japan Series. They'll be sold together with life-sized Shinjo posters and the promise of giveaways of the book for the 43,000 fans who turn up for his retirement game at Sapporo Dome. That'd really get fans heated up about baseball again." (By Ryann Connell)